This season, Paris Fashion Week resounded with a unified cry of: More! The 1% of reigning designers showing in Paris are determined to swath us in super-sized garments. Whether the enormous surplus of fabric at Paris will only trickle down, throughout the world’s copy-catwalks and fast-fashion outlets, to a slightly baggy silhouette will be seen but designers’ message was definitely heard.
This statement initially appears like a flaunting of excess but the historical and psychological heritage to these voluminous forms reflects today’s mood of financial insecurity and deprivation. Although the hyper-feminine line associated with Dior’s historic “New Look” was absent on catwalks (probably a burn-out from recent season’s Mad Men mania), the Papa-sized coats, Mama-sized dresses and other protective garments can be read as a recession-era wish for Dior’s historic flouting of material rationing after WWII. We wait to learn whether this style will inflate moods or make wearers look like they grabbed the warmest charity-shop find…
Whatever the long-term effects of this trend, the best of the biggest statements were made by designers collaborating or gathering inspiration from large-scale sculpture. Here are the five leading shows were designers wrapped themselves in significant artistic credentials.
Stella McCartney: Keith Sonnier
Stella McCartney told Style.com’s Nicole Phelps that her SS13 collection was “a conversation between a man and a woman, between boldness and fragility.” It was also an arresting visual play between light and color evoking Keith Sonnier’s abstract neon sculptures. Like Sonnier, McCartney found equilibrium between dense white or sheer panels and flashes of exhilarating electric color. Her repeated combination of Harvest Moon and white was a particularly potent reminder of the warm, refreshing, experience of encountering Sonnier’s minimalist light installations. In both instances, strong color and form combine into a palpable life force, beyond gender or conceptual juxtapositions.
Balenciaga: Henry Moore
Nicolas Ghesquière, the dashing young designer revitalizing Balenciaga’s historic brand, turned abstract curves, cubes and inviting openings into erotic masterpieces during his SS13 collection. Big monochromatic flounces in exaggerated flamingo skirts were paired with large, stiff, square bodices. These shapes highlighted the curves of models’ sinewy bodies with the same sensuality as Henry Moore’s bronze female nudes. The tension between firm and rounded geometry was more arousing than the flashes of bare skin exposed by floating and bouncing. Although herringbone and busy prints were an unnecessary distraction after the stark power of Ghesquière’s black and white garments, the concavities, swells and beautiful bends of his voluptuous monochromatic outfits were sensual masterpieces.
Louis Vuitton: Daniel Buren
Marc Jacobs’s collaboration with Daniel Buren for his Louis Vuitton SS13 collection extended beyond the beloved French installation artist’s interior of the prestigious Palais Royal. Jacobs used Buren’s cheerfully colored signature checks and columns as the base for his invigorating six-minute show. The bold, geometric garments immediately evoke MOD references when considered outside Buren’s insular context. Yet, when viewed inside Buren’s “Les Deux Plateaux” installation piece, Jacobs’s crisp clothes were dazzlingly surreal. The models melded into their surroundings as they descended from four escalators onto the yellow and white checked catwalk. Jacobs’s three distinct lengths then beautifully complimented the different column heights of Burden’s cleanly formed columns. Pairs of meticulously styled models wore mini, midi or maxi versions of checked yellow, peach, ivy, smoke or black skirts, jackets and dresses. Silhouettes of floating flowers were deviations from Buren’s visual vocabulary but they matched the joyful thrill of Paris’s most overt artistic influence.
John Galliano: Christo and Jeanne-Claude
John Galliano’s new designer, Bill Gaytten, wrapped his models in candy-colored masses of material, as if they were sweets or the structures that Christo and Jeanne-Claude cover in fabric. The proportions were controversial with critics, such as Style.com’s Alex Veblen who lamented “Woe to the bulk for bulk’s sake: trousers with bubble trouble and shorts like mansard roofs.” And, although disproportionate excesses of material define SS13, Gaytten arguably lost too many models in his billowing bundles. However, the former architecture student successfully captured the playful spirit of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s sculptural interventions. And his joyful colors made his house-sized dresses appear welcoming and inhabitable.
Chanel: Claes Oldenburg
Perhaps Karl Langerfeld was paying penance for his lambasted swipe at the singer Adele for being a “little too fat” but, this season, Chanel models swam in bloated suits, dresses and skirts. Langerfeld stuck models on the catwalk in dowdy tweeds or monochrome clothes that appeared to have been made for much larger women.
The effect was playful and surreal, although neither model nor garment truly benefited from the mismatch. Therefore, a white tulip-shaped skirt and boxy jacket pocked with gobstopper sized peal beads, enveloped a pixie-cropped girl. Her doppelganger wore a cylindrical sheath hanging from her chest like an massive, beaded, bath-towel. The aptly named supermodel, Joan Smalls, held her arms far from her waist as she maneuvered in a white zipped cardigan with bulging stiff sleeves. Stella Tennant, a grande dame of modeling, and a few of her potential successors wore bolero jackets with shoulders to suit a football team.
These outfits were distinctive and potentially interesting statements about the relationships between bodies, size, class and standards in fashion since the basic forms Lagerfeld chose to expand upon are office-wear stables. The designer, who famously shed his corpulence without gaining much empathy for average peoples’ body issues, presented a couture collection filled with bureaucratic basics worn by models embodying Coco Chanel’s maxim “you can never be too rich or too thin.” Seated viewers probably imagined models’ delight at dropping the excess weight backstage.
However, the entire concept ballooned into a fantastic fantasy when Lagerfeld began channeling Claes Oldenburg’s iconic ironic oversized sculptures of everyday items. The gigantic accessories that Lagerfeld hung on models towards the end of his show recall the whimsy, insight and thrill of Oldenburg’s super-sized spoon balancing a cherry, lipstick on tank tracks and rubber-stamp. Instead of just borrowing blouses from big girls, Chanel’s models wore bags from Brobdingnag. Skittering down the catwalk, like The Borrowers with a treasure, models hauled hats made with vast plastic rims and bags the size of airplane propellers. One girl wore a fitted swimsuit, with the classic interlocked Chanel “C” across her slim torso, and a giant version of the archetypical quilted Chanel bag help by a hoop. Rather than subtly ridicule larger women by presenting their clothes as grotesquely oversized, this statement about excessive expectations and expanding appetites is puckish and appreciated.