Paris Day 5 & 6: Valentino's Modern Ease; Balenciaga's "So Bad, It's Good" Attitude; Celine's Female Form Fetish

Dominique Charriau/WireImage
Models on the Valentino spring 2017 runway.

THR's senior fashion editor Booth Moore reports on the glitzy comings and goings of Paris Fashion Week.

Unlike Brad and Angelina, this was an amicable breakup. And each party is going to be A-OK.

That was the message Sunday afternoon after the presentation of the first Valentino runway collection to be solo-designed by Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose design partner Maria Grazia Chiuri left to become artistic director of Dior.

Valentino's New Beginning

Piccioli held his show in the glorious Hotel Salomon de Rothschild, with its decadent frescoed ceilings and crystal chandeliers, and a star-packed front row that included Elle Fanning, Dakota Johnson, Shailene Woodley, Jessica Alba and Diane Kruger. His task was to show that he could keep the house going alone, after his eight-year partnership with Chiuri, and in the face of rumors in the press that she was the one who carried more weight.

He more than proved he’s up for the task, presenting a collection that played to the brand’s recent ornamental look, but without all the overly precious historicism that could sometimes bog things down. As a result, he defined a new modern ease for the brand with daywear as a strong focus and brought Valentino down to earth.

One of the most memorable pieces wasn’t a ravishing evening gown, dripping with embroidery; it was a pink pile fabric coat with a raw edged hem, worn with slouchy pale pink satin trousers and flat sandals. Another great look was an easy canvas coat, embroidered all over in leaves and vines — the kind of extraordinary everyday piece you’d throw over everything. And the Valentino red dress all the celebs will be fighting over? It was in a micro pleated red leather, with ruffle-edged, off-shoulder sleeves. A real sweetheart, all right.

Piccioli said in the show notes that he drew an imaginary line between Hieronymus Bosch, the 16th century fantastical painter of heaven and hell, and the beloved eccentric 76-year-old British designer Zandra Rhodes, who reinterpreted the artist’s imagery with her naive lines on amazing looking print sunburst pleated dresses that will be collector’s items.

“Punk, a way of thinking that accepts and accentuates contrasts and imperfections without erasing them,” is how Piccioli described it in the show notes. “Women as individuals, not characters.” Bravo.

Balenciaga's Leveling of Good and Bad Taste

Punk is certainly a word that comes to mind when considering the work of Demna Gvasalia, the designer who scored the top job at the French fashion house of Balenciaga after taking the fashion world by storm as part of the collective Vetements.

Gvasalia presented his second outing for Balenciaga Sunday morning in the outer reaches of Paris, set to a delightfully cheesy elevator Muzak-like soundtrack. “An exploration of the intimate relationship between couture and fetishism,” is how he described the collection in the notes.

He zeroed in on the shoulder line with whalebone inserts dramatically exaggerating the silhouette of jackets and coats that were the collection's starring attraction, perched atop slinky Spandex boot-pants that stretched from stiletto tip to hip (like a pair of haute Lululemon leggings or Spanx). So when everyone starts wearing power shoulders in the next year or so, you can thank Gvasalia, who also helped to jumpstart the boxy, oversized look that's everywhere now.

Several pieces had secret, gadgety features — a jacket with built-in shirt panel allowing it to masquerade as a suit, for example, and waterfall Spandex pieces that could be converted into halter neck tops and dresses. (The genius Balenciaga trench coats hitting stores now from Gvasalia’s first collection, which were shown sliding off the shoulder on the runway, have a removable halter strap, so they can be worn both on or off the shoulders.)

Feminine peplum blouses, one in pink stripe with ruching at the waist, were probably the most accessible items, along with the outre, button-shaped, matching fabric earrings, which should spawn a thousand knockoffs.

But even more important than what was on the runway was the attitude behind it: a leveling of good and bad taste, from the working girl Spandex boot pants (some in loud floral prints), to Working Girl (the 1989 film) silky power suit jackets. (You'll remember the bad taste reference in Anthony Vaccarello's first Saint Laurent collection on Tuesday, too.) It’s that "so bad, it’s good" sentiment that will sell sneakers, perfume and Balenciaga’s new XXL high-low Tati lookalike bags to millennials.

A similar vibe was at work in the Vivienne Westwood collection, where designer Andreas Kronthaler embraced the weird with phallus-shaped jewelry, overturned planters for hats, and a jumpsuit cutout over the seat to reveal a bikini bottom. 

Celine's Body Politics

An irreverence to the conventions of dressing up is something that Celine’s Phoebe Philo has always examined in her collections. And the spring 2017 season was no different, with its emphasis in elevating the mundane, whether that be a pair of sneakers or a slouchy work suit. Pants with printed chiffon spilling out of the cuffs looked fresh, as did the bold color play of pairing a neon green blouse with a plum pleated skirt. Again, so bad it's good.

But the tops with the spiderwebby breast cups, I’m not so sure. The blue body painted white dresses were cooler. In fact, many of Philo’s dresses were strong, particularly a white shirtdress with billowing cape back, and another with flutter sleeves and black piping detail.

The collection’s breast awareness did speak to a larger trend seen in Paris this season at Balenciaga, Mugler, Vivienne Westwood, Balmain and more, of fetishizing the female form by concealing and revealing it with slashes, panels and sports fabrications. (Do we have Kim Kardashian to thank for that, too?)

“I want to show that our bodies are bound to the world, whether we like it or not,” was Philo’s inspirational quote, sourced from artist Dan Graham, who created the convex and concave set Plexiglass pieces on the Celine runway, and a famous 1972 film installation titled Body Press, which trained cameras on nude bodies in a mirrored cylinder.

The curving set pieces on the runway made the show a bit disorienting by design, distorting the view of the clothes like fashion distorts our view of our bodies and ourselves. Food for thought in this feminist fashion season.