Business casual need not apply: Paris does outrageous

By Jenny Barchfield, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Business casual needn’t apply: Paris is outrageous

PARIS — Wallflowers and those in the market for business casual, look elsewhere. Boldness was in the air at Paris’ spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear shows on Thursday, as designers here delivered over-the-top looks for those whose entrances are always grand and for the happy few who live in the glow of paparazzi’s flashbulbs.

Manish Arora was paging Lady Gaga with his “baroque beach wear,” sculptural cocktail dresses that dripped sequins, rhinestones and massive gold appliques, like exoskeletons. Not pieces meant for sitting, but who needs anything so pedestrian when there are photo-calls?

The It Girls’ favorite label, Balmain, turned punk upside down with a slashed, trashed and thrashed luxury hardcore collection held together by what were certainly the world’s most expensive safety pins.

In flowing white skirts and sleeveless vests, Rick Owens’ preternaturally elongated models looked like well-meaning aliens beamed down to teach earthlings about the finer things in life (like style.) Their long, lean silhouettes blunted the California-born designer’s aggressive edge and softened his usual post-apocalyptic aesthetic.

Another American, one-time wunderkind Zac Posen, made his Paris debut with a sensual collection that paid tribute to the French capital’s legendary revues, sending out vamped up, feather-covered cancan girls worthy of the Crazy Horse or the Lido.

Paris’ ready-to-wear week moves into day four on Friday with shows by French luxury supernova Christian Dior, rising Paris star Isabel Marant and Lanvin, which season after season churns out precisely what women want.


It was anti-punk punk: By elevating Johnny Rotten’s tattered, anarchist uniform to that of a status symbol — complete with an astronomical price-tag dangling from its safety pins — Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin subverted the very essence of the punk rock movement.

Everything about the punks that was raw and explosive became, in Decarnin’s hands, slick and sleek and smolderingly sensual. Gone were the combat boots, replaced by spike heels. The bleach-splashed denim jeans were shrunk onto the models’ waifish frames or slashed suggestively to the very upper reaches of their thighs.

The punks’ iconic garment, the leather biker jacket, replaced the peak-shouldered blazers that have become Balmain’s must-have look in seasons past.

The rhinestones that have covered all things Balmain in bling were still there, though the sparkling crystals competed for space on the leather jackets and denim hot-pant cutoffs with hundreds of little silver studs, like the ones used for piercings.

Slashed American flag tank tops — so abused they looked like period pieces from the punks’ 1970s heyday — were held together with safety pins.

A-list photographer Mario Sorrenti called the collection “amazing, totally sexy and glamorous” — high praise in the fashion world, but hardly the adjectives any true punk rockers would want applied to their style.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer would be rolling in his grave to see the safety pin become a luxury status symbol for the It Girl set.


The Delhi-based designer outdid himself with a collection where nary a surface escaped the onslaught of sequins, rhinestones and sculptural gold appliques.

Swingy cocktail dresses were heavy with paillettes and cropped bolero jackets sprouted braided gold appliques that stood out from the body.

Even the shoes, booties with vertiginous heels, were covered in grasping little coral-like tentacles that shook as the models — their faces abloom with gold and colorful stripes — stomped down the catwalk.

These were clothes for making an entrance, avant-garde pop star style. In such clothes you don’t sit — those oversized sculptural hips wouldn’t allow for that — but simply stand there and bask in the glow of flashes.

Arora said he’d tried to vamp up the collection by making it more body-conscious than usual.

“I’m known to do complicated clothes and lots of embellishments, but my shapes have never been so fitted,” he said after the show. “I thought it was time to make it more feminine, more sexy.”


Now we know what the aliens will be wearing when they take over: Without a doubt, Rick Owens will be their label of choice.

Owens sent out an invading army of extraterrestrial princesses in eerily long, sweeping skirts and clean, sleeveless leather vests with trailing trains. Horn combs, like alien antennae, gave the silhouettes extra length.

“It’s not worth presenting unless it’s a bit supernatural,” he told the AP in a backstage interview.

Owens’ trademark elements were all there — the extra-long sleeveless vests, the oversized turned-up collars, the backless apron shirts — but somehow their aggressive edge had been slightly blunted. A lighter palette of bone white, putty and olive, in addition to the usual black, also helped soften the collection.

Owens’ aliens, it was clear, are a benevolent species.


Ostrich feathers enveloped everything, covering the abbreviated bolero jackets, squashed between two gauzy layers of tulle on the second-skin gowns and sprouting from the hips or haunches of catsuits in racy black lace.

The sultry palette of blood orange, coral and rich velvety reds recalled the mise-en-scene at Paris’ classy strip clubs, like the legendary Lido or the Crazy Horse.

It was a bold Paris debut for Posen, a one-time critical darling whose label has hit hard financial times of late.

Still, initial reaction to the show — which included a heavy-hitting lineup of top models like Carmen Kass and Isabelle Fontana — appeared mixed. Applause was tepid, and the A-list guests made a beeline for the exit as soon as the lights went up.

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