Thursday, March 6, 2008

Paris Fashion Week: A City Where Great Ideas Perish, Done to Death by a Witticism

They say you can learn wit in Paris, as if wit weren't an inherent gift. There may be some basis in truth to this; people talk about being natural comedians when what they really mean is natural clowns. Buffoons, that is. Comedy and wit are two separate things and one must not confuse a belly laugh with a knowing smirk.

Good wit is arch and devastating and quite often le dernier mot. Molière excelled at those, as did Noel Coward. People have died from derniers mots.

The most famous last word, however, is the one that you think of after it could have done you some good. This is "l'esprit de l'escalier," that droll turn of phrase one utters in hindsight, past the point of effectiveness. This is also one's ego.

There are legions of people who find that fashion must have wit and there are others who expect fashion to provide solutions. Then there is a troubling group that demands constant change; these misguided souls would reinvent the human form through design deformity that generally involves materials best reserved for automobiles and mattresses.

Those who look for solution would have a difficult time grappling with Olivier Theyskens' woodland romp for Nina Ricci. Even as we seek to make our lives easier through gadgetry, we do not apply the same innovations to fashion. How else can one explain heel-less shoes or trousers with three legs that are meant to be worn by two men?

Most women expect fashion to provide remedy (or at least counterbalance). Expectation runs highest with bras, bathing suits, and trousers. Fashion editors have dined out on these problems for years, creating reams of editorial about slimming cuts and colors. There hasn't been a fashion editor yet who has downplayed the threat to women's sanity and self-confidence inherent in unbecoming design.

Olivier Theyskens is a man who used to understand women. Somewhere on his journey down the runways of Nina Ricci, he has wandered into the no man's land of the universally unflattering.

The question is whether there is wit involved, and if so, was it once a great idea?

In designing trousers for his Fall 2008 collection, Theyskens has not only gone out of his way to avoid solutions, he has created problems. The trousers end at the ankle like Sikh dars and are long enough to replace socks. As the pants rise up the leg, they acquire more material, until somewhere around the thigh they begin to look like excess skin in dire need of liposuction.

Had the problems ended there, where a little outpatient surgery would have provided a more desirable profile, the only cavil would have been with the reflective properties of satin. But Theyskens continued up to the crotch, where extra material created a bloated--in the vernacular--camel toe. Camel toe has its place in history, along with Hammer pants, under the category of severe hazard.

Space precludes publishing all of the arguments against such design. Fashion thrives on the vicarious and the visual. There must be a payoff even in the face of fiscal and genetic impossibility. Fashion is also a magpie that feathers its nest with the sublime and the preposterous. Theyskens chose the latter for the bottom half of his fall collection.

Not all of this collection deliberately operated against women's best interests. The evening gowns and their mulchy, curried palette were fit for Titania. Costumey, you say? Hardly recompense for the dubious pants? Perhaps, but with a pastoral energy and warmth that feels comfortable--and maybe witty--in the middle of the industrial zone.

Title quote: Honoré de Balzac


Cate said...

trousers with three legs? sometimes i really think the designers must be out of their minds. the heel-less shoes were weird too, but not as absurd as the three-legged trousers (if i'm thinking of the same heel-less shoes you intended)!

susie_bubble said...

I see the beauty in the collection but there was this new awkwardness about everything that I hadn't seen before... a shame really...

Blue Floppy Hat said...

It's not quite what it could have been- I liked the non-black palette for Fall, but if this was Theyksens trying to find a new direction, I hope the next attempt is better..

riz said...

THANK YOU!: "Olivier Theyskens is a man who used to understand women. Somewhere on his journey down the runways of Nina Ricci, he has wandered into the no man's land of the universally unflattering."

This was by far my biggest Paris disappointment. I was dismayed and to tell you the truth, perhaps he should not be at Nina Ricci anymore. But I don't like all the comments that say 'he's much too Belgian' to design for the house...That's equally despicable. And not what I'm saying.

Thomas said...

First, the opening paragraphs of this post caused me so much pleasure that I had to read them through several times before continuing with the rest. Toujours les mots juste, Mlle. Suzanna.

"How else can one explain heel-less shoes or trousers with three legs that are meant to be worn by two men?" (Nodding head in agreement. Mr. Browne's collection caused me to record "Thom Browne's Blues" - have not decided yet whether it should hear the ear of day.)

In the latest issue of Interview, the one with Ellen Page, there is a spread on four designer "Hammer pants." I wonder what you think of them.

Midsummer Night's Dream reference - possibly my favourite of your many worthy posts.

Suzanna Mars said...

Cate--probably one and the same pair! They certainly made an impression, though, which is quite often the goal.

Riz, I think I may have lost a comment or two of yours; my apologies if anything didn't get posted. I've been having trouble with Blogger for the past week.

I ignore "Belgian" comments; too much stereotyping goes on and such remarks are about as relevant as "much too tall" or "much too salty." It's the easy way out and I think often spoken without consideration for scope.

Iheartfashion said...

Hahahahahaha...well put!
P.S. who was it that sent out the 2-man trousers? Thom Browne? I saw them but can't remember where.

Suzanna Mars said...

IHF, it was indeed Thom Browne. Check men's Style for the full collection; there was much more than just the trousers.

Thomas, you have no idea how widespread the plague of Hammer pants was. They had a terrible effect upon mass-market design. For a few years there, pull-on pants with baggy, saggy waists were le dernier cri in street fashion. Some of them, I hate to say, had footstraps that were worn over the shoe. Do you know whose fault all of this way? ARMANI.

enc said...

He lost me with this collection. I want my designers to fall into the category of "fashion designer," one who makes beautiful clothes we will see out in the world, being worn, and "artistic visionary," one who executes ideas and art and inspiration through "fashion." I want Theyskens to be one or the other, and he defies description. Well, MY description anyway.