- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Could it possibly be a simple coincidence, wondered fashion insiders looking for clues that might confirm rumors McQueen designer Sarah Burton has been chosen to design Kate Middleton’s top secret royal wedding dress, that the label’s fall-winter 2011-12 show began with an all-white look?

Burton and the label’s chief executive have both denied the rumors, which surfaced last week in Britain’s Sunday Times. But those crossing their fingers they’ll prove true in the end found lots to give them hope in Tuesday’s show _ not least, two gleaming white dresses with long trains of frothy tulle that closed the show and looked to some suspiciously like wedding gowns.

Speculation over the identity of the designer Middleton has chosen for her April 29 wedding to Britain’s Prince William finally eclipsed the constant chatter about John Galliano’s spectacular fall from grace. The British designer was fired from his position as creative director of the house of Dior amid allegations he made anti-Semitic insults and after a video showing him, drunk, slurring the words “I love Hitler” was posted on the internet.

Galliano was sacked after 15 years at Dior on day one of Paris’ nine-day-long ready-to-wear collections, and the scandal has thrown a persistent pall over the collections, which have failed to generate as much excitement in seasons past.

Many were hoping the Chanel display Tuesday would pull the City of Light out of its funk, but the mod-vibed clothes failed to electrify. Still, Chanel’s blockbuster productions set the bar so high that even on the rare occasions when the clothes disappoint, the audience still emerges drop-jawed and starry eyed.

The new design team at Valentino forged ahead on their own path that took them away from the label’s traditional stalking grounds _ the red carpet _ and toward a younger, lower-key place. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli refined their soft, featherweight silhouettes in layered chiffon and lace.

Under retired founder Valentino Garavani, the label sent out so many statement gowns in tomato red that the color became known as “Valentino red,” but the shade was completely absent from Tuesday’s collection in neutral tones. The reddish-brown on a leather coat and some of the see-through chemisier dresses was the closest thing on to the label’s namesake shade on the nude, ecru and caramel-dominated collection.

Celebrities have largely stayed away from the shows this season, but A-list fashion mavericks Katy Perry and Kanye West turned out for wacky French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. Don’t be surprised if you soon see Perry sporting the piece de resistance of the Surrealist-themed collection, a bandeau top made from a pair of leather gloves padded out to look like they had hands still inside.

After nine long, drama-filled days, Paris’ collections wrap up on Wednesday with Prada second line Miu Miu, Elie Saab and the sole show on the entire calendar guaranteed to start on time, Louis Vuitton.


With the Middleton mystery hanging in the air, a collective shiver swept the crowd when the first model stepped onto the runway dressed in head-to-toe white. A volley of meaningful glances shot around the room as the looks that followed _ fur-trimmed pencil skirts and nipped-waist jackets with zippers in lieu of seams _ were also in gleaming white.

The clincher, for many of the fashion insiders in the room, were the two tulle-covered gowns that closed the show, which looked _ drum roll, please _ an awful lot like wedding dresses.

No matter that the collection also included a fair share of black, not to mention plentiful hardcore bondage touches, like the sculptural leather horse harnesses that encircled some of the looks and stood a fair chance of raising an eyebrow or two in palace protocol.

With whoever was chosen to design the dress bound by a strict confidentiality agreement, it looked unlikely that the secret would come out before Middleton walks down the aisle on April 29.

Still, those rooting for Burton _ who was appointed the label’s creative director after founder Alexander McQueen committed suicide last February _ saw Tuesday’s collection as a good omen.

Asked whether he thought the rumors would prove true, Andre Leon Talley, replied “I hope so.”

“If she were dressed by Ms. Burton, she’d make a beautiful bride,” the legendary editor at American Vogue told The Associated Press in a post-show interview, adding that Tuesday’s was “an exceptional collection.”

It was Burton’s second since she stepped into McQueen’s immense shoes about a year ago. Burton, 36, had worked closely with McQueen for years, and her debut collection, shown last October, was lauded by the press for managing the tricky task of tapping into the late designer’s creative genius, while softening McQueen’s signature hard edges and letting out his painfully nipped waists by a notch.

But the McQueen woman will have to suck it in again next winter to wriggle into the any of the extreme looks from Tuesday’s collection, which again tightened the screws on the house’s sharp-edged silhouette.

The collection won among the strongest reactions of any of this season’s Paris shows, with the audience hooting, cheering and whistling its enthusiastic approval as Burton ducked out for a bow.


Chanel has the deepest pockets in the business, and its mega-production runway shows are always awesome spectacles _ even when the clothes they showcase leave the audience of feeling a tad perplexed.

That was the case with Tuesday’s fall collection, a parade of post-punk pantsuits and wide-cut jackets in charcoal and black tweed by designer Karl Lagerfeld that at first glance looked like a harder sell than the pretty pastel skirts and snug tweed jackets that women worldwide lust over.

But even if the clothes themselves didn’t take the crowd’s breath away, the set did. Paris’ mammoth glass-and-steel domed Grand Palais was transformed into a boulder-strewn volcanic island, complete with faux steam that wafted out from beneath the wooden catwalk and wide expanses of powdery synthetic volcanic ash strewn with fake boulders.

Between the rocks and the slats on the runway _ which were the perfect size for getting a spike heel stuck _ the set posed endless challenges for the roving packs of stiletto-shod guests. It also provided much fodder for the class clowns in attendance, who hammed it up for the cameras after the display by feigning to struggle to lift the Styrofoam boulders.

The start of the show resembled a big-budget science fiction flick. Like mother-ships touching down, two luminous oversized screens emblazoned with the house’ enjoined double C logo descended to ground level and lowered like ramps to reveal the backlit silhouettes of a pack of models.

They walked the boardwalk in ample pleat-fronted tweed trousers and dramatic capes or wide, cropped jackets that looked like the chunky cousins of the house’s hallmark slim-fitting jackets. They wore flat, pointy shoes with chunky socks that bunched at the ankle.

Freja Beha Erichsen, the house’s model of the moment, was transformed into a walking Chanel handbag, sheathed in a long-sleeved jumpsuit quilted all over like one of the label’s blockbuster purses.

The show didn’t generate the same level of enthusiastic applause that Chanel shows usually do, but experts agreed that wouldn’t matter much.

“It reminded me of what Karl did for his own line in the ‘80s _ very dramatic, very mod, very German stuff,” said fashion critic Dana Thomas, author of the industry expose “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster.” “Every once in a while, Karl veers off in that direction, almost as it to shake us out of our pastel tweed Chanel dreams. Even those collections always have their pulse on the cultural moment, even if they’re not Chanel at its prettiest.”

But, she added, Lagerfeld “always manages to put in really pretty pieces that are going to appeal the Chanel customer.”

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, agreed.

“Chanel shows generate so much excitement, so much drama, they can’t help but excite the clients,” he said. “I guarantee you that as soon as I get back to New York, I’m going to have lots of calls from clients requesting this or that piece. They are on Style.com as we speak.”

After the show, many in the crowd of thousands refused to disperse, milling around in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Lagerfeld, or even _ gasp _ exchanging a word with him.


When the most surreal of French designers looks to Surrealist photographer Man Ray for inspiration, you expect the meeting of these wildly creative minds would result in some explosively inventive alchemy. But oddly, the collection fizzled.

Maybe the problem was that only a few of Ray’s photos are truly iconic. They just didn’t provide Jean-Charles de Castelbajac the same fodder for off-the-wall playfulness as, say, the Muppet theme of a few seasons ago did.

There were no Kermit-head necklaces, no Fozzie Bear shaggy hoodies, just variations on Ray’s famous 1924 image of a seated nude, two curlicues like a violin’s ampersand painted on her back. The collection also included satin kaftans printed with Ray’s close-up of an eye, with little balls at the tips of the lashes.

Still, some of the pieces _ like Katy Perry’s soon-to-be headline-grabbing breast-clutching glove top _ were classic Castelbajac, and the pop singer and fellow A-list fashionista Kanye West glowed with approval, as did the designer’s packs of rabid followers.

After the show, Castelbajac’s self-declared “biggest fan” elbowed her way past a formidable contingent of security guards to get her photo taken with Castelbajac _ or as she would have it, to “commune with our patron saint.”


The French, who get notoriously gloomy at the first signs of fall and tend not to emerge from their seasonal blues till spring, could learn a thing or two from Wang Chen Tsai-hsia, the veteran designer behind Taiwanese label Shiatzy Chen. Wang didn’t let winter get her down, sending out a pretty, upbeat fall collection that popped with light, bright colors.

Fancy coats in mauve, fuchsia and teal, embellished with lacy paneling, embroidery and fur collars, were pretty enough to wear as dresses. With their elaborate bodices and billowing skirts, the silky dresses looked like they’d boost the morale of even the most morose Parisienne, brought down by the French capital’s long, gray winters.

The show’s sole faux pas were the Barbarella-style long, sleeveless vests in a patchwork of rabbit fur that gave the models a distinctly cave woman vibe.

Founded in 1978, Shiatzy Chen has dozens of boutiques throughout Taiwan, Hong Kong and China and has been on the Paris calendar for about three years. Tuesday’s offerings had none of the edginess seen on other catwalks here, but it was a solid commercial collection full of elaborate-but-wearable pieces.

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