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Chronicles of Chic: Spring/Summer 2014 Fashion Weeks – it’s madness as usual

The fashion mob marched through New York, London and Milan, before it settled for a week in Paris. Following its peripatetic footstep, a long tail of Instagrams, filtered shots capturing the Spring/Summer 2014 collections. EMILIE GAMBADE looks at yet another month of fashion weeks.

Fashion week in the northern hemisphere has become a serious affair: in New York, for Spring/Summer 2014, more than 260 designers presented their work over eight days; London had 58 catwalk shows in only five days while Paris is currently hosting over 100 designers; that is excluding off-site and off-schedule shows. Amid the numerous productions, more garments parade, like stroboscopic images presented to the beat of carefully selected soundtracks.

The New York Times’ fashion reporter Cathy Horyn called this accumulation of clothes “a jolting train of images” that made her feel like “on a collision course.”

Indeed, the pace is swift and the binge very real: there is no time for ennui or idleness; one sits, watches, gulps down collections, sends laconic tweets, #regrams, hops from one show to another and starts all over again some many miles away; it’s Groundhog Day on steroids. In this pandemonium, picking up the best designs or drawing up trends has become a Kafkaesque experience.

But fashion week is not only about trends; it is also, and most importantly, about the designers who, in spite of the season, the hype and a demanding clientele, keep on producing collections that command attention. In an article for the New Yorker, Literary Editor Sasha Weiss, describing fashion designers, quotes Barney’s Ambassador-at-large, Simon Doonan: “A fashionable mind is a utopian one —forceful, sweeping, and imaginative to the point of delusion.”

Despite the cacophony, designers rise, utopian minds, old-guard charmers who draw collections that plunged into history, popped with colours and extravagance and competed with timeless elegance.

The sweeping scholars:

Old-timer Oscar de la Renta dug into the past, from Shakespeare to Elizabethan crewel embroideries, to create colourful, almost joyful garments that balanced between folklore chic and soft modernism; he declined embroideries in place of prints, dressed his models in mini-capes, tight pencil skirts in black and white and impressed the audience with gowns très soir: guipure and silk, frills and glitter, in bright lemon, turquoise and fuchsia. It was John Galliano’s second collaboration to de la Renta’s collection, albeit a discreet one, and the range strongly bore the hand of the eldest. The designer creates collections like an artisan: it is less about originality than his incredible savoir-faire.

Marco Zanini at Rochas told Style.com that “he was inspired by Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie, and that he wanted to capture the “translucent qualities of glass, frost, and crystals.” He translated it into impeccably cut garments, playing with fabrics, sheer velvets and organza, for a look that had some cute weirdness to it: imagine a monochromic Iris Apfel or a modern Marie-Antoinette wearing the fleur-de-lis as a label.

Photo: Model Lindsey Wixson presents a creation by German designer Karl Lagerfeld for French fashion house Chanel as part of his Spring/Summer 2014 women’s ready-to-wear fashion show during Paris fashion week October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

It is hard not to like what Lagerfeld does for Chanel. His many interpretations of the little tweed jacket created by Coco in the 1950s has made it an essential item in one’s wardrobe and an iconic reference. And here it is again, slightly oversized and struck with shades of pink stripes, deformed with an exaggerated collar and asymmetrical or sleeveless and turned into a knee-length dress. The models usually wear similar hairstyles, here Cleopatra’s-like wigs, as not to distract the eyes from the clothes. His collection was particularly fun, with rainbow palettes that look like ribbons had been threaded into the fabric.

The vernal visionaries:

Proenza Schouler by Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez was avant-garde with cropped layers in scribbled print, halter-tops over wide-belted pleated skirts and flowing pants. The shoulders were slightly boxy, the skirts were slightly lengthy and the collection slightly shambolic; because of it, it was bursting with creativity and newness. Everything, in Proenza Schouler’s collections, seems to be designed with the tip (and delicacy) of an invisible brush. This time, it had the plural viewpoints of a cubist painting: geometric shapes, touches of colours that break the surface and warm tones.

Gareth Pugh designed a collection à la Alexander McQueen with sculpted silhouettes in two tones, bias-cut skirts, corset in trapezoidal shapes, and a moulded plastic top. It could have also been Mugler circa ‘Angel’s’ launch, in 1992, when he dressed Jerry Hall in a mermaid-like dress. Pugh’s collection was brave, strong, influential, and if deconstructed, extremely wearable, with white high-collars embracing the neck and shift coatdresses in dark grey.

Photo: A model presents a creation by designer Gareth Pugh as part of his Spring/Summer 2014 women’s ready-to-wear fashion show during Paris fashion week September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Comme des Garçons by Rei Kawakubo is often a feast for the eye, a challenge for the mind (what is ‘this?’) and a test to one’s audacity (would I really wear ‘this?’). For S/S 2014, Kawakubo didn’t disappoint; it was as if the world had suddenly inflated: everything looked like those bikers’ viscose jackets that puff up like helium balloons when the wind flows inside. Everything was overblown, as were the characters impersonated: here a caged baby doll in a puffed up pink dress, there a messed-up Goth in a short black & white outfit and ruined black lipstick. Whatever the message, Kawakubo is a relentless genius and pushes us to question the very reason we dress: to be noticed. Noticed one will be, dressed in Comme des Garçons.

The dear darlings:

Many have called Alexander Wang ‘the new Jacobs,’ be it for his bravura, his inimitable talent or his great sense of humour. For S/S 2014, he is more Lagerfeld (who used to call himself “Labelfed”) than Jacobs, cleverly applying his eponymous logo on selected garments. But this is a mere, well executed, wink to a narcissistic crowd. His talent really shone through the tailored, single breasted, cropped jackets in different tones of grey, trench coats turned into tailcoats worn over short tennis skirts, wide belted pants, Bermuda and boxer shorts, in pastels and light greys. Wang’s collections simply flow; it’s a fluidity of lines, textures and prints, from the defined lapels down to the shiny shoes the models wore.

Photo: A model presents a creation from the Alexander Wang Spring/Summer 2014 collection during Fashion Week in New York, September 7, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Talking about fashion darlings, Marc Jacobs, who closed the New York shows under pouring rain, set his runway in the middle of what looked like the vestiges of a beach, spattered with neat garbage, mirroring Chanel’s theatre ruins for its Haute Couture 2013. Regardless of spring or summer, Jacobs Spring/ Summer 2014 collection was thick and heavy, with embroidered sweatshirts, shoulder-padded jackets, long textured skirts over Pocahontas boots, all silhouettes topped with an ash blonde short cropped-wig.

Photo: A model presents a creation from the Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 2014 collection during New York Fashion Week September 12, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

At Jean Paul Gaultier, it was all about musical references and, hum, the TV-show Dancing with the Stars. Gautier loves popular/ populist notes, and his mimic of a famous show to draw a collection is nothing surprising. “L’enfant chéri de la mode” played with records from Grease to Madonna’s Vogue, and had three “judges” seated patiently at a table while models performed tangos, sambas and other dance moves. As in all Gautier’s collections, there was joy, fun, amusement. He is, after all, the quintessence of Paris: striped jerseys, confidence, decadence and voilà.

Photo: Model Karlie Kloss presents a creation by French designer Jean Paul Gaultier as part of his Spring/Summer 2014 women’s ready-to-wear fashion show during Paris fashion week September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

The soft classicists:

On the other side of the fashion spectrum, Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein presented a delicate line of transparent dresses, nudes, lightness, where elegance goes in pair with femininity and urban poise. Costa played with monochromes, dressing his models from head-to-toe in cream, light black or textured outfits.

Master of elegance and modern classicism, Michael Kors, just like Costa, declined ultra feminine silhouettes in navy blue, khaki, beige, ladies from a post-World War time, conquering the world in pencil skirts, tiny jerseys and flowing dresses.

At Christophe Lemaire, it was less about conquering the world and more about self introspection with clothes in soft textures, lines running down to the floor like monks’ dresses. There is a light sense of purity that shines through Lemaire’s collection. It seems to be made for women who privilege discretion but leave in someone’s mind an inerasable memory. Chanel’s famous quote “Fashion fades; only style remains the same” couldn’t fit a range more perfectly.

The visual artists:

Ralph Lauren’s collection played out like a comic book from the sixties: women with wide sunglasses, straightened hair, bright red jumpsuits, checked mini-dresses or plain ones in vivid orange worn with high socks, were reminiscences of Diana Rigg in the Avengers.

Matthew Williamson and Paul Smith had, strangely enough, some similar propositions: both of their feminine suits were presented in bright hues, be it reds or blues. But while Williamson used flowers and wild prints all over his dresses, floating silk skirts and ensembles turning an outfit into an ambulant tapestry, Smith’s impeccable chic translated into boyish silhouettes, topped with wide-brimmed soft Panama hats.

Raf Simons for Christian Dior had a jolt with colours and prints: it was a festival, here a dress in flowery print barred with words like “whisper” or “yellow,” there a cropped jacket closed up by a flat bow-tie, layered under a trench coat and over a pale pink top. On the eyes: brushes of gold as the only jewel possible on this happy clash of colours.

Talking about visual artists, Miuccia Prada asked artists El Mac, Gabriel Specter or Jeanne Detallante to paint directly on the walls of the venue during the show. As if pulled out of the mural work, models walked on the runway dressed in striking outfits, extracts of artwork, placed on the chest, on the trunk, or covering the socks. It wasn’t mere replicas of one painting but a savant interpretation of art, a clever use of colours, where deep green leg warmers finish perfectly a khaki, red, black and yellow straight dress. If one ever questioned the notion of fashion as Art, Prada gave the answer.

Photo: A model presents a creation from Prada Spring/Summer 2014 collection during Milan Fashion Week September 19, 2013. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Prabal Gurung’s collection was a firework. It popped, it burst, it exploded into graphical prints, sharp cuts, vivid colours and a patchwork of fabrics. The highlight: his interesting take on PVC. In his hands, plastic is fantastic.

The quiet masters:

Thanks to the Spice Girls for releasing Victoria Beckham from a life of candy-pop songs and cliché posh outfits; she is a far more brilliant designer than she ever was a singer. It might be the subtle layers, the softness found in one shade of grey, the delicate bias, oblique cut on the thigh, the moulded sleeves that cover the shoulders, but her range is pure femininity. It is never vulgar, nor pretentious; this season it was slightly more athletic, still fitting like a glove.

Photo: A model presents a creation from the Victoria Beckham Spring/Summer 2014 collection during New York Fashion Week, September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

One has to applause Maiyet for its “luxurious goodness” and S/S 2014 collection. The brand, co-founded by South African Human Rights lawyer, Paul van Zyl, has grown into a household name in the world of eco-fashion, and praises itself for working with local artisans from remote, third-world economies. Its understanding of local craftsmanship and its use of it should be an example for South African designers.

Vanessa Bruno, like Beckham or Marant, is part of a generation of female designers whose conception of fashion is modern, discreet and fun, far from the bling bling à la Versace and the cliché of la femme fatale. There were butterflies kissing the body in a caress, nudes, baby pinks, tennis dresses and then, sharper, some bright turquoises for a preppier look.

The cool kids:

Widely plugging their collections to the skate culture of Los Angeles, where tattoos hide under a wide timber-shirt or unashamedly walk over a white dress, the Mulleavy sisters from Rodarte designed a range of asymmetrical fringed leather skirts, black corsets, large men’s shirts, snake-skin pointy shoes, worn with back-side-flipped caps.

DKNY had singer Rita Ora model its printed shirt, black 60’s-like skirt and cropped leggings. With an air of Marilyn, platinum hair and red lips defying the audience, she embodied the line, feminine, urban and sporty. There again, pastels dominated as seen on the baby pink short suit hanging very low on the hips; denims were declined in overalls and long dresses were worn over sneakers.

For bourgeois retailer J.Crew by Tom Mora, it was a lot brighter and upper class although rooted in the forever summer of the West Coast. Also playing with the beach look, Tommy Hilfiger with a striking neon bright collection, made of neoprene, zipped swimming costumes, tennis dresses, turquoise tracksuits and khaki ensembles.

Orla Kiely’s range seemed to be pulled out of the trunk of the irresistible Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Models resembled girl-scouts but somehow managed not to look ridiculous. Be it for the pink berets or the high socks, the old school look worked, more so if you thought of joining Summer school.

Isabel Marant is a favourite of mine – and of many – and if you missed her Paris collection for H&M, you might want to look at her S/S 2014 soft masterpieces. As often with Marant’s summer ranges, it was resolutely rock chic, with combinations of delicate lace, washed out denims, cropped tops, shorts worn over tanned and toned legs and tailored blazers. But what is so effective with Marant’s signature style is that it makes sense. She has that ability to perfectly match her time, although this season might have lacked some originality. Hopefully, she will be able to reinvent herself and not get trapped in the 2010’s.

Looking at the Spring/ Summer collections is like flying over a cuckoo’s nest: it is wild, incoherent, fluid, chaotic, noisy and beautiful. But in all the turmoil, lines are defined, trends are drawn and desires are born. If fashion trends seem to have the legitimacy of a night butterfly – today is, of course, so yesterday – desires can last for long; it is the power of utopian minds to keep them alive. This season again, despite the overdose of shows, it was easy to fall in love. DM

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