Dispatches from Paris: McQueen & Valentino

Beauty at Alexander McQueen & Valentino's perfect pitch

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Alexander McQueen - Valentino - Alexander McQueen, a/w 2014

One of the reasons for Paris’ supremacy on the world fashion stage is because it hosts the likes of Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen show. It was breathtakingly beautiful. On a set straight out of a fairy tale, with smoke rising from mossy mounds of earth, Burton’s tale of Beauty and the Beast unfolded. You could barely make out the silhouette of the first model in the eerie darkness, then as dawn broke and the lights lifted, the next girl approached in her black coat sprouting a long and wicked fur collar, her white petticoat bobbing beneath.

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Next came Beauty in starched white broderie anglaise with flounced sleeves and after that a whole host of Beauties entered. Their coats swaddled them in rich black brocades or fluffy white fur; their virginal white dresses in crisp, thick cotton were the prettiest of the season. Then came the Beasts – not ugly, mind – wearing black feathered eyebrows under their thick goat fur hoods and sculpted shiny crackle leather jackets or lean trousers. There was a flourish of colour with a pair of caped-coats made entirely from clipped feathers resembling that of a peacock. Bejewelled embellishment came in the form of icy circles of thick crystal covering neck to knee or as deep jewel coloured bodices for those dreamy evening gowns made not of fur – as we all thought in the show – but of shredded layer upon layer of organza. The show ended on two Beauties in bright white gowns laced in pagan symbols with feathered hems that floated like thistledown across the grassy moor.

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This was a huge departure for Sarah Burton. Gone were the corsets, the hourglass silhouette, the sharp angles and sever tailoring. Gone were the precarious heels. This was Burton stamping her ground, quite literally with solid flat stomping boots some of which came glutted with hunks of crystal. ‘I wanted her to be wild, liberated, beautiful and romantic,’ said Burton backstage afterwards. By moving away from the prickly darkness of McQueen’s weighty archives, despite the atmostpheric setting, which was every bit synonymous with the brand, she captured the lightness and tenderness of the Lee McQueen we all so loved. And because of that, Burton delivered her best collection to date.

Valentino - Alexander McQueen - Valentino

It’s impossible not to be blown away by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. The craftsmanship of the Valentino maison is some of the hautest that ready-to-wear fashion has to offer. The level of detail is so far beyond the normal realms of shop stock that you sometimes come away with the feeling that their ‘master pieces’ might be better suited behind glass in a grand museum. So precious are these works of art that to touch them, let alone to wear them, is almost unthinkable. It does make you wonder who the Valentino customer is and what kind of lifestyle she leads: Palazzo? Chauffeur? Private jet?

At first, it looked as if the designers were reinventing their universe. They set off in a bold new direction with a parade of punchy bright spots and half circles in red, pink, orange, black and white. The clothes were clean and crisp: short dresses had little collars made entirely of miniscule leather flowers and were worn with a pair of shiny square-toed knee-high boots. Their take on the 1960s, perhaps? Then came a couple of dresses in olive and pale pink that whispered 1970s, in that they were long and gathered at the waist with drapey, angel-wing sleeves. The show notes explained the reference to those eras; they been inspired by three women artists – Giosetta Fioroni, Carol Rama and Carla Accardi – at their creative height during those decades. Then the fabrics reverted to uber rich: floral jacquards, crystal embroideries, woven tapestries, fur intarsia, diamond paneled leather, crystallised butterflies, unicorns, flowers and foliage. It was a perfect show for their customer. So when the designers took their bow, it was no surprise to see Valentino Garavani himself embrace them.

See the Alexander McQueen collection

See the Valentino collection

PFW Models off duty

Paris Street Style

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