Arriving in Paris in late September, the world’s fashion press was in a state of hyperexcitement—I’ve never experienced anything quite like it—due to the anticipated clash between titans Yves Saint Laurent and Dior. Each house now has a new designer at the helm, and each man was, apparently, determined to interpret its traditions in radical and imaginative ways.
We were not disappointed. Raf Simons’ first ready-to-wear collection was a masterful modernization of classic Dior and easily my favorite collection for spring. His tuxedos reworked the famous “Bar” jacket, with simple chiffon scarves tied loosely at the neck serving to relay a hint of femininity, while his reinvention of Dior’s classic gray skirt—the legendary designer’s favorite color—was embellished with discreet pleated insets and touched by a sliver of iridescent trim. Dior’s passion for flowers, roses in particular, was reimagined in gigantic, stylized blooms on sheer and shimmery ball-gown skirts, topped with simple black cashmere sweaters for night.
Christian Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton
At Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane marked his inaugural collection with the controversial decision to remove the “Yves,” except on the brand’s perfume and cosmetics, and add “Paris” to labels for clothing. After living in L.A. for three years, Slimane recently returned to Paris, where he’d first attracted attention designing the now-ubiquitous skinny men’s suit for Dior Homme. For his first foray into women’s wear, he dipped into the house’s ’70s archives. The tux reappeared, but in slightly shorter and tighter versions; the safari look was back in a midi-length suede dress; and Yves’ famous colorful silk mousseline frocks provided the show’s finale. Word is recent showroom sales have been strong, which means Rachel Zoe clones will be in complete hippie heaven when the first pieces arrive in stores.
While New York, London and Milan were all outstanding this season, Paris, as a whole, was head andshoulders above the rest. Collections were awash in ’60s classics, with miniskirts and A-line dresses in geometric prints recalling the icons of the decade: Twiggy and Jane Birkin. In his eponymous and Louis Vuitton collections, Marc Jacobs showed stripes, dots and checks in both bold colors and black-and-white. Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for Chanel featured an A-line bustier minidress with oversized white “dots” made of classic Chanel white pearl appliqué. And one model strutted the catwalk in a punchy black-and-white one-piece swimsuit, sporting a mod oversized circular bag.
Proenza Schouler’s powerful collection offered a crisp black-and-white topper, while Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein sparingly employed contrasting trim on the edges of his minimalist black-and-white silhouettes. Nicolas Ghesquière’s stellar showing for Balenciaga brought ruffles from the original designer’s native Spain—this time in undulating black curves cascading down the exposed leg of a slit long skirt—and married them with a white rectangular tabard cropped top.
Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler, Lanvin
For fashion designers, the play of masculine against feminine is a game that has no end. Recalling the often-androgynous works of famed photographer Helmut Newton, Alber Elbaz created a fresh version of the tuxedo for Lanvin. His sleeveless asymmetrical jacket, with an obi-like belt, had a dramatic shard of white on a single lapel. In fact, the wind from the East blew strongly this season. Not just obi belts but also deconstructed kimonos and hibiscus prints testified to the inf luence from Asia. Miuccia Prada used simple chalk-drawn flowers appliquéd on black and kimono folds in duchess satin for evening. (Gone were the cacophonous prints of recent collections.) These were supported by Japanese platform flat sandals and judo socks. And Haider Ackermann’s structured jackets with wide belts brought Asian martial arts clearly to mind.
Marc Jacobs, Gucci
Juxtaposing these forceful patterns and sharp silhouettes were some softer alternatives, including sheerfabrics infused with shimmery metallics. Although aspects of Dries Van Noten’s collection channeled Kurt Cobain and the grunge era of the late ’80s, his feminine plaids came in chiffons and washed-out patterns, and were styled with long, embroidered skirts and metallic pumps. At Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci’s effortless take on spring included organza ruffles rippling at the shoulder. Gucci used ruffles too, but designer Frida Giannini called on hot colors like turquoise and shocking pink to make them a little less sweet. For evening, Rick Owens’ beige, pearlized, off-the-shoulder gowns and Ann Demeulemeester’s voluminous black-chiffon dresses had an easy wearability for any summer occasion.
Prada, Alexander Wang
Camped out afterwards at the Café Flore on the Boulevard St. Germain, my fashionista friends and colleagues agreed to disagree on the YSL–Dior “showdown” but were otherwise, unusually, of a single opinion. The Spring 2013 collections were among the most exciting we’d ever seen. This time around, designers went for it, full-tilt; not a single one was afraid to make a (very) bold statement. “Take it, or leave it,” they seemed to say.
Trust me. We’ll take it.