In June, news broke that Mayhoola, the investment group linked to the Qatari royal family, bought Balmain—just days before the fashion house’s menswear show in Paris. Mayhoola also acquired Valentino in 2012. And if that brand’s trajectory is anything to go by, Balmain and its creative director, Olivier Rousteing, have a big expansion in their future—with new stores opening around the world. Rousteing was backstage, talking up this turning point before the show and taking aim at his critics.“The Balmain Army has shed its armor,” he said. “Whatever I do, even if I cover up my girls, people can say it’s vulgar. But this is what it is. I think it’s really chic, really French. It’s Paris how I see it.”
The first step towards growth was bumping up the number of runway looks this season: from 60 to 80. That’s not an insignificant change and as a result, the show dragged on for too long. Another key difference between his previous outings and this one was the absence of embroideries. For years elaborate beading, crystals, and threadwork was the Balmain way—before and after Rousteing’s arrival. It was as synonymous with the brand as sexy, body-con dresses. Not anymore. But that doesn’t mean this was a minimal collection. The excesses were just of a different sort. There were cut-outs on bodices that revealed a good bit of underboob, fashion’s new erogenous zone. Slits extended way up the front of both thighs. And provocatively placed sheer bits drew the eyes to the hips and derrière.
This was still plenty body-conscious. But in place of glitzy embroideries, Rousteing let color do the talking. After the tawny desert tones and cargo greens of the opening numbers, he showed a jungle’s worth of brights: in solids, mismatched snakeskin prints, and graphic stripes. There were also a lot of knits. And that seemed strategic: They’re not only easier to wear than the label’s famous bandage dresses, but also kinder on the wallet—two factors that could count for a lot as the label pushes into new territories. Lightening up worked in his favor on a Missoni-esque crocheted caftan and skirt.
For evening, he proposed long split-seam dresses pavéd with multicolor crystals in Art Deco motifs and slinky chain mail dresses à la Versace. The former proved too difficult to walk in; they didn’t pass the lightness test, but the chain mail numbers did. That’s the kind of growth that the critics he was talking about backstage could believe in.
Following a few seasons of making optimistic excuses for Vionnet, it was a pleasure to see a collection in which many of the looks proved positive affirmations of the passion behind this unfashionable fashion house. Goga Ashkenazi put the staff of her atelier on the runway for the finale and highlighted the depth of their work—and the shallowness of others—by stitching slogans into the back of certain looks. So on a fishtailed cloak with a quintuple-tiered hem worn above raw-edged denim bermudas was written This piece took 194 hours to make. In a world where Zara makes fabulous jackets and only real experts can tell the difference between bespoke and off-the-rack, maybe you just have to spell it out.
The schtick of this collection was loose—“urban odyssey”—but the pieces it inspired were often sharply defined. Fantastically light chiffon blurs, paneled pleat dresses gathered with rope, separates in beach photo prints, and assertive denim interjections were the order of the day here. Neutral chiffon dresses and suits with nets of burnt-in rubber circlets were particularly interesting, and a dress of angularly set fringe-meets-coralesque tufting was just pretty. While not without flaw, this was a vastly improved Vionnet.
Bouchra Jarrar closed her own label to accept the creative directorship at Lanvin last year, and has done her research on the woman who founded the house, unearthing the fact that Jeanne Lanvin predated Coco Chanel and all the other female couturiers of the ’20s and ’30s. “She made menswear and sportswear before she did women’s,” Jarrar said in a preview. That’s the gem of a fact she’s clearly been turning over in her mind, because Jarrar is innately a tailor for women. Among appreciative followers, she’s known for her meticulous hand—a way of cutting and fitting pantsuits, biker jackets, shirts, and trenches that is incredibly Parisian, rigorous but sensual at the same time.
She has brought those signatures to Lanvin, and her new start was ambitiously staged in the gilded, chandeliered hall of the Hôtel de Ville because, as Jarrar put it, “It’s at the heart of Paris!” Her opener was a fluid silhouette of an oyster charmeuse pantsuit with a long djellaba-like striped chiffon shirt floating beneath it—perhaps the subtlest of nods to her own heritage as a girl with Moroccan heritage who grew up in the South of France. All eyes were on how far she would integrate or extend the work of Lanvin’s former creative director Alber Elbaz. He, after all, was the one who established Lanvin as a label with a dual reputation for draped dresses and madly intense embellishment.
Jarrar can drape, too. She cut her teeth working for Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and then at Christian Lacroix. She’s a more reserved character than her predecessor, but she can drape a great silk velvet halter-neck top and whip a black organza minidress out of a single piece of fabric if she feels like it. More interestingly, the resources at Lanvin have brought out a penchant for jewelry in her—gold knots of chain mail and crystal as choker necklaces, diamanté strands dripping over hands, and long woven ribbons of gold thread that filled in the plunging necklines and sparkled beneath evening jackets.
It’s the kind of jewelry women who don’t like formal, traditional jewelry ought to gravitate toward. As it turned out, Jeanne Lanvin was already on that path in 1925, when she designed a silver bugle-beaded tie-shaped fabric necklace for women. Jarrar has brought the piece back—and it’s all the Lanvin woman will need to feel “dressed” for evening, in the comfort of her tuxedo suit. Whether there’s a woman who will accept Jarrar’s totally sheer, gauzy lace-trimmed black dresses as event- or eveningwear is a whole other matter. She probably needs to work more on figuring out what a new Lanvin dress means to a modern woman, but she has plenty of time for that. I’m excited to see what comes next.
Etro will never be painfully cool. And that’s a testament to its inherent pleasures. For the spirit of this house is too generous, unpretentious, and securely anchored to succumb to fashion’s lame urge to exclude. Anyone can join the Etro tribe. And this season, Veronica Etro returned again to that anchor, the house paisley that should seriously tempt new members.
The collection, rich in jewel tones and packed with busy patterns and many a paisley, mined familiar territory: Etro loves a luxed-up bohemian, preferably if she’s on the move, trekking across the Indian deserts, or learning how to weave a Navajo blanket.
This season was all about travel, tribes and traditions, executed with a light touch by Veronica Etro, creative director of the brand’s woman’s line. “She’s en route to adventure,” said Etro, adding that the collection started with a caftan, the “symbol” of the Etro way of dressing. “I imagined this woman like an eclectic traveler, bearing in mind tradition, heritage and culture. She has her own tribe, she cross-pollinates so you can’t really tell from where she comes from.” The result were opulent looks with dashes of the utilitarian. Hooded capes came leather-edged with contrasting stitching or jewel-like clasps, while a host of lightweight blanket coats and shawls were adorned with stripes or Native American-inspired patterns. They were draped over long patterned caftans, some with deep v-shaped necklines, tassels or a bit of sparkle at the front. Silk trousers and dresses flashed with contrasting stripes or paisley swirls, while one bathrobe coat had a circle-of-life pattern on the back.
This kaleidoscopic swirl of a collection, which unfurled to Led Zeppelin tracks, also had its more down-to-earth elements, including a fluoro yellow jacket with a nipped-in waist done in a high-tech fabric, padded pants, sports-style bras and running shorts layered with the luxury pieces. The Etro tribe knows how to put it together.