How Paris in Spring will be a bouquet of colour

You expect florals in the spring collections, but the Paris catwalks were a veritable riot of horticultural references, writes Susannah Frankel
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Indy Lifestyle Online

On the face of things, the mood of the forthcoming season couldn't be more anodyne - or, indeed, more predictable. The tone was established in Milan - luxe hippie (yes, that again), vintage lingerie-inspired dressing (and that, too) and, finally, a veritable riot of horticultural references (a time-honoured spring classic like all the rest, but this time more in evidence than ever). But if the basics remain the same with style statements as perennial as these, it is a designer's approach that is revealing. Suffice it to say that the purely passive form of femininity that might have been expected in Paris was rarely to be seen.

It should come as no surprise that Nicolas Ghesquière's take on floral prints was highly mannered, even uptight, as opposed to bucolic. In his hands, the print was a heavily researched and rigorous study of fabric, and an intensity of colour that few could rival. Here was the type of robust magenta rhododendrons that would do justice to the grounds of a grand country pile; there were feathery cottage garden flowers nestling in fabric ruched into more fragile buds.

Once again, there was a futuristic feel to proceedings. Micro-mini hourglass dresses with necklines cut close against the throat, or archive-inspired tunic shapes worn over equally brief A-line skirts and then tiny shorts, were moulded to the body in panels of fabric, and laced up back and sides. A pagoda shoulder-line only added to the intergalactic effect, undercut sweetly when it sprouted into blooming hydrangeas.

For Junya Watanabe, the Liberty-print floral has long been desirable. This season, he employed this typically British classic in the creation of fine linen and cotton dresses, as light and voluminous as passing clouds, pleated and wrapped round the body then held in place by plaited metal or simple white canvas. Witty references to Chanel, like the boxy boucle-wool jacket or the gold chain at the hem, paid lip-service to the couture tradition. The designer said, however, that he had been influenced more by African dress.

"My holy tribe" is how his younger Comme des Garçons stablemate Tao Kurihara described the thinking behind her collection, the first to be shown outside the showroom, and also discreetly ethnic in flavour. For this designer, white cotton lawn blouses and easy wide-legged trousers, faded indigo bloomers and loose-fitting dresses demonstrated a commitment to gently enveloping the body, as opposed to showing it off in the traditional bourgeois manner. This designer has an intensely romantic and introspective view of dress, and a subtle view of femininity to boot. The merest whisper of a floral came here in faded pink and blue.

Nothing much faded about the godmother of Japanese fashion, Rei Kawakubo's collection this season, which she herself describes as a "cacophony", and which resists deconstruction or hidden meaning now more than ever. The woman who is confident enough to wear these clothes is clearly a force to be reckoned with, although the overall effect is about as far away from the tradition of power shoulders and talon heels as is possible to imagine. The colours were Crayola bright, the silhouette reminiscent of a hyperreal exotic bloom. A patchwork of pinstripe, polka dots, nursery-coloured gingham, kilim-style weaves and, indeed, hair-weave prints, and even the odd sequined skirt hem (Comme bling!) meant that this was probably the most eclectic collection to date from this great designer.

It seems not insignificant that John Galliano - a man who can create a floral chiffon corsage like few others - this time chose an understated leaf print for his collection for Christian Dior. This was a quieter affair than has been seen from this house for some time - conservative over and above wilfully iconoclastic; elegant rather than audacious.

In light of the unabashed femininity that was all over the spring/ summer catwalks, it seemed only right and proper that Galliano also offered up sinuous trouser suits - the best referenced his own archive. Of course, undercutting any prevailing overtly feminine mood by borrowing from the wardrobe of men is nothing new. It looked like an appealing prospect, none the less.

Trouser suits made an appearance at Stella McCartney, too, but other than that it was back to the herbaceous border - or rather, the spring meadow - for 1970s-inspired weightless all-in-ones, shorts and dresses that appeared to reference Chloe in its heyday, designed by Karl Lagerfeld and worn by McCartney's late mother. Her collections grow more confident every season, and news that her company last year made it into the black should come as no surprise.

A single rose at the throat of an opera coat, or at the waist of a dress, both worn over matching wide-legged trousers, featured in Viktor & Rolf's collection, which was based this time on the otherworldly French pantomime character, Pierrot. Violin prints, black and white frilled collars and harlequin heels all drove this message home. But although the inspiration was based on a fantasy figure, the clothes were, for the most part, strictly commercial. The flower wasn't the only ultra-feminine flourish on display, incidentally, on the V&R catwalk, powder-pink being their colour of the season.

There was nothing pink about Yohji Yamamoto's tropical florals as showcased by ebony-haired models who came stomping down the runway in crinoline skirts, workwear-inspired shirts and Doc Marten boots. Yamamoto's view of femininity is poetic, but never anything but dignified, and for the fact that he has built a successful empire while studiously avoiding the hugely successful empire, all while protecting the integrity of his main line, must be respected.

There are, of course, some designers for whom any bucolic or even botanical concern seems at odds with contemporary urban life. Martin Margiela is one of them. Instead, this season the elusive Belgian designer played with ideas of nudity and censorship - strips of inky black broke up a surface of otherwise pale flesh-coloured knitwear, and a collection that was sexy without ever resorting to anything as predictable as Barbie doll tactics. The closest things came to an earthly paradise, meanwhile, was the sort of Gothic white-horse print that loomed large in the heavy-metal heyday, the underbelly of 1970s culture being a signature reference point.

No roses either at Givenchy, where Riccardo Tisci continues to turn out just the sort of resolutely dark, narrow tailoring with an edge beloved of a certain young stylish Parisian, or at Undercover, where spiders and skulls added a playfully Gothic touch to an otherwise light and feminine collection.

Over at Sophia Kokosalaki, the look was suitably metropolitan as always - inspired both by contemporary music and the Greek artisan heritage that she understands so well. Neither was Hussein Chalayan in pastoral mood, although the light, effortlessly commercial pieces that were unveiled not on the catwalk, but in a 10-minute film directed by the designer in collaboration with the photographer Nick Knight, will suit the summer season well.

And so, finally, to Yves Saint Laurent, now presided over by Stefano Pilati, who replaced the fresh violet-strewn catwalk of last summer with a brutal concrete walkway along which models walked in splendid isolation, and in quite the most spectacular tailoring of the week, silk Charmeuse cocktail dresses, and almost impossibly high spike- heeled sandals.

Mirrored stars were the only extraneous embellishment in this case, where cut and proportion were all, and grandeur was achieved in the quintessentially Parisian manner for which the man after which this great Gallic institution is named was once well known.

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