Showmanship Takes Over Runways of Paris Fashion

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

PARIS — Even as Paris fashion week wound down, trends were hard to pin down. Gold bangles, à la Chanel? Menswear vests? Thigh-high hemlines? One thing’s for sure: Showmanship took over the shows. At Chanel and Hermès, high production values and clever concepts put the clothes in context. At Sonia Rykiel and Stephen Burrows, as well as Hermès, models were animated and interacted with each other on the runway.

When it worked, it was brilliant. At Chanel, the Grand Palais was transformed into a stadium of white. At the center was a white structure with Japanese sliding doors trimmed in black and topped by a wraparound ticker — that kind that defines Times Square — endlessly announcing “Chanel Printemps/Eté 2007.” When the models arrived, they wore identical short, white robes, full makeup, and accessories. Into the hut, with its automatic doors, they went. And out they came again, this time wearing the collection, on a white catwalk that rimmed the structure. At the end of the show, the sides of the temporary building were whisked back like pocket doors, and the models stepped out, giving every seat in the house a peek “backstage” at the dressers and dressing areas.

What this show built was a sense of anticipation — that giddy sense of pleasure at witnessing something ridiculously simple become transformed into something original and beautiful. After all, in every show models come and go from a dressing area, but this one played with the concept. And the clothes here were lively renditions of the classic Chanel look, with significant attention paid to the logo. There were white suit jackets paired with tiny sequined short-shorts, and black dresses accented with wide gold chain belts (with a tiny charm of interlocking “C”s at the back). A series of white pleated skirts and dresses trimmed in bands of gold suggested glamorous versions of a Roman senator. Though there were colors involved — such as a baby doll pink dress, a navy suit, and a few colorful striped dresses — white and black ruled the day.

Was it too much production and not enough fashion-forwardness? Karl Lagerfeld stuck to a specific vocabulary, and the results were marvelous. The music and lighting enhanced the mood so much that upon conclusion, there was ebullience in the air. Fans of the ballet might liken it to the cheerful feeling that carries you home after Balanchine’s Symphony in C, a masterpiece (in white and black, I might add) in which the choreographer stuck to a specific vocabulary. And the results are marvelous.

There was more of a story to tell at the Hermès show, where the runway was a series of wooden boards and the front row consisted of orange canvas deck chairs. Models sashayed down a ramp with a rope railing and a sign above that suggested these leggy lovelies were disembarking from a steamer called Hermès.

The clothing here was entirely seductive. In classic orange and brown shades, long dresses with deep V-necks were accented with plenty of gold jewelry and leather belts. This being Hermès, leather was strongly present: jackets or vests topped chiffon evening gowns, a suit of tan leather had a supple cut, and a pair of tight leather pants managed to look quite sophisticated. A sunflower print was used for a flowing evening dress, and a series of gowns in a lace print closed the show. The models did not walk a straight line, but instead seemed to wander down the runway, waving to their model friends, holding hands, or pretending to giggle together. The acting added to the feeling that the SS Hermès had just arrived at St. Tropez. Although no theater careers were born on this runway, the show’s spirit was delightful for its creativity, if occasionally distracting.

At Sonia Rykiel, the models were free to smile, smirk, wave, and generally express themselves — and this natural approach was probably the most effective of all. Held Friday afternoon, by which time energy was beginning to lull, the popular disco tunes and spirit in this show was better than a fourth espresso.

Things started off with a series of short dresses with black and white or light-colored stripes. Knitwear, a Rykiel staple, was present in fine form; a white sweaterdress with a floral closure had a kicky edge, as did a strapless sweater minidress. Several rose-colored dresses came with large ruffles that seemed just right or overdone depending on the size; a series of white pants suits combined fun with a powerful silhouette.There was no shortage of pretty party dresses in pink, orange, and yellow that could make a girl’s night.

When the models came out for the finale, they had left the collection behind and instead wore tube dresses, each with a different facial expression printed on the front. The song “I’m Every Woman” played as Ms. Rykiel and her daughter Nathalie took a triumphant stroll down the runway. With a different designer, it might have felt forced, but this was a sincere, lovable moment.

At Stephen Burrows, the models were encouraged to dance and wiggle in their colorful finery. They could have been Brazilian heiresses getting ready to go out clubbing and deciding which long, body-hugging dress in bright, energetic colors to wear. Maybe a lovely red dress with a wrap that tied in the back?

Other dresses played with the placement of drawstring ties or had a quirky imbalance of sleeves (one side loose, one side sleeveless). Another dress in a stunning blue and green combination was immediately pleasing to the eye. Other combinations were questionable — like a gown of zebra print with a leopard cape. But when the model posed halfway down the runway, a red panel of fabric in the back accented the look in a painterly, well-composed way.

If the rule in show biz is to know your audience, Mr. Burrows might have toned down the models-who-dance-and-smile idea. Whereas the Rykiel show seemed to kick off the weekend, this show capped it off. And by this point, a fifth espresso was mandatory.

There were, of course, designers who dispensed with the antics and showed their clothes as designers do. Elie Saab presented a collection of 55 looks in shades of gold: sequined gold, solid gold, and creamy gold. Yes, it was monochromatic, but it was an instructive look at how much a designer can do with an idée fixe. The cuts were short in baby doll or sheath shapes; long in V-neck ’70s halter dresses; or a little bit of both, as in a short dress with a long, flowing cape. Most impressive was a long gown of pleated satin that would capture all attention with a 10-mile radius of its wearing. These dresses were mainly bound for the red carpet, and they’ll make any star look dazzling.

Also in that category was Guy Laroche. Several gowns here were accented with sequined banding across the back or the front of a deep V-neck. A dramatic sheer black gown came with flowing bat-wing sleeves, and another featured a precisely folded fan of gray fabric on a black bodice. The collection started off with looks for day, with long navy leggings worn under tunics and tops with long, fluid lines. Indeed, the sense of movement and flow was present throughout this collection. These are dresses for making an entrance — or an Oscar-holding exit. And sometimes, that’s all the drama anyone needs.

The New York Sun

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