It was with ill-concealed glee that many in the fashion world were looking forward to Friday's Dior show, when the man with the fraught task of stepping into the oversized shoes of the house's disgraced longtime designer, John Galliano, was showing his debut ready-to-wear show.
Galliano's longtime right-hand-man and head of Dior's women's studio, fellow Briton Bill Gaytten, had to step up to the plate — and into the spotlight — when Galliano was sacked last March amid a scandal over anti-Semitic slurs he made in a drunken spat at a Paris watering hole.
Gaytten's first effort, last July's couture collection, was nearly universally lambasted by the press, and many industry insiders were taking malicious pleasure out of anticipating another such disaster.
But Gaytten proved up to the task Friday and provided nay-sayers with little fodder for pettiness. The modest designer served up a more than respectable collection of the kinds of pretty suits and gowns the women who buy Dior want and need.
Stripped of the excesses of the Galliano era, the show won't go down in the brand's history, but it will surely prove more than enough to keep the customers coming back for more.
An excess of excess was on offer at madcap British designer Vivienne Westwood's anarchic show, where models in full clown makeup and ball gowns rubbed shoulders with grunge princesses in shredded knits and argyle knee-socks.
XXL looks ruled the catwalks at experimental Belgian house Maison Martin Margiela and at Japanese-born designer Yohji Yamamoto — where many of the clothes looked like they'd been freshly hacked off the fabric bolt.
Anne Valerie Hash tapped into the essence of Parisian chic with a neglige collection of slouchy silken separates that — like cool Parisiennes — just happened to look at once disheveled and sexy and perfect.
With Paris' Indian summer in full swing and temperatures in the ninties, fashion insiders packed into a Right Bank mansion for a cocktail marking Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld's thirda collaboration with Italian shoemaker Hogan. Chilled Champagne was in such high demand that the waiters ran out far before the end of the party, and — scandale des scandales — could only offer parched guest sparkling water.
Paris' spring-summer 2012 collections cross the halfway mark on Saturday — day five of the City of Light's nin-day-long fashion week — with shows by Viktor & Rolf, Jean Paul Gaultier and Sonia Rykiel, which announced the appointment of a new creative director for ready-to-wear.
In a statement Friday, the Paris-based knitwear brand said Scottish designer April Crichton had been promoted from within to the new role.
Saturday's biggest event — indeed among the biggest events of the entire week — is happening off the official calendar: Superstar musician Kanye West, an inveterate fan of fashion and frequent front-row guest at the shows, is debuting his own women's line at an exclusive runway display late in the evening.
Under Galliano, Dior took on almost superhuman proportions, with larger-than-life collections and shows to the scale of the British designer's prodigious talent. The house returned to human size with a scaled-down spring-summer collection from Galliano's replacement, Gaytten.
Models in discreet makeup — not the extravagant war-paint of the Galliano's years — sported pretty, wearable skirt suits in neutral shades of chiffon. Gone were Galliano's maxi-volumes and the over-the-top riffs on outrageous themes, replaced by an appealing array of wearable, sellable clothes.
Gaytten and his team drew on the time-honored codes of the label, sending out variations on the nip-waisted Bar jacket and tulip-shaped skirts in graphic black-and-white checks and soft sandy neural tones. The evening gowns, in powder blue and black organza, were of an understated elegance.
Dior executives have made it clear that Gaytten is but a stopgap measure, to be replaced by a top-name designer. The rumor mill has thrown out the names of practically everyone who's anyone in fashion, from Lanvin's Alber Elbaz to Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci. Trade industry paper Women's Wear Daily reported a deal was close to being struck with Louis Vuitton's Marc Jacobs, but no announcement has been made, leading some to speculate negotiations with the superstar New York designer have derailed.
Whatever the status of the search, Gaytten's strong performance Friday certainly takes the pressure off Dior to immediately find a permanent solution.
The only rule at Westwood is that there isn't one.
It was a free-for-all Friday, as the British designer who leapt to international fame for helping inject anarchy into fashion threw open all the doors and let everyone — including the riffraff — in.
The clothes appeared to have been put together from whatever bolts of leftover fabric were laying around: Satins, lames, brocades, prints, stripes, lace, argyle and tulle were heaped on the models' heads, tied round their waists, slung over their shoulders or draped in artful floor-length skirts.
Some of models wore full-on clown-style face paint, while others sported Klein blue lips and eyebrows. They padded the raised circle-shaped catwalk in towering platforms, pausing in front of the photographer' pit to strike exaggerated poses or do little pantomimes as a 16-year-old pianist played his own compositions on a grand piano.
Whoops of enthusiasm erupted from the audience as the carrot-topped Westwood and her strapping young husband appeared for a final bow.
MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA
Fashion got turned inside-out with Margiela's deconstructed collection, which put the underpinnings of clothing onto the outside.
Thrown over the models' shoulders, swaths of fabric that looked as if they'd been freshly sliced off the bolt became the most basic of outerwear. Pinned rudimentarily to their torsos, the material became ersatz evening gowns.
Raw-seamed panels were attached to column dresses with bits of Velcro, and zippers — complete with the cloth part that's usually sewn into garments — emblazoned the shirts and jackets. Men's suits that looked as if they were in the initial stages of confection by a tailor were worn as-is, with flaps of extra fabric trailing behind.
Models, their faces obscured by tangles of hair, felt their way down the catwalk covered in oriental rugs. A few of them were actually wrapped in sequin-covered rugs in the guise of bustier dresses, their shoulders protected from the elements by oversized Ziploc plastic bags.
Margiela is at the vanguard of conceptual labels whose radical vision pushes fashion forward, and Friday's collection fulfilled that mission.
But the show was too long, with too many iterations on a concept that was clear from the very first looks. Before the models could finish their last lap, top fashion editors flooded the catwalk in a bid to make a quick escape to the next show — which was conveniently taking place all the way across town.
Between the Mad Hatters in oversized headgear and the White Rabbit lookalikes in shrunken tuxes, there was a whiff of "Alice in Wonderland" in the air at Yamamoto.
Still, with its largely somber palette and sluggish pacing, Yamamoto's other side of the looking glass was a pretty lugubrious place.
Models slogged down an illuminated catwalk in oversized suits — extra panels of excess black fabric flapping — and mutant XXL top hats on their heads. Homesteader-style cotton skirts were piled one on top on another and paired with aprons and sneakers.
A model in a shrunken black suit that was kitted out with extra-long tails followed like the ever-anxious White Rabbit after his Alice, in a mammoth white bonnet and a full-skirted dress with a yards- (meters-) long train dragging behind.
While there were plenty of eye-catching pieces on offer, there was something a tad depressing about Friday's show, like a visit to an ashen Wonderland drained of the wonder.
ANNE VALERIE HASH
Hash tapped into that most elusive of je ne sais quois, Parisian girls' ability to throw on any old thing and make it look fabulous.
She delivered a collection steeped in neglige chic, low-rise silk pants with just the right slouch and chiffon blouses that despite being oversized managed to hang just so. Pencil skirts had panels that made them look like they were a couple of sizes too big — though they still hugged the body in just the right places — and pretty blouses were a puff of chiffon held onto the body by a thread in the back.
For evening, silk pantsuits sprouted dramatic billowing loops of chiffon, like capes.
A true Parisian herself, Hash is an unconditional fan of black, but Friday's collection was steeped in color — Klein blue, salmon, tangerine and beige — and even included a fanciful print.