The Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto kicked off the spring-summer 2003 haute couture collections in Paris yesterday to a suitably enraptured following.
Not since the glory days of Dior's New Look has houndstooth check looked so elegant. Curvy jackets, box-pleated short shirts, cropped trousers and winter coats with frayed seams were masterful. Matching booties, woolly hats and long scarves took co-ordinated dressing to a witty extreme. And for evening, what more could a modern madam ask for than a ballgown in that same weave: pleated, furled and bouncing blithely around the body like a rare bloom?
This is Yamamoto's second season showing at the haute couture. For more than 20 years, he had displayed his main line collection at the ready-to-wear beside some 80 other big names in March and October.
His decision to show some two months earlier as part of this far more élite season, where every stitch is hand-sewn and garments sell for upwards of $10,000 (£6,000), was promptedby the gap left by Yves Saint Laurent.
Yamamoto said that, until Saint Laurent's swan-song collection this time last year, "I was thinking that Yves Saint Laurent had been working in a classic way, but it wasn't like that. He was working on the edge. I was moved by it. I said to myself, 'This is his last show and I misunderstood him for more than 20 years'. So, he is leaving and there's an empty space left. I can move in."
Few designers could get away with such a move. Although Yamamoto's clothes are expensive, even by designer fashion standards, they are ultimately grounded in commercial reality. The haute couture, conversely, is fashion's most extravagant loss leader.
Practicality has little place in this rarefied world. But then, Yamamoto is one of only a few designers who, like Saint Laurent before him, has entirely changed our preconceptions of women's dress.
With Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons both first came to Paris from Tokyo at the beginning of the Eighties Yamamoto overturned the bourgeois hour-glass silhouette in chintzy fabrics and gorgeous colours, finished with high-heeled shoes that was fashion's raison d'être.
Between them, the two labels introduced black as the colour to be seen in and, after years of resistance, no one can ignore their more radical and thoughtful vision, which relies on enveloping the female form as opposed to exposing it and revels in the purely architectural possibilities of clothes.
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