Paris Fashion Week: Designers find a rough, more real beauty on runway

Paris Fashion Week: Designers find a rough, more real beauty on runway
Louis Vuitton at Paris Fashion Week. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images)

Paris Fashion Week had it all.

There were over-the-top stage sets (Chanel's Brasserie Gabrielle constructed at the Grand Palais, complete with built-in mahogany bars, banquettes and waiters serving coffee and croissants). There were surprise runway cameos (Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in a walk-off to announce "Zoolander 2" at Valentino).


And there were celebrity hijinks galore at the fall ready-to-wear shows that ended Wednesday (battle of the newly platinum blonds Kim Kardashian and Jared Leto, for one, plus front-row appearances by Kanye West, Lorde, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Woody Harrelson and more).

On the runways, the biggest trend was individualism and the triumph of personal style (if you can call that a trend), most notably at Dries Van Noten and Maison Margiela. Many designers deconstructed the traditional codes of feminine dressing (corsets, satin and lace), mixing them with menswear checks, tweeds and tailoring, achieving a rough but more real beauty. And they grappled with how to suggest sexuality without objectifying women, by offering a flash of leg, a glimpse of collarbone or a bare shoulder.

Designers also spoke to the meaning of fashion in today's technological world, where news of Apple's entry into the luxury market with a $10,000 gold Apple Watch stole focus.

Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel brasserie wasn't just a theme on which to hang a collection (complete with dinner-plate-shaped handbags, naturally). It was a suggestion that the only real luxury today is time. So why not do as the French do — pull up a chair, put down the iPhone and really enjoy a meal with friends?

That's what Lagerfeld's models did: After strolling the runway, they took seats and enjoyed the show themselves. The clothes were black-and-white, masculine and feminine, bourgeois madame and spunky mademoiselle. Some of the fall season's trends turned up, including the bomber as the new jacket silhouette, topping A-line skirts.

But there was also plenty of casual wear. One of the best looks was a mohair check cardigan worn over flared denim trousers with tried-and-true Chanel accessories. (Yes, rope necklaces, coin chain belts and spectator pumps were back like old friends.) Some of the cocktail-party attire was reminiscent of waiters' uniforms, including a black perforated leather jacket over a tuxedo shirt, bow tie and ruffled black skirt.

Raf Simons changed courses at Dior, taking the collection from the garden to the jungle with a cast of fierce females in colorful animal stripes, sexy catsuits and kinky thigh-high vinyl boots.

Perhaps with a nod to tomboy chic style icon Lorde, who was sitting front row, Simons brought more masculinity into the collection too, starting with terrific-looking tweed jackets over slim cropped pants and glossy vinyl boots with lucite heels. The shirttails of menswear-style button-downs peeked through the pleats of tweed skirts, showing a hint of leg. Jacquard knit dresses in abstracted animal stripe patterns hugged curves. The combined effect was rich and sensual but still modern — a rare animal, indeed.

At Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci staged a gypsy romance, with clothing for women who live life in front of paparazzi cameras, including alluring cut black velvet and lace dresses perfect for Kim Kardashian West, corseted matador coats for Madonna, beaded mesh gowns for Cate Blanchett, plus sensual, peacock feather print dresses, hourglass-shaped fur jackets and slit-front flounce skirts.

At Saint Laurent, the look was pretty-girl punk, with full-skirted polka-dot dresses, crinoline skirts and tight leather minis that hearkened to the 1980s, mixed with designer Hedi Slimane's boyish new classics — biker jackets, slashed leather pants and slim line suits.

The quirky, self-assured sexuality of Phoebe Philo's Céline collection was a far cry from the peep shows we saw on some runways. And thank goodness. Because, while there may have been a place for nudity and body constriction on the runways at one time, it's the 21st century. We've been there, done that.

Instead, Philo stepped out on the plank and dared to be different. Much of the clothing seemed to be coming undone or to be ready to slip off. There were padded satin coats pulling apart at the shoulder seams, trompe l'oeil ribbed sweaters with half-buttoned bra fastenings in back, and color-blocked silk slip dresses that skimmed suggestively, rather than hugging, worn with a string of whimsical, teasing fur puff pompoms thrown over one shoulder.

Stella McCartney was on a similar track, exploring the interplay between masculine and feminine, corsetry and tailoring.

Pretty sleeveless tops slid suggestively off one shoulder. Dresses built on a corset silhouette and spliced with tweed and rose gold brocade were worn with flared trousers. Sculptural black dresses also sent seductive cues, slit up to there, dancing around the hips and worn with molded pearl necklaces.


The same mix of beauty and utility, femininity and sport informed the Louis Vuitton collection.

If the last two seasons were about Nicolas Ghesquière establishing his time-traveling vision for the global luxury brand, this season was about getting down to the nitty-gritty of selling product — even logo T-shirts with a new house graphic — that were kind of fabulous in an outré way.


Ghesquière took traditional luxury fabrics, including lace, satin and brocade, and gave them a modern, casual look with sporty silhouettes, technical-looking embroideries and applications.

Slip dresses and T-shirts had corset detailing done in a graphic way, with exposed zippers down the sides. Ribbed knits were given the sci-fi treatment with flaring hems, cutouts and metallic effects. Miniskirts came in fused leather-and-lace, and shorts and mini dresses in an intriguing jellyfish brocade.

There were several new designer debuts of note, including former Dior creative director John Galliano at Maison Margiela, and perhaps even more promising, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski, former design director of the Row, at Hermès.

Riding jackets with contoured hems and removable quilted linings inspired by saddle blankets, high-waist corduroys and a scarf print silk and leather wrap skirt with a touch of '70s élan felt like newish spins on horsy Hermès classics. But the moment I spotted the pair of black leather overalls, worn over a crisp white shirt, it became clear that this was a designer with a point of view: strong lines, vibrant color and quirky details, such as a modernist sautoir necklace worn against a beautifully minimal, high-neck, ivory silk seamed knit dress.

And the new Octogone handbag was unlike anything Hermès has ever done before, an emerald-shaped box bag with a webbed strap. Not an Apple Watch or even an Hermès Birkin yet, but a start.