The crowd that formed around Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen after the Chanel show in Paris last Friday morning was so unwieldy that the burly security guards had to form a human wall and quickly construct a make-shift celebrity holding pen while guests at the show waited for Karl Lagerfeld to appear. Rihanna appeared. Then Kanye West and his girlfriend appeared. Claudia Schiffer popped up. The holding pen expanded a little bit to let them all in. Make room for the stars of fashion week!
Later that same evening another unwieldy crowd formed outside Fendi's new Avenue Montaigne boutique pushing to get in too see a private performance by Amy Winehouse. (Winehouse brought down the house, including jaded fashion luminaries and celebrities like LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, Dior president Sidney Toledano, Jessica Alba and Sofia Coppola).
But the real stars of fashion week were not unkempt singers or pop divas or ex-models or Grammy winning rappers. Even fashion stars like that old cash cow the handbag weren't in evidence on runways. At Chanel, a house that celebrates its classic quilted bag season in and season out, there wasn't one to speak of. Instead, the star of the fall, 2008 season was clothing. Chic, streamlined, elegant clothing that wreaked of a kind of timelessness that never goes out of style; silhouettes like simple cocktail shifts, pea coats, straight pants and razor-sharp jackets. It would be wrong to call it minimalism because that word now evokes a time in the mid-1990s when Jill Sander and Helmut Lang were moving fashion forward with their pared-down silhouettes. Now the look is sleek and no-nonsense. There's none of the embroidery or gewgaws or freaky fabrics to attract a consumer's attention as in seasons past. Look closely, designers like Nicolas Ghesquiere, Lagerfeld, and Stefano Pilati seemed to be saying. Study the cut and the beautiful fabrication of these clothes.
At Ghesquiere's pitch perfect show for Balenciaga, three models stepped out onto the runway in chic, simple, beautifully cut cocktail dresses. At Yves Saint Laurent, the models wore distracting black bowl-cut wigs and shiny black lipstick, but they also wore simply spliced jackets and tunic dresses that had a modern, graphic appeal. And at Chanel, Lagerfeld reinvented the classic tweed suit in an ankle-length version that, topped with a Gallic beret, rocked a younger vibe. With black and white and gray being the predominant color palette even at houses famous for flamboyant color, like Christian Lacroix the message from designers here seemed to be to stick to what you know and refine it to it's very essence. Stella McCartney sent out one strapless black mini-dress that had the shape of an hourglass and the chic of a perfectly turned out Parisienne. And at Givenchy, Ricardo Tischi reinvented the famous "Bettina" blouse as a frothy, jabot worn under a shiny black patent leather puffa jacket.
Buyers and journalists attending the shows all know that with a weak dollar and a trembling economy, these clothes are not going to be an easy sell. Some say that in bad times, risk-taking is essential. But this season it seems that few are willing to take the kinds of fashion risks that seemed so easy just six months ago. The shock of chic will have to suffice.
Next Interpreting Milan