Keeping it everyday

Times Staff Writer

Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent are tough acts to follow. But someone had to try. And so the spring season ended Sunday when Stefano Pilati showed his first collection as Ford’s successor at YSL.

Instead of Ford’s beloved Rodin Museum, where the fashion flock had become accustomed to closing out the week sipping champagne, the show was held at the stock exchange in Paris’ financial district. The setting was appropriate, because the collection was so devoid of luxury that the only explanation could have been the bottom line.

Pilati can hardly be blamed for wanting to forge his own identity, but what he sacrificed was sex appeal. His silhouette was defined by the kind of wide patent-leather belts that come as a kind of two-for-one, with cheap dresses. From the very first look -- a black-and-white polka dot trench coat, cinched at the waist and cut above the knee -- the 1980s throwback was in high gear. Ruffles were dished up all too generously, framing the neckline and ringing the hem of an After Five confection in yellow peau de soie and cascading down the long skirt of a black-on-black dot pinafore.


Pilati refocused the label on daywear, and his short peplum jackets were the collection’s strength. In a nod to Saint Laurent, there was one in a fatigue green safari shape, paired with cropped trousers. Tulip-hem skirts might have been OK, fresh even, if it weren’t for the unflattering bustles in back. Accessories were forgettable.

After only six seasons at the house, Ford had been criticized for not forging a strong identity for the brand, which has yet to make a profit. Last year, when he announced he was leaving because he was unable to negotiate a new contract with parent firm Pinault Printemps Redoute that gave him the same degree of autonomy, it touched off a dialogue within the fashion industry about whether the corporate suits had triumphed over the artists. It’s still too soon to tell, though the replacement for Gucci Group president Domenico De Sole, who left with Ford, is Unilever executive Robert Polet.

At Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs also seemed to kowtow to commercial interests. Photographers were placed on either side of the runway so they would be at eye level with the new cherry-print monogram bags. The show opened with Christina Ricci taking an awkward walk down the catwalk. A riot of color and shine, the collection seemed designed to remind consumers that Vuitton makes clothes too. The LV logo print cutoff jean shorts, sunglasses designed with the help of Pharrell Williams, 1950s skirts and puff-sleeve jackets with a surfeit of sparkles and sequins, practically screamed “Buy me!”

Of course, all fashion shows are about selling, but some designers do it with more panache. Alber Elbaz’s collection for Lanvin was flawless, a seductive romp from the smoky clubs of his birthplace in Casablanca to the lamp-lit streets of Paris, set to the French torch song “Chansons L’Amour.” In a season short on evening glamour, he offered lots to keep the paparazzi cameras clicking in subtle smoky gray and cocoa or vibrant lavender and sun-baked yellow.

He also explored one of spring’s potent themes, volume, working both big and small. Sweeping, silk faille dance skirts and trench coats with billowing sleeves seemed light enough to lift off. Other pieces were shaped to the body using Madame Gres-like pleating, including one in alternating panels of rose and lavender chiffon, dusted in gold.

One of the season’s sexiest collections was by Olivier Theyskens for Rochas. The designer’s touch seemed to caress each piece. Short cocktail dresses with molded bra cups were designed to appear undone in back, revealing a lacy strap or the top of a high-waist panty. And the delicate, chiffon hems on skirts were lopsided as if they had been ripped out after a romp on the bed. On a black silk faille peplum jacket, pleating around the small of the back and at the curve of the waist was exquisitely fussy. Gowns came in mint green or black peau de soie with curve-hugging dropped waists and voluminous pleated skirts in the shape of flower blooms turned over and plopped down.


Chloe’s Phoebe Philo also hit on the right formula for spring romance, with a draped, dropped-waist dress in mineral green chiffon edged in crystals, hung from a single twisted strap around the neck. But there’s a reason she has become a hit with pretty young things: fabulous separates like pleated walking shorts in ecru washed silk, paired with a lace edged gray camisole and a shrunken military jacket, or a ruffle-front chiffon blouse worn over a soft skirt -- not syrupy sweet, just uncompromisingly cool.

Valentino offered a more mature vision of the season’s ethnic look, with spring’s full skirt edged in metallic bands, worn with an oversized taffeta anorak in a print that brought to mind savannah grass, a belt with oversized tiger head buckles and jeweled wedge sandals. Linen pants and jackets had scarves or ropes of pearls threaded through round rivets at the waist. The gowns were underwhelming in pink chiffon with a ruffle at the middle or chartreuse tied with a bow under the bust.

At Hermes for his second season, Jean Paul Gaultier continued to work with the house’s signatures, creating swimsuits in the Hermes ribbon print and airy scarf print coverups or palazzo pants worn with armloads of bangle bracelets. He also offered Hermes jeans, the ultimate in status denim, cropped and paired with seriously luxe crocodile wedge espadrilles that laced up the ankles, and the new Birkin bag in perforated sand-colored leather. But sleeveless knit dresses with sailor collars and chiffon wraparound skirts in bottle green or scorched yellow came close to being too stuffy.

No one could accuse John Galliano of being stuffy. In his signature line, he continued his 1960s homage from earlier in the week at Dior, with a Beatles soundtrack and the kind of high-spirited clothes, tinfoil and inflatable headgear that might lead one to believe he had sampled some wacky tabacky at a Grateful Dead show or a present-day rave. Denim skirts with slouchy bums, worn with fur-trimmed combat boots and candy-colored sunglasses, brought to mind Paris Hilton in “The Simple Life.” Dresses came in psychedelic rainbow prints or embroidered with sequins in bold blooms.

For the finale, a model trailing a helium teddy bear balloon on her wrist, glided out in a pink tie-dye parachute gown with a skirt big enough to cover all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Imagine indeed.