Fashion Review: Latex at Givenchy and Chaos at Margiela. Is This the New Oscar Dressing?

Maison Margiela haute couture, spring 2019.CreditCreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Fashion Review

Latex at Givenchy and Chaos at Margiela. Is This the New Oscar Dressing?

The red carpet may never be the same, although Giorgio Armani is standing firm.

Maison Margiela haute couture, spring 2019.CreditCreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

PARIS — So the Oscar nominations are in and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has finally (sort of) hoiked itself into the 21st century, opening its ranks for Netflix and comic book heroes, trying to diversify, getting with the times. What will the new crop of nominees wear to the event next month?

In Paris, it’s time to play “Guess the Dress.” Which is proving to be kind of hard this year.

After all, what appears on the runway here is often what shows up on the red carpet there, and nominees — or their stylists — are shopping as the shows happen. Couture has most of the attributes that a paparazzi-magnet would want: Rarity, individuality, quality. Yet what the shows so far have lacked is currency.

Instead there’s preservation: old shapes, stiff upper lips (or hips). Allegiance to the dwindling status quo. Couture may be the oldest fashion form, but it shouldn’t feel so encased in amber. The buying audience may be small, but the viewing audience is big. And when it comes to viewing, as John Galliano said in a podcast about his Margiela Artisanal collection, we’re in a situation of “overconsumption, over-saturation, overstimulation, overindulgence.” O.K., yes, we know: the social media sickness. It’s not exactly news. Still, designers train their eyes on the ivory atelier at their own peril. Their job, even in couture, is to answer the question: “Where are we going?”

Hopefully not to sleep.

Elie Saab haute couture, spring 2019.CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

(The podcast, by the way, is Mr. Galliano’s new way to explain himself instead of being mobbed backstage after a show like a sacrificial chicken. It works pretty well, plus it makes him look like he actually pays attention to what’s going on in the world outside.)

Yet here was Elie Saab, with his starfish-spangled, gilt coral-encrusted mermaid finery and undulant, train-trailing trouser suits; there was Giorgio Armani name-checking Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 film “The Conformist” in his Privé show and offering a lacquered Art Deco-in-Shanghai fantasia in 86 mostly red and blue looks. Plus some silver and, at the end, black.

They came fringed and frilled, python and patent, sequined and beaded. They came in neat jackets flaring out over trim pants or pencil skirts; strapless dance dresses; and feathered capes. They came in the stately swirl and pose of runways past. They came with beaded, fringed toques (what is it with swim caps this season?). They came in so many iterations, they started to blur together into a single stream of shine and shade.


Giorgio Armani Privé haute couture, spring 2019.CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Each look was accomplished, and up close, the work was, as it always is in couture, remarkable. Some of the gowns may well end up on the Oscars stage at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles on Feb. 24. But it was awfully easy to look away.

They didn’t cause the same shake-your-head-and-blink double-takes as Clare Waight Keller’s study of tuxedo dressing and the underneath at Givenchy, which promised a rigorous, tightly controlled take on black tie and then subverted it. Black latex leggings (Latex! At the couture? Kinky!) were worn instead of pants under exactingly cut jackets with a single knife-sharp white lapel and blood-red second-skin latex undershirts below black lace halter-neck ball gowns.

There were black guipure bodysuits peeking through white guipure baby doll dresses; steroid-fueled bows sprouting backpacks at their core; and egg-yolk yellow leggings oozing out beneath delicate white-flowered evening skirts. Afterward, cornered backstage by the ravening hordes, Ms. Waight Keller talked the usual talk about purity and construction and the importance of the waist. It all sounded very respectful. But in reality, it also dared you to re-examine old value systems.


Givenchy haute couture, spring 2019.CreditValerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Why can’t latex be as precious as lace? Why can’t superhero movies take the Best Picture prize? It’s about time we started asking these questions.

Certainly that’s where Mr. Galliano was going at Maison Margiela with a show that treated male and female models as interchangeable, placing them amid the intentional chaos of a graffiti-strewn room, random Yves Klein-blue poodles floating in space, reflected in a mirrored runway.

“We’re so overwhelmed with so much imagery, you almost want to regurgitate,” Mr. Galliano said in his podcast by way of explanation. Actually, he said reGUUUURGitate — he is given to exaggeratedly grandiose speech — and then he did exactly that, in a chaotic mélange of jacquard and computer-generated prints and metallic threads and feathers and tweed and satin and leather and felted flowers and faux fur (and I could go on, but you get the idea), all of it chopped and changed and morphed together into not entirely identifiable garments. Then he pared it all down.

Couture has in the past pledged itself to a kind of perfected reality — hard edges sanded, wrinkles Botoxed smooth — but Mr. Galliano’s proposition was rather to “alter reality to offer a new reality.”

His collection was messy and occasionally clunky and, on the red carpet, it probably would leave Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic mute (Not a bad thing, come to think of it). But it also had an urgency and healthy disrespect for the institution that made the whole concept of couture seem alive instead of embalmed. Besides, a poodle could be an interesting look for the podium.


Published at Wed, 23 Jan 2019 15:18:04 +0000