Runway photographs from Milan and Paris should come with a warning label that reads: The hairstyles, makeup and accessories depicted are not meant to be taken seriously and / or imitated by consumers, even those with an extremely good sense of humor. The presentations of clothes are called fashion shows, after all, and in an (often misguided) attempt to lend theatricality to what could be pedestrian proceedings, designers enlist the talents of creative teams who help transform models into otherwordly creatures.
Does John Galliano really expect his customer to sling a heavy leather belt on a fragile silk dress, cover a turtleneck with a six-inch choker necklace, pin artificial blossoms in her marcelled hair, then plop on a little straw hat? Hardly.
When styling is good, it adds, making the whole more than the sum of its parts. When it's bad, it ranges from distracting to ruinous. The models in the Guy Laroche show came out in groups, each wearing Afro wigs of different colors. I doubt that it was intended for the orange-topped bunch to look like Bozo the clown, but they did. Michael Kors decreed that the models in his Celine show tread on the backs of their flat oxfords. It was nice to see that their heels were callous-free, but no one would ever wear shoes that way except on a runway.
Abusing the lace-up shoes was the designer's idea. Such accessory brainstorms are often the contribution of stylists, shadow figures who exist in a nether world somewhere between designers and gofers. Lori Goldstein, one of the people responsible for Madonna's frequent, and elaborate, reincarnations, is a powerful and talented stylist. In addition to fashion shows, she helps craft looks presented in music videos and magazine photos.
Stylists who are thought to possess a magic touch are courted and raided by designers. Amanda Harlech, an Englishwoman admired for her style, was Galliano's muse and confidante until Karl Lagerfeld lured her to Chanel.
This season, there was some grumbling that stylists are becoming too powerful, actually changing a designer's presentation so that it reflects their vision more than the creator's. When Marc Jacobs' collection for Louis Vuitton was criticized for being overly Pradaesque, some blame was placed on his stylist, who has worked with Prada extensively.
The stylist, or hairstylist, responsible for the hairdos at the Balmain show is probably in hiding somewhere in Paraguay. The models' hair was plastered against their heads, except for limp hair extensions attached above each ear that hung to the knees, and a ratted tuft of hair pinned on at the nape. One of the teased tufts fell off and landed on the runway. Each new model inadvertently kicked it, and the audience of normally poker-faced fashion watchers dissolved into uncontrollable snickers as the errant hairball became the focus of attention.
With a few exceptions, New York designers indulge in wacky styling less than the Europeans. The round of fall shows that begins there in 10 days could offer surprises, but it would be hard to top the tumbling hairball.