Balenciaga, Rick Owns, Dries Van Noten, Rochas, Ann Demeulemeester focus
Paris Fall fashion collections began awkwardly. Milan had been so stoutly clear: Bottega Veneta, Jil Sander, weird but wonderful Prada. Now we were 27 floors above the Left Bank, in an office, and the funny thing was — what were the chances? — all of Paris on Thursday morning was soaked in a thick fog. The gray matched the mood of designer, Nicolas Ghesquiere Balenciaga. It wasn’t intentional. Briefly, Mr. Ghesquiere’s idea was to capture the different styles of office attire among women. “Balenciaga Inc.,” he said backstage. Balenciaga Chic is probably what his fans would prefer to see instead of belted double-faced coats, turtleneck sweaters with cream A-line skirts (though lovely) and chunky sweat shirts in a kind of, um, animal motif. Another blousy top featured cartoon graphics with sayings like “Join a weird trip.” On one level, a spoofy take on corporate dressing is welcomed. All those strange proportions and codes might work as an odd little mirror held up to reality. At one point fashion designer Ghesquiere sent out what looked like jumpsuits; the upper half was a conventional blazer, and the bottom might have been track pants in parachute silk prints, finished off with a belt so that your rear end was guaranteed to look enormous. In New York, we’ve all seen that mishmash of styles on the subway: the thick leather jacket, the ’80s trousers and two-tone elf boots, the touch of metallic animal prints. And the attitude is admirable because it really isn’t about Fashion. But on another level, you don’t need this point of view from Balenciaga. It’s a bit pedestrian. Although the collection had a number of strong pieces, like the skirts and many of the tops, there is just not enough merit to the idea to keep you interested. Fashion Designer Rick Owens opened his Paris collection with floor-scraping coats and pebbly wool dresses, the models’ heads covered in knitted caps that formed cages over their faces. Their lips were bright red. In his fashion, designer Owens was elegant. And he raised the bar with beautiful leather jackets, among his most beautiful, with dolman sleeves; cropped at the waist, they were worn with slim, draped wool skirts in a slightly contrasting tone. After his January Paris men’s show, with its Oscar Wilde allusions that landed like a heavy volume, designer Dries Van Noten use of 17th-century Asian silk prints in his women’s show on Wednesday felt comfortably at home in his world. Maybe Mr. Van Noten can’t be funny on a runway. Well, that’s O.K. As the Balenciaga show demonstrated, humor is a strangely elusive quality. Visually, Mr. Van Noten’s show offered a lot. Oblong fragments of silk prints appeared on silk skirts and blouses, or as panels on sharply tailored suits and rugged outerwear. Backstage, he explained that the prints came from Chinese, Japanese and Korean costumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The garments were spread open, photographed and digitally printed onto silks and wool crepes. A nice abstraction was the result. Mr. Van Noten often uses prints and bold patterns, but this time the thought process seemed more freewheeling. Also, the rich kimono silks worked great with the masculine khaki and blues and with the vaguely uniform-style tailoring. His outerwear is reliably sophisticated, but this time it stands out. Marco Zanini might be losing the plot at Rochas. He doesn’t build on seasons past so much as veer from them. He has good taste and a curiosity for offbeat references (for fall, Wilhelm Kage’s Modernist ceramics), but you have to be almost a mind reader to follow along. He wanted the fabrics to shine through — and they do, splendidly — but the shapes feel dragged along. Ann Demeulemeester is so predictable that occasionally she catches you off guard. Sharp, small tailoring was the jolting factor in her show, nicely finessed in matte wool or leather. She stuck to black or royal blue, with punk feathers in the hair. Her trim silhouette also included tight leather pants and over-the-knee boots, and terrific but easily overlooked (if you’re napping) crepe.