If there is one thing that characterises the past decade in fashion it is the revitalisation of the world's oldest and most famous houses by contemporary designers. The trend began in the 1980s when Karl Lagerfeld went to Chanel. It wasn't until ten years later when Tom Ford transformed Gucci, that things gathered pace. Since then New York fashion darling Marc Jacobs has taken over at Louis Vuitton. The British designer John Galliano is now the force behind Christian Dior. And then, of course, there's Givenchy which has, over the past eight years, been designed by Galliano, Alexander McQueen and finally - notoriously - Julien Macdonald, none of whom have been able to reverse its fortunes. Yesterday in Paris a further fashion pairing came into the spotlight. In the suitably august surroundings of the Manege de L'Ecole Militaire, Jean-Paul Gaultier, the former enfant terrible of fashion, unveiled his debut collection for Hermes, probably the most exclusive label of them all. (The waiting list for a Hermes Birkin or Kelly bag is notoriously long.)
This is the perfect match. Gaultier is as much a famous symbol of France as Hermes, albeit in a more racy way. And the designer, in his early fifties, is neither "enfant" nor "terrible" these days.
His past once cost him dearly. It is the stuff of fashion legend that when the top job at Dior first became available, Gaultier was interested. But Bernard Arnault, chairman of Dior parent company LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) wasn't interested. He offered Gaultierthe less prestigious Givenchy role.
Gaultier turned it down and opened his own couture house. So why, almost a decade on, should the designer accept the position at Hermes? The brand's auspicious history must have something to do with it. Founded by Thierry Hermes in 1837 it is among the oldest French brands and is still family run. Hermes already owns a 35 per cent stake in Gaultier's business: paying $26m (£14m) for the privilege back in 1999. "I am really excited about this new adventure," Gaultier said at the time of his appointment last May. And for Hermes? Accompanied by a live orchestra, Gaultier, sent out some of the most discreetly luxurious clothes of the autumn/winter season. Soft cashmere dressing gown wraps, mannish trousers and warm sheepskin tunics with lashes of Hermes orange.Classic riding boots looked suitably sexy as did 1940s-inspired shoes.
Gaultier being Gaultier, a witty twist was always likely. It came in the form of strict leather corsets in crocodile stamped leather andmodel Erin O'Connor with her own bushy horse-hair tail.
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