The frenzied thrashing of strings from John Williams’s theme to Jaws washed over the audience as the last models left the catwalk. The song was a clue about David Koma’s inspiration for this Mugler collection. “I have this little obsession with sharks—their danger and their beauty,” he said backstage. You could certainly spot a streamlined shadow of the sharks flitting through the runway waters here. Dégradé paillettes glittered in sharkskin shades of gunmetal while patent flats with inset commando soles had the bullet-like shape of a great white’s nose.
Less elusive than Koma’s starting-point sharkiness was the influence of scuba and swimwear. There were black pants that fitted like wetsuits, with tidelines of white piping running down the leg. A cropped, shoulder-padded, sweatshirt-shaped sweater and mini skirt were reminiscent of that shark chainmail worn as insurance by undersea adrenaline hunters. Leather bonded to neoprene were used in white jackets with faux-utilitarian fastenings and gently rounded shoulders and arms. There were a lot of aesthetically-placed zippers designed to draw the eye to the thigh, neckline, or hip. Ultimately this was a broadly enjoyable collection of sleekly sexy, sports-inflected womenswear. Koma said that his main goal for this season was to have fun. He was certainly working within his comfort zone: treading water but in no need of rescue.
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.