Le beau monde: Designers sparkle in Paris

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Horses at Hermès, a live orchestra at Chanel – Paris designers pulled out all the stops at the spring/summer shows. And then there were the clothes... Susannah Frankel found power dressing, flat shoes, and some serious sparkle


There were times, at the Paris collections last week, when the way in which some of the world's most famous status labels chose to flex their considerable muscle was as, if not more, interesting than the clothes themselves.

At Chanel, the entire Grand Palais was taken over by a freshly installed 18th century-inspired parterre garden, and Karl Lagerfeld employed an epic 92 models and a live orchestra.

At Louis Vuitton, it was all about Marc Jacobs being untouchable enough to make the world's most expensive – and sparkly – joke: as camp as Christmas and then some. For the designer Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, however, it is the clothes that matter as an expression of power par excellence. A procession of strong women in beautiful dresses, coats and tailoring looked as interesting as they were adaptable and easy to wear. Toughness – in the form of saddle leather harnessing – was juxtaposed with the label's wonderful drape and proportion.

At Yves Saint Laurent, meanwhile, a graphic silhouette, characteristically confident use of colour and the knowledge that, if everyone else is referencing YSL's 1970s archive, Stefano Pilati is the best designer to nail it, all made for quintessentially Gallic and very elegant viewing.


The finest John Galliano collection for some seasons reaffirmed this designer's position as the creator of some of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful clothes. At times, his muse was as light and brightly coloured as a butterfly, at others she was more femme fatale in flavour but delicate as porcelain china, nonetheless. Tao Kurihara's vision of femininity seemed more fresh and youthful than ever as clouds of feather-light fabric were draped, puffed and pleated around the body, and looks were topped off with headpieces that resembled other-worldly garden flowers.

More bourgeois were the little ruffled chiffon dresses at Valentino, where designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli are successfully modernising the label; a fact acknowledged (remarkably) by a standing ovation from the founder of the house himself.

Sarah Burton's debut collection for Alexander McQueen focused on the softer side of the label, too. This collection was inspired by going back to nature, and intricate gowns crafted in fragile feathers, lacquered raffia, horsehair, ears of wheat and golden straw spoke of the precious nature of found materials. A more free-spirited female hasn't been seen for some time.


If the jolie madame appears to be making her way back into fashion – thanks to everyone from Chanel to Ungaro, Valentino and YSL – there's a handful of designers intent on knocking her off her pedestal. It should come as no surprise that among them is Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, whose collection of darkly coloured clothing came with wardrobe changes attached. A jacket had three more to choose from sewn to its back, while coats were knotted at the hems and worn as stoles, their arms hanging almost to the floor. The designer wanted people to be "just a little afraid" and a Fifties-line leatherette dress with a hard-as-nails leather corset worn over the top had just that effect.

Yohji Yamamoto, too, wanted to shake things up, mixing the intricately constructed inky black garments he is famed for with a leery psychedelic print. The last look said it all: an inflatable gold skirt like a swimming pool toy was worn with a black T-shirt that read "THIS IS ME". The Balenciaga woman made for fiercely fashionable viewing as she stomped down the runway in clothing that stood away from, and protected, the body, as opposed to showing off any curves, while mischief, over and above pure anarchy, was the story at Miu Miu.


Fashion's love affair with no-nonsense clothing that is as functional and androgynous as it is chic continues, spearheaded of course by Phoebe Philo at Céline. Languid white trousers worn with moulded leather tunics or white shirts split up the back like hospital gowns, heavy crêpe jumpsuits with nothing but a single zip at the front or back disrupting their perfect surfaces and more had the front row rushing off to place personal orders only hours after the designer took her bow. A more heartfelt minimalism appeared at Hussein Chalayan, where the designer takes great time and consideration over making highly complex pattern-cutting appear simpler than the sum of its parts.

Dries Van Noten juxtaposed an oversized 1990s' silhouette – best in hand-dyed soft colours – and spare fabrics such as cotton and canvas with a more opulent 1970s spirit that also nodded to the 1940s in silhouette.

The details

Flat Shoes

Was the story backstage at Lanvin a just a publicity stunt? Apparently, models found the requisite high heels so difficult to walk in they that donned flats – coincidentally available for all in attendance – instead. Whatever, for spring/summer 2011 heels are no longer necessary. Flats were very much in evidence at Valentino (where they were hugely elegant), Balenciaga (where they were just huge), Chloé and, of course, on the catwalks of all the Japanese designers who have long believed that an independent woman should really be able to run in her shoes.

Exposed Backs

The back is the new erogenous zone. If it wasn't naked (Céline, Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, the list goes on...), it was veiled in the finest silk chiffon (Givenchy). This is good news for those of us who find autumn's focus on the décolletage somewhat nostalgic, but not so welcome in the case of anyone who wants or needs to wear a bra.

Boxy Denim

If designers have their way, denim is about to become considerably more loose-fitting – a million miles away for the still ubiquitous, ultra-tight, skinny jean. Artists' smocks in stiff denim were seen at Dries Van Noten, Céline and Stella McCartney. Céline also boasted a raw denim jumpsuit that stands away from the body, and wide-legged jeans.

The Model Grande Dame

Is the cult of youth finally on the wane? Probably not, although it was great to see more than a few designers used models who were over the age of 18. At John Galliano, Yasmin Le Bon looked as beautiful as ever. At Chanel, former house muse Inès de la Fressange was the last woman to step out. At Giles Deacon's collection for Ungaro, the fashion crush of the season, Anna dello Russo, sipped champagne and chatted to the audience alongside some of the world's most feted faces modelling the designer's new clothes. Kristen McMenamy closed the Louis Vuitton show, and we could be forgiven for all wanting to be her.

Couture Detail

Feathers were here, there and everywhere, most notably at Alexander McQueen, Ungaro and Chanel. All three labels upheld the values of hand-craftsmanship via the inclusion of more than a little finely executed embroidery. The workmanship at Balenciaga, while deceptively hard-edged, was still executed to couture standards. This is France, home to many of the world's most accomplished technicians, and the haute couture tradition is as revered as it is jealously guarded.

Also in Paris

Colour-blocking (Hussein Chalayan, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent), Lurex (Dries Van Noten, Louis Vuitton), stripes (Céline, Junya Watanabe, Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier), transparency (Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Tao), peek-a-boo erotica (Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen), androgyny (Stella McCartney, Céline, Comme des Garçons, Chloé), animal print (Givenchy, Louis Vuitton), animals (Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu) and especially horses (stirrup details on sandals at Stella McCartney, and of the living and breathing variety at Jean Paul Gaultier's swansong collection for Hermès).

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

    £17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

    Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

    £13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

    Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?