Designers pump up the volume in Paris

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At the Paris shows, designers were in agreement that big is definitely better, says Susannah Frankel

Fashion is big just now.

Not in the sense, necessarily, of big news or even making a big noise but literally. Leave it to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons to show every other designer how this might best be done. Her collection of "two dimensional" (flattened) and enormous clothes in uncompromising colours – blithe blues, pinks, reds, yellows and with Legoland bobbed hair to match – and printed with everything from leopard spots and faded cabbage roses set the tone for the season. The effect was brilliant. And gentle in intention too. In a world where over-exposure – and the over-exposure of women in particular and in predictably uncharitable a manner – is the story, anyone, big, small, short or tall could wear these clothes. The designer stated that it was their individual shape that would give body to the clothes. It's beautiful to be bold.

It seems not insignificant that Céline's Phoebe Philo appeared to be thinking along similar lines. Although hers was a more conventional working wardrobe, shapes were scaled up – broad-shouldered masculine coats and low-slung trousers with a wide, curved leg in particular – and flattened too, from the front or the side. This was a perfect, small and intimate presentation where every last detail had been studied to the nth degree, and purity – not to mention fashion envy – was the result.

Hussein Chalayan is a designer who has long demonstrated a profound respect for the woman who wears his clothes. For him too, enveloping the body as opposed to parading it, thus creating a private dialogue between wearer and clothes, is important. Roomy grey flannel coats were fused with neon techno-foam and loose-fitting column dresses made for the most modern statement in eveningwear that has been seen for some time.

Mushrooms inspired Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton, she said. And they too were big. They were very big. Moving away from a signature, pencil-thin silhouette, clothing appeared to sprout from and grow on the body. Add to extreme volume fluttering feathers, dandelion and cherry blossom embroideries and enamel flowers, uncompromising platinum hair, mirrored visors and heel-less "horse shoe" boots and the effect was extraordinary.

Is the era of the superstar designer coming to an end? Certainly, it appears that those who remain behind the scenes are garnering the most critical acclaim. Burton cut her teeth in this way; Chalayan's is a quietly contemplative aesthetic as opposed to an amplified one; Philo has always preferred to express herself through her work and Kawakubo – of course – is famously averse to personal attention.

The Balenciaga designer, Nicolas Ghesquière, is also backwards in coming forwards and this despite the fact that he is the most talented designer of his generation and a man whose shows are so full of ideas and imagination that they consistently live up to the greatest expectations. Here were Balenciaga office workers (hence the 1980s hair) but of the sort that might turn up of a morning in a slightly skew patch-worked cocktail dress from the night before with a drop dead chic (big) wool overcoat with leather lapels over the top. It's safe to say that few women in the average workplace are this incredibly dressed. Embroidered power sweater shirts over stiff A-line skirts and more in satin hand-embroidered with jewels and printed with lurid sci-fi imagery and slogans including JOIN A WEIRD TRIP and OUT OF THE BLUE will doubtless turn out to be the most expensive garments of their kind in fashion history. And they'll sell out the minute they hit the rails.

Martin Margiela was the ultimate invisible designer. When he retired from the label he founded the fashion world went into mourning and his handwriting continues to inform the industry's most high-profile names. His successor – and it should be pointed out long-time first assistant – Nina Nitsche has not been treated kindly by the press. This season, however, she found her stride, casting aside the gimmicky Margiela By Numbers mindset in favour of a lovely collection that was big – obviously – both in terms of size and on ideas. Exaggerated funnel necks, a super-wide shoulder, giant gingham and deconstructed kimonos were all in line with the spirit of this label and moved it forward to boot.

When Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli arrived at Valentino they too struggled to invest the label with the refined form of glamour it represented. Allowing them time to settle was a smart move. Now, this is one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the Paris season and, with no big mise en scène, concept or grand gestures to be seen, that is all because of the loveliness of the clothes. In particular, the pair tread the line between embellishment and restraint in a manner that should make the house's namesake proud.

Here too there was volume but it was so subtle and intelligently judged that it was delicately feminine, not fierce. Tailoring was almost virginal in its covered-up purity, cotton gowns fitted at the torso and with sweet puffed skirts and scalloped edges were equally demure. Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby sprang to mind just as she did in the designer's couture show in January. The youthful, beautiful and, it goes without saying, wealthy, would do well to shop here.

Rumour has it that Haider Ackermann was sent flowers at the Dior atelier following his show. Someone wants him to get the job, then. And with good reason. Another designer feted by the fashion insider and as quiet in person as the proverbial mouse, his collection was a powerful display of pattern-cutting expertise and sensitivity to the female form. Ackermann was educated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and it shows. Sculpted leather, weightless volume and possibly the finest sense of colour in the business made for wonderful viewing.

At Dries Van Noten too, if the man behind the label is a reluctant star, the clothes speak volumes. This master of delicately executed pattern and print took antique clothing – a vintage kimono or ancient Chinese robe – and spliced them up, applying them to a contemporary silhouette in ever more inventive ways. These clothes could be studied for hours – and worn for years – and it would be impossible to tire of them. Understandably, women the world over love this designer for that.

Miuccia Prada bored by skirts shock! The trouser suit loomed large on the Miu Miu runway and the result was playfully nerdy. Stripes, checks, hounds-tooth and more were coloured up in a rich and unpredictable fashion and a coolly knowing, typically idiosyncratic look was great.

Toot! Toot! Happy birthday Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton. He has been at the helm of this house for 15 years and his play on proportions – big clothes on small people, deceptively childlike embroideries which were, in fact, worthy of the most elevated haute couture runway and, of course, the finest bags known to fashion, cemented his position as perhaps the industry's most powerful player.

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