Bare breasts, face masks and one-legged, sk-ants (skirt-pants) on the runway can only mean one thing: It's Paris Fashion Week.
The fall 2015 shows kicked off Tuesday, with the early slots occupied by a new class of up-and-coming designers jockeying for attention from press, buyers--and even Paris Fashion Week mainstay, rapper/designer Kanye West.
From my perspective, the front-runner in the race is Yang Li, 27, the Chinese-born, Australian-bred designer now based in London who launched his label three years ago and is on his way to redefining luxury for the millennial generation with his brand of grunge romanticism.
It was all about rough elegance in his fall collection, from the fraying hem of a green taffeta military-style evening gown, to the jagged cut of a red leather zip front top, worn over a fraying silk miniskirt, to the crinkled texture of a silvery strapless cocktail frock, worn over flared black trousers--an ensemble that looks like it belongs on the edgy pop star Lorde. (In fact, the models all had a Lorde-ish look, with dark lipstick and their hair pulled back.)
Another buzzed-about newbie is Simon Porte Jacquemus, 25, a self-taught designer and former sales assistant at Comme des Garcons, who launched his label (called Jacqemus) at the age of 19, and has since been nominated twice for the LVMH Fashion Prize for emerging designers.
FOR THE RECORD
March 5, 12:08 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Simon Porte Jacquemus is 24. He is 25.
Jacquemus played up his naive, outsider status with a collection titled, "L'Enfant du Soleil," in which he said he hoped to capture the childlike poetry of a Michael Gondry film. "A childlike woman," he wrote in the show notes, "clothes from her father, her mother...freedom to have fun."
At their best, the clothes were reminiscent of Picasso's Cubist artworks with primitive fabric shapes placed on the body like paper cutouts on a collage. A navy blue, white and green off-shoulder blouse, and navy wrap skirt had a minimalist appeal, for example, and a crisp white side-tie shirt with a black, double collar a certain charm.
But much of it was more art piece than fashion, and the styling more severe than joyful. A dress with hand-shaped cut-outs groping the breasts made me squirm, and paper face masks with holes pierced through the eyes were also startling.
If Jacqemus is the artsy, "free to be you and me" kid of Paris' new class, then Anthony Vaccarello is the sex pot. He launched his collection in 2009, after working with Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi. And earlier this year, Vaccarello was tapped by his fashion fairy godmother Donatella Versace to design her lower-priced Versus line after doing several successful capsules for the label.
With their high leg slits and low plunge fronts, his namesake designs have made quite a mark in Hollywood (Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna are fans), so it seemed apt for Vaccarello, 33, to turn to the stars for inspiration.
Black mini dresses cast a sexy spell with star-studded embellishment, or metal fringe that clanked as models walked. Vaccarello's vision of tailoring involved black tunics with oversized silver buckle belts, and more metal embellishment down the sides, and one-legged pants/skirts (sk-ants). The collection had a sexy zing, but felt more like a refinement of previous ideas than an evolution.
Cédric Charlier, 27, is a designer whose identity is harder to discern. A Belgian, he started his label in 2012 after a stint at Cacherel, and since then his collections have at times been artsy, at times minimal, and at times futuristic.
This season, it was all about French prep, including sporty, 1960/70s-inspired basics with an edge, glossy patent leather trench coats, knife pleat skirts, color-blocked knits, scarfy print silk dresses, and sequin shifts with an athletic polish. It was a lot of smart-looking pieces, but what next season?
A not-so-new, but newly rebranded designer to know is Christophe Lemaire, 35, who left Hermès in 2014 after four years as creative director to focus on his own namesake label, Lemaire, and announced earlier this week he will be designing a capsule for Japanese fast fashion retailer Uniqlo, following in the footsteps of Jil Sander and others.
Lemaire held his show at the National Library of France, which suits his cerebral aesthetic. There were midi wrap skirts, off-shoulder tops, swingy coats and shawls, and sensible shoes with ballet-like elastic laces at the ankle, all exuding a quiet luxury that's not so well played on the runway, perhaps, but should work in the wardrobes of women who appreciate The Row and other minimalist labels.
Wednesday ended with a cocktail party hosted by Delphine Arnault, executive vice president of luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, which owns the Vuitton, Dior and Celine fashion brands, among others. The event celebrated LVMH's appeal to next gen talent, featuring 26 new designers short listed for the second year of the LVMH Fashion Prize, which will be announced in May, and includes a 300,000-euro bonus. The group presented key looks from their fall collections on racks set up at the LVMH headquarters, as Champagne and nibbles were served.
Among the amazing newcomers from all over the world: New York-based Baja East, which specializes in ambisexual luxe knitwear; London-based Faustine Steinmetz, who fuses denim with rubber and felted wool; and Paris-based Koche by designer Christelle Koche, who elevates skater wear with fine fabrics and embroidery.
Perhaps most intriguing though, given the set and setting, was Paris-based Vetements. A label of deceptively simple clothing, it's designed by a collective of seven that insists on anonymity, and seems to be positioning itself as a kind of anti-big luxury, luxury brand.
"I want to borrow something to wear to the show," said Kanye West, the most un-anonymous person on the planet, as he perused the rack of tailored pieces on his way through the event.
The Vetements designers seemed to be game, despite the request seemingly running counter to their under-the-radar mission.
Maybe because in an industry already so crowded with new talent, every little bit helps.
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PHOTOS FROM PARIS FASHION WEEK: