Trench Couture



I trucked across the pebbled grounds of Versailles, slipped past the bulk of the security guards, and snapped on my hospital-style All-Access badge and went into the backstage at Dior. To my left was a table of drinks and small food (many grapes, many cheese cubes) and in front of me, the long tables and mirrors of the makeup and hair teams. I saw Pat McGrath in the thick of models and assistants, and the milliner Stephen Jones. John Galliano at the Dior show on July 2. The place was enormous — in keeping, I suppose, with the general expectations of Chez Dior’s 60th anniversary, where the runway and its lavish gray-and-white set ran more than 300 feet through the Orangerie. John Galliano had been in Spain this spring, after the death of his assistant Steven Robinson, and he had been deeply moved, he told me in June, by the ritual of the bullfights and how the matadors prepared themselves before going into the ring. From the way he described meeting one matador, I got the idea he took the whole thing very seriously. He said the bullfighter wanted to know about Kate Moss. Galliano laughed. Then the bullfighter got himself dressed for the ring. There were going to be flamenco dancers at the show, as well as a choir and an orchestra. Galliano said it was in tribute to Robinson. “We’re going to give it up for Steven,” he told me. I went into the next room of the backstage, stopping to speak to Naomi Campbell, whose hair was up in rollers. The supers — Linda, Shalom, Amber, Gisele, Naomi — had their own dressing room, with security guards out front. Galliano’s dressing room was next door. He’d had a matador’s suit made for himself. The dresses were waiting on the rails, and the dressers next to them. I saw Rafael, the premier at Dior, and he told me the last fitting had been at 4 a.m. that day. Rafael hadn’t gone to bed. The dresses were beautiful, all based on different artists’ interpretations of Dior. One of the simplest dresses was in white silk with an open neckline and a swirling rose hand painted in red, as if hastily drawn by René Gruau. But the more lavish dresses, in pale green, Wedgwood blue, gray, violet, scarlet, were also good, and you could usually recognize the style of the artist. I don’t know that this show was as electrifying, as complete, as Galliano’s January couture show, and I don’t think it matters. This was the show he had to do this season. It represents the changes and conditions in Galliano’s life at the time, as each of his shows does. And I think, in the end, that’s the importance of the artists theme. You can say that it’s a surface thing, and that the clothes are costumes, but that seems one dimensional, closing you off to the whole creative process and the progress of a genius. The next morning I went with my driver Bernard Alloux to a park at Saint Cloud for the Chanel show. If my French was any good, I would have said we were a long way from Kansas, Mr. Alloux. The place was misty with rain and then it really began to pour. I crossed a gravel path to the top of some stone steps. Below, illuminated like a space ship, were the white canopies over two parallel garden paths. They were flanked by white cosmos. I went to the backstage and headed immediately for the “traiteur.” I must say the food at Chanel is better than Dior. I grabbed a handful of walnuts and some dried apricots, and then tucked into a fruit cocktail. I was eating when Lagerfeld arrived. He was in a great mood. He is having a party at his home tonight, maybe the last before he moves into his new place. It’s around the corner. In all the years that Lagerfeld has lived in Paris, more than 50, he has had maybe 20 different addresses, but they’ve all been in the 7th. He hasn’t gone far, but, then, neither did Irving Berlin, as E.B. White pointed out. By the time the show started, the audience was pretty moist from the rain. I loved the clothes — the shapes and details realized from the perspective of a woman’s profile. Sometimes this was very obvious, as with a black coat dress with a grid of gold pailletes down the sides and continuing down the suede boots. Or a gorgeous black silk dress with silvery panels and an asymmetrical hem. But some of the best work was in the cut or drape of a dress or coat, like a creamy white gown that Sasha wore with her black lace cap. It looks simple, but of course it’s not. #mce_temp_url#

The Elegance of the Beauty

Ever since Tom Ford took over the designing of Yves Saint Laurent ready-to-wear, he has had to deal with snarky journalists who think he’s not faithful enough to the style he inherited or not talented enough to create an image for Saint Laurent that’s distinct from Gucci, the brand he forged out of bankrupt playboy shoe leather. And probably it seems to Mr. Ford that he can’t get a break.

But it’s his own comfort level with Saint Laurent that one keeps questioning — not his talent. One gets the feeling over and over again that Mr. Ford has the eye but not the heart for Saint Laurent. It’s as if he scans the opulent forest of Saint Laurent references and plucks what he likes without bothering to go deeper and examine the roots. So one season you have ”Carmen” gypsies and the next sexy safari nomads. And sometimes the results are dashingly effective. But what you still have is a kind of drive-through couture: burger, fries and a bow. The surface supersized.

With the fall collection he showed on Monday night at the Musée Rodin, Mr. Ford at least seemed to be revisiting a part of the Saint Laurent world that isn’t widely known or remembered: the clothes he did for Christian Dior in the late 1950’s. In his autumn 1959 collection, Mr. Saint Laurent showed a dress gathered up generously at the hem with a fat bow. And bows appeared throughout Mr. Ford’s show — as shoestring lacing down the fronts of tight black-lace blouses, as floppy trellises on the backs of snug velvet jackets and as thematic tie-ins at the knees of skintight velvet breeches.

It was bold of Mr. Ford to propose so much beribboned glamour for day, though dressiness was a theme of the fall 2002 collections (which ended today). More problematic were the many repetitions in this show and the one he presented for Gucci: the slick straight skirts, the tepid use of color (navy or deep red), the abundant velvet and ribbon-lashed tops. Some journalists thought they spied 18th-century references in Mr. Ford’s frilled Saint Laurent cuffs, others a note of Velásquez.

It hardly matters, though. Scrape away the references, and you get Gucci. Mr. Ford has to dig deeper.

”Elegance today has to do with brains and bones — it’s an attitude,” Karl Lagerfeld said. And he couldn’t have said it better with a right-on Chanel collection on Tuesday. For elegance to mean anything, it has to be connected to the way women think and move on the street, without cumbersome gestures.

That’s what Mr. Lagerfeld accomplished, with seemingly little effort, by pairing flaring leather minis with fitted jackets in murky tweeds that evoked waistcoats. Or, for night, a black silk chemise with a draped back and a wide hip belt of quilted leather.

Mr. Lagerfeld’s show played to a live rock band, as models trooped out in small-shouldered wool suits with sleeves that could be upzipped to get the arms through, yet could still achieve a tight, clean fit. These were shown with long, matching sleeveless coats — a practical nod to lighter layering. The collection brought sparkle into day clothes, but more impressive was its human range. Mr. Lagerfeld even offered what he lightly calls ”in-between clothes,” beaded lingerie for those in-between hours.

For more than a decade, Martin Margiela
‘s role in fashion has been that of a pesky outsider commenting on the inside, while subtly influencing it. To look at the oversize coats that Mr. Ford showed at Gucci and Saint Laurent is to see his ventilating influence. Yet two years ago, when Mr. Margiela first went jumbo, people thought he was riffing on fashion’s obsession with thinness; in fact, he was addressing something more fundamental: proportion.

Now he has dropped volume. On Tuesday night, at the Petit Palais, as models were led by uniformed attendants onto caged platforms and briefly bathed in hot light, Mr. Margiela cleverly lampooned the mania for must-have products that drives magazines like Lucky and reduces fashion to brands and marketing. At one point, he sent out a man in a white lab coat bearing a large plexiglass box containing a white purse. It was held out solemnly to the audience like a prized specimen. And, of course, to be considered a luxury player in fashion, you need a trophy bag.

A more subtle tribute to this reductive kind of thinking was a plain black wool dress tied at the neck and waist with a full-length gray silk panel that resembled a pin-tucked slip. It stood out in relief against the black, like those cutouts of garments you see in magazines under the headline ”20 Cool Looks!” Mr. Margiela also took a nice swipe at the vintage hullabaloo — stitching together two old coats, in cloth or fur, and leaving the two spare sleeves dangling eerily down the front and back of the blended coat.

Among the new designers showing for the first time in Paris was Istvan Francer, a 45-year-old native of Subotica, now in Serbia, near the border with Hungary, a region that figures in his romantic trimmings and full-skirted chic. At times Mr. Francer seemed too overpowered by old-fashioned sentiment, with costume looks like ballooning black jodhpurs. But then he eased up, offering the more playful cocktail-hour treat of slim black trousers worn with a taut black sweater, its sleeves of fine black lace. He finished off the outfit with a black taffeta sash.

Be it a bow or a sash, that seems to be fashion’s must-have garnish for fall.