PARIS — Paris Fashion Week has only just started, but it’s already made several big impressions. For the fall/winter collections, each designer has created something new, something subtly bizarre, without going overboard. In particular, two young designers have infused French fashion with a new dynamic spirit, focusing on a female image that is complex, urban, and dreamy. With both fantasy and restraint, they have reinvented the clothing codes of the Parisian woman with a light touch and a clear emphasis on fabric and cut.
At age 33, Cédric Charlier is starting his own line, after injecting a dose of freedom into Cacharel for four seasons and then finding out that his contract had not been renewed — a decision that many found surprising, since Charlier had increased profits along with the trend-value of Cacharel. At Tuesday’s show, the designer offered a very personal vision of a woman who is determined and yet indefinable — much like Catherine Deneuve viewed by Helmut Newton. Secretive, angelic, and demonic, Charlier’s looks included a black leather skirt and blouse; long, tapered coats worn over navy blue flannel; trench coats and T-shirts made of vinyl and Lurex; and a very beautiful piece, which is symbolic of certain French perversion: an immaculate tunic dress, almost monk-like, but with a wide-open back. The show received wild applause and the press seems to be unanimous: Charlier has joined the French fashion dream team, with a pared-down style, a sharp sense of detail, and pedigreed fabrics. As Figaro fashion editor Virginie Mouzat put it, “it’s an emotional experience to see a new signature emerge.”
Anthony Vaccarello’s new line was also hotly anticipated. The Italian-Belgian designer made his mark with a schizophrenic show, somewhere between a very, very Belgian preppie style and a very, very Italian sparkly cocktail dress. To refine the style of his femmes fatales, the new media darling worked with Italian shoe designer Giuseppe Zanotti, who perched the models on golden stilettos, giving an erotic edge to a bold collection that alternated between a military and a jet-set look. Starting with a series of midnight blue satin outfits that were rather manly (fitted pants, sharp shirts, and officer’s coats with many pockets), the collection developed into a hybrid style, presenting asymmetrical dresses with busts that came up like jackets over the shoulder, in an iridescent green palette that is reminiscent of his Belgian compatriot Jan Fabre’s scarab art. Finally, long, alien furs established a classical elegance: geometric at the top, very fluid at the bottom, contrasting deep black with vintage gold. According to Libération's Théodora Aspart, Vaccarello’s collection went “from Savile Row to the Côte d’Azur, via an S&M club ... while avoiding, fortunately, the pitfalls of the Russian mafia look.”
On Wednesday, the high priests of Paris fashion got into action. For them, too, the iconic Catherine Deneuve (who is a fervent Paris Week attendee) imposed a paradoxical female image: very present, very clear, possibly pragmatic, but always moving toward a secret destination, thus necessarily scandalous (didn’t Truffaut say that she was a perfect “daydream actress”?) Felipe Oliveira Baptista showed his “Belle de Jour 2012” collection (after the housewife-turned-prostitute played by Deneuve in the 1967 film of the same name). But on the runway, the Yves Saint Laurent designs worn by Deneuve’s character were traded for patent-leather suits with gray vinyl yokes. Deneuve’s style in the film was exaggerated here by almost rigid mini-dresses and accessories that were fetishized to death, such as long black gloves that climbed up to the models’ shoulders underneath their jackets and overcompensating architectural boots that were more evocative of “Blade Runner” than Paris in the swinging ’60s.
Another highlight on Wednesday was Dries van Noten, whose collection also took a journey, though it was less sci-fi and more Zen. Imitating the art market’s current focus, the designer looked to Asia to create a luxurious and spiritual clothing line that mixed genres. Van Noten also chose to rework military menswear, plunging it into the most feminine sensuality possible. Imperial cranes were embroidered onto military jackets; Japanese samurais stood out on fluid silk smocks; Indonesian ikat prints (similar to tie-dye) took over belted linen jackets and 1930s-inspired satin evening gowns. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by Bon Iver suggested “slowing down time” — a concept that’s light-years away from the fashion merry-go-round. So, logically, this was one of the most chic collections on the runway.