McQueen successor carries on his legacy with show that channels his dark, surreal vision

By Jenny Barchfield, AP
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

McQueen successor Burton carries on his legacy

PARIS — In the months that followed Alexander McQueen’s suicide in February, the fashion world was abuzz with speculation about the future of the house. How could McQueen’s successor, his longtime right-hand woman Sarah Burton, possibly take forward a house so fundamentally built on the extraordinary creative vision of its founder?

Burton’s brilliant debut Tuesday at the helm of the label put any rumors about the house’s future to rest. Her spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear collection was a tour-de-force that channeled McQueen’s darkly surreal style, remodeling his signature elements into strange and beautiful confections that managed to be at the same time new and reassuringly familiar.

It was all there: Tailed pantsuits in mesmerizing jacquard, sculptural sheath dresses entirely made from monarch butterflies, or feathers that gleamed darkly like spilled oil or woven chaffs of wheat that appeared to be one with the models’ woven hairstyles.

The audience of fashion elite burst into whoops of approval and frantic applause for Burton, who spent years as McQueen’s deputy and deeply understood the troubled designer and his work.

Burton’s brilliant debut was undoubtedly among the strongest shows of Paris fashion week.

Kenzo — founded in 1970 by Japanese-born, Paris-based designer Kenzo Takada and now owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH — celebrated its 40th anniversary with a stunning, theatrical display that mined the label’s archive to showcase its rich East-meets-West aesthetic.

At Chanel, a small army of teenage beauties in moth-devoured tweed suits that could have belonged to their grandmothers meandered through a French-style garden in the heritage house’s trademark colors, black and white. With the display — a mega-production that saw the entire interior or the mammoth steel and glass-domed Grand Palais transformed into a high-contrast version of the grounds of Versailles — Chanel once the again raised the ante for what fashion shows can be.

After a 2009 debut that stayed slavishly close to the aesthetic of founder Valentino Garavani, the label’s design duo continued to sharpened their own vision of the new Valentino women. Described in the collection notes as “at once magical and mysterious,” this new Valentino woman was not a screen siren in fire engine red, but a waif enveloped in a delicate cloud of black lace and sheer, buff-colored tulle.

Hong Kong-based Shiatzy Chen, too, showed transparent looks — hers with Asian-influenced variations. Ultra-short babydoll dresses with Mao collars or sloping side toggle closures were served up in jacquard with Chinese designs and transparent chiffon. Paired with ruffly bloomers, the swingy concoctions were so abbreviated it was often not clear whether they were meant to be shirts or dresses, but still they were fetching, with sumptuous fabrics and nice attention to detail.

Just call him Captain Castelbajac. Zany French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac took over the controls at the imaginary “Uber Tropikal Airlines,” serving destinations throughout Africa in retro fabulous style. As always with France’s king of kitsch, it was quite a trip.

Paris’ ready-to-wear shows conclude on Wednesday after nine long days with displays by Prada second line Miu Miu, and French luxury powerhouses Louis Vuitton and Hermes.


Hole-ridden tweed suits that looked like they’d been devoured by generations of moths opened the show with what seemed like a sly commentary on the French heritage label’s amazing staying power.

Today’s Chanel, designer Karl Lagerfeld seemed to suggest, remains as timeless as it was decades ago under Mademoiselle Coco: Just dig in your grandmother’s trunk, pull out her classic Chanel skirtsuit and you’ll look just as hip as the packs of It Girls — like Keira Knightly, Lily Allen and Vanessa Paradis — who flock to the label’s shows.

“My grandmother didn’t wear Chanel, unfortunately,” said British VJ Alexa Chung, wearing a Chanel dress in blue tweed with a midriff-baring lace panel at the waist. “But hopefully my granddaughters will be able to wear this — though they might be scandalized that their grandmother went around with a bare belly.”

Chanel’s shows are always a grand spectacle, but Tuesday’s a chic black-and-white Versailles-style garden set was even grander than usual. An orchestra played covers of Bjork songs as the models meandered among the fountains and the black hedgerows, their black and navy skirtsuits or hotpants contrasting with the crushed gravel in blinding white they crunched underfoot.

Lagerfeld also served up A-line dresses in chiffon with beaded black curlicues that echoed the rounded forms of French gardens. A series of floaty dresses in saturated watercolor print silk injected the collection with a dose of color, and the ostrich feathers that dangled from hemlines gave it an airy lightness.

Novelty models have been a hot commodity on Paris catwalks, and never to be outdone, Chanel sent out a few — a dashing blond man in a white tweed jacket and jeans with his mini-me, a little boy in a matching outfit, as well as French ’80s supermodel Ines de la Fressange. The mother of two teenage daughters said it was the first time she’d walked for Chanel in 21 years.


Forty models in a rainbow of richly layered ethnic knits marked the label’s fortieth anniversary in Kenzo’s unmistakable signature style.

Held in a Paris’ Cirque d’Hiver circus — where the bevy of models wearing elaborate costumes and headdresses made of fabrics from the label’s archive slowly circled on a rotating platform — the show was dramatic celebration of the Kenzo spirit.

Italian-born designer Anotnio Marras brought together the house’s Japanese and Italian influences, sending out tent dresses and sleeveless vests with billowing volumes in cherry blossom prints and Japanese wood-cut designs. Pajama pants completed the rich layered looks, and models walked the catwalk in slippers with blocky lacquered wooden soles. The collection — entitled “A Japanese in Sardinia” — paid homage to the signature East-meets-West aesthetic of the founder while pushing the silhouette forward.

For the tour-de-force finale, forty girls in full kabuki theater makeup and outfits that were a riot of colorblock knits and printed silk culled from every conceivable ethnicity — fabrics taken from the label’s four-decade-long archive — took to the platform to form a sort of living rainbow.

A masterful showing, worthy of the City of Light’s most colorful house.


All a girl would need to look fabulous in this collection is a lining.

The Italian label sent out featherlight concoctions in vaporous layers of black lace and buff colored tulle that left precious little to the imagination. But slap an opaque lining on those long-sleeved chemisier dresses — which, with their skinny gold belts and A-line skirts were channeling a bourgeois French 1970s housewife vibe — and you have yourself wearable garments for ultra-feminine women.

Transparency has emerged as a major trend on Paris catwalks, but rarely has it looked better than at Valentino, where the vaporous skirts in see-through organza that were layered over the dresses looked like an integral part of the design, rather than a tacked-on afterthought, as the look has sometimes seemed at other labels.

The collection continued to mine the same romantic vein the label’s design duo — Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri — has been exploring for several seasons now. But with longer hemlines and less body-skimming shapes than we’ve seen in past seasons, it took the look forward in a way that seemed less concerned about appealing at any price to very young customers.


You know you’re at a Castelbajac show when top accessories include an inflatable life vest, a satin neck pillow and necklaces made from counterfeit watches. The collection focused on travel — on “Uber Tropikal Airlines,” an imaginary airline serving Africa — which was fertile ground for a designer who’s made a career out of pounding his themes to a bloody pulp.

The skirtsuits were like retro stewardess uniforms, complete with jaunty toques, and the label’s trademark zany sweater dresses came in a veritable safari of big game, knit with zebras, elephants and leopards in clever camouflage-leopard print hybrid. A model in a West African boubou in primary-colored faux wax print fabric carried an old school boombox entirely covered in glinting crystals. A cap-sleeve top was made out of Ray Ban sunglasses.

Castelbajac also looked to one of France’s most legendary aviators, “Little Prince” author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who disappeared while conducting a WWII reconnaissance mission. Kaftans and long loose tunic shirts in white linen were printed with “le petit prince” or the classic cover of another book by Saint-Exupery, “Night Flight.”

The show, held in an overheated tent next to Paris’ Art Nouveau Alexandre III bridge, began with a cabin crew-style announcement that takeoff was imminent. Perpetually among the most colorful and zany of the Paris shows — with a kitsch factor that’s off the chart — Castelbajac is always a trip, and what a flight Tuesday’s show was.

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