Paris fashion channels past, escapes present woes

By Thomas Adamson

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 5:36 p.m. MST

A model wears a creation from designers Viktor & Rolf as part of the Fall-Winter, ready-to-wear 2013 fashion collection, during Paris Fashion week, Saturday, March 3, 2012.

Jacques Brinon, Associated Press

PARIS — Fashion delved into past times for inspiration on Saturday, conjuring up nostalgic ready-to-wear collections that journeyed back years to the structured gilding of the Restoration and the high collars of the 19th century via a splash of punk.

British fashion icon Vivienne Westwood, whose collection showcased some four centuries of English dressing, said that fashion "builds on the styles of the past in order to move forward."

But since fashion is a commercially-minded industry, could imagining different times just be a way of escape from the present financial woes?

Danish design duo Viktor & Rolf looked at the midnight moon in a strong Victorian-tinged homage to nighttime sensuality with lavish, high-collared furs.

Paris' enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier, meanwhile, gave a polished offering that revisited the 1980s with a typical array of tongue-in-cheek humour.

Sunday, day 6 of the Paris ready-to-wear calendar, will include shows by Hermes and Givenchy.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

"London," the title of Vivienne Westwood's costume-design inspired fall-winter collection, had it all: Elizabethan corsets, Sherlock Holmes tweed, scholars gowns and even a model cycling down the catwalk.

With such dizzying allusions it's hard to know where to start in describing the rebellious ready-to-wear show. It was said to channel 17th century Britain but saw models stomping around some 400 years of fashion history — all in contemporary black moon boots.

The highly structured silhouettes included some rigid corset bustiers that recalled the embellished crinoline of the Restoration epoch.

Rectangles were also a motif, in small peplum lapels or as a flat patterned square Beefeater dress, whose shape resembled that of the poster boys that stand in London's Leicester Square.

At times, there was an element of couture-meets-school-play as draped silks sported rough edges or theatrical embroidered beading.

If the show were a play, it would probably have been a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery with several tweed looks channeling the fashion of the fictional 19th century detective, in deconstructed coats with a flat cap.

When quizzed backstage, the 70-year-old designer, who often makes political statements in her work, said she looked to the past to get away from the current "terrible, crashing times."

It's an artistic escapism that many designers say they've taken up this fall be it in Paris, New York or Milan. But of all of them, Westwood has had the most fun: the fashion crowd giggled when a model nearly crashed riding a bike in 4-inch (10-centimeter) platforms.

Westwood quipped that she loves "to put women on a pedestal."

VIKTOR & ROLF

Victorian midnight was the theme in a romantic fall-winter ready-to-wear collection from Viktor & Rolf, strong on evening wear, high-collared furs and even the odd "bed wear" piece.

A moon shone from the backdrop of human figurines — the doll is a recurrent motif in the Dutch designers' repertoire — adding to the clothes' darkly feminine and sleepy mood.

"We're always trying to look for the unexpected," said Rolf Snoeren backstage. Viktor Horsting cited the show's "subtle juxtapositions."

Surprises were certainly on display with fluid, metal-sheen silhouettes based on pajamas. But in sumptuous printed satin-silk, it would be a waste to just wear them to hit the sack.

An in-vogue Edwardian edge defined many evening wear looks with overgrown-sleeved slip dresses, and feather-light tulle gowns paired up with glass embroidery and silk fringing. High-collared form-fitting furs provided the sensuality, with a look that invited you to see what's underneath.

It was a strong show. The design duo clearly upped its game after the Mattel-infused baby-doll offering last spring got a lukewarm reception.

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER

Jean Paul Gaultier fused 1980s graffiti prints with the style of cult rock band Velvet Underground in his slickly executed fall-winter offering Saturday.

To music by Lou Reed, the band's most famous member, the designer sent down the catwalk revamped versions of the boxy bomber — once worn by the group — with bands, zippers and gothic hairstyling adding a punky vibe.

Graffiti-printing provided the fun. The fabric's richness in one flowing silk jumpsuit contrasted with the decimation of an all-over print depicting a gruesome car pile-up.

"It was half humor in everything we saw today," gushed Spanish actress Victoria Abril in the front row.

Models slung brightly colored fur jackets over arms or let them fall coolly off one shoulder. Sleeves and cuffs seemed to crop up everywhere as ornamental features in skirts, furs and ruffles — or just hanging limp.

While in pure style terms, there was little new material, the real innovation was at work inside the fabrics. A series of brash copper jackets and skirts dazzled in what looked like lame, an inexpensive fabric.

"Oh no," the jesting designer said backstage. "This was in fact intricate couture woven Jacquard silk."