A huge terrace with a fireplace—it has always been in Karl Lagerfeld’s mind as a beautiful idea, ever since he saw photos of the visionary architect Le Corbusier’s long-gone Paris apartment. “I just never found a place to do it,” he said after the Chanel show today. Until now, of course, when the gigantic forest-planting, iceberg-importing, supermarket-building extravaganzas of Chanel shows past were scaled down to mimic the stark geometry of Corbu’s designs. At either end of the catwalk were huge fireplaces stoked with digital flames. Above the mantel, a big old baroque mirror. Brutalist and baroque: A typically provocative union from a designer who skates across time like fashion’s answer to Doctor Who.

But it wasn’t simply with the setting that Lagerfeld indulged his long-cherished dream. Le Corbusier was the architect who made concrete a staple of modern design. So Lagerfeld made concrete the foundation of his collection. Concrete! In Haute Couture! When you turn it into tiny tiles, it becomes a beautiful mosaic. Who knew? Lagerfeld delightedly demonstrated the material’s unexpected lightness by dangling a string of concrete beads under the noses of journalists. “Tongue in chic,” he crowed. “Very chic.”

That twistedness was the key to the collection. The word couture implies cutting and seaming. There was none of that here. Everything was molded rather than seamed. “It’s Haute Couture without the Couture,” said Lagerfeld, tongue firmly in cheek. And yet there was look after look of a gorgeousness so exquisite it could only be achieved in ateliers that were accustomed to confronting the impossible—and mastering it. It must help that Lagerfeld always has the future in mind as he cherry-picks his way through the past. Take lace and coat it with silicone. Think pink, but think plastic, too. Tatter, shred, disrespect…and make something new. That was all in keeping with the much-touted youth-ifying of Couture. Sam McKnight’s hair and Maison Michel’s little hats perched pertly on the back of the models’ heads had the effect of a Haircut 100 cover from The Face circa 1982. The effect was compounded by Lagerfeld building his silhouette on shorts. There were coatdresses over shorts, jackets and skirts over shorts, plus the perfect shoes for shorts—sandals. Given the molded, sculpted nature of the clothes, Lagerfeld liked the ease of a flat. “The models can walk in those dresses like they’re nothing,” he said.

The show closed with a passage of long, chalk-white, almost penitent gowns, lavished with embroidery. The combination not only embodied the brutalist/baroque twinning of Lagerfeld’s inspiration, it also echoed the duality of Coco Chanel’s own life, the austerity of her professional self countered by the exotic orientalism of Coco at home. It made for a stunning contrast, matched only by the final foxtrot of Karl and his
seven-months-pregnant bride, the Kiwi model Ashleigh Good. “I like pregnant women,” he said, in keeping with his new cat-loving, godfather-ing public persona. “She looks so elegant, so noble.”
—Tim Blanks
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Bouchra Jarrar

Bouchra Jarrar‘s true love is tailoring. She is a master—both technically skilled and inventive. But we’re already well aware that she cuts the best pants in Paris, and we’ve ogled her Perfectos, in leather or hand-woven tweed, for seasons. The challenge for Jarrar going forward is building on this strong foundation; for her reputation to grow, she needs to build her repertoire. She took several steps in that direction at her show today: sampling from the world of sport; tweaking her signature Perfectos; and, most persuasively of all, because it’s so far removed from her usual formula, experimenting with flou.

First the sport: Jarrar’s silk track pants were as faultless as the pleated wool trousers that came later. Polos and jerseys made from metallic thread tweeds accented with black leather and finished with striped rib looked cool—more casual than anything she’s previously done. Fashion has been borrowing from activewear for a while now, but if this part of the show registered slightly familiar, it didn’t detract from the appeal of an outfit that teamed a black leather vest with a pleated full skirt boasting a ribbed athletic waistband. To update her Perfectos, Jarrar added sculptural fillips of fabric at one hip, as if your favorite biker jacket had gotten together with a hot little 1950s cocktail number and reproduced. The effect was sexy and charming. Newsiest of all the developments were the multilayer leopard-print chiffon plissé dresses. A single trapeze dress required an astounding 50 meters of fabric because of the layers and pleats, and yet it was completely effortless, with a buoyant sense of movement. We’re looking forward to more of this kind of thing from Jarrar. At the opposite end of the flou/structure divide: The black-and-white-striped pheasant feather vests were subtly spectacular.
—Nicole Phelps
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Alexandre Vauthier

Some couturiers send out a wedding gown as their final runway look; Alexandre Vauthier presented a black body-skimming gown that offered quite the peep show from behind. A pearl-embellished band running diagonally across the right cheek functioned as a decorative bridge between the lower back and the upper bum, ostensibly holding the dress together. Such asset-flaunting bait will prove irresistible to Vauthier’s
mega-muses: Rihanna, Bey, Kim, Rita. But with this collection, the designer ensured that there was more than enough of his mastery to go around, from a jumpsuit in a laser-cut pony hair that mimicked lace, to crystal-studded leather pants, to a slinky minidress covered in ribbons of python stitched to tulle. Before the show, Vauthier seemed particularly excited about his foray into a print that appeared on a silk parka and high-waisted trousers; no run-of-the-mill geometric motif, this was a reinterpreted archive find from Clerici Tessuto, the century-old Italian fabric house.

It’s all too tempting to linger over a one-shouldered dress that sparkled like pomegranate seeds (the 196,000 ruby-red stones required 1,850 hours of Lesage embroidery) at the expense of Vauthier’s stellar tailoring—straight-edged but not boxy. Patent shin guards unnecessarily accented a few leggy looks, as if he hadn’t already offered enough aesthetic armor with a pearl and crystal cardigan (120 hours of embroidery) or a series of plush fox cabans. Of course, the designer knows there will always be an appetite for the Tom Ford school of sexpot, but his point of differentiation—his expert eye for fit—can get overwhelmed by glam. Vauthier described this collection as “excessively chic,” adding a rapid succession of “très” for emphasis. And to the extent that people will be apt to remember that right cheek most of all, this was très true.
—Amy Verner
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Maison Martin Margiela

The surrealists used to play a game called Exquisite Corpse, in which each artist would contribute an element to an image, fold it over, and pass it on to someone else who would then add his or her bit with no knowledge of what had been done before. At the end of it all, there’d be some screwball composite that would inevitably betray an unpredictable internal logic.

What better analogy for the house of Maison Martin Margiela‘s Artisanal collection is there than the Exquisite Corpse? The recombinant elements of today’s presentation strung together a grab bag of extraordinary bits and pieces that ultimately composed “a collective memory of Haute Couture” (or so claimed the show notes). But, typically, it was not the grandeur but the detritus of Couture—the fabric offcuts, the embroidery
samples—that the collection celebrated.

Artisanal’s modus operandi is alchemy: Turn a bagful of bottle tops into a shimmering skirt, stitch a handful of embroidered Van Gogh irises into an exotic sheath dress, and collage swatches of cashmere collected at trade fairs into a caftan. Or sew a mess of coins “sourced in various dressing-table drawers and from flea markets across Paris and Brussels” onto a flimsy wrap of fabric to make a jingly-jangly gypsy skirt. The ingenuity was enthralling; the fetishistic detailing of every hour, every bead or sequin slightly less so than usual, perhaps because the collection itself felt a little thin to begin with. It may be simply that the novelty has worn off. Or else the clothes themselves were less enthralling, more arbitrary than before. That was definitely the case with the lobster embroideries and the aluminum “I Love You” party balloon re-created as a crystal bustier.

And yet there was still a peculiar, irresistible romance in these clothes. A Paul Poiret coat trimmed into a gilet, a Line Vautrin brooch on a white cotton shirt…it’s like wearing history, which is, in a way, what Artisanal is all about. But it comes with a condition: You have to impose your history on the history of the materials.
—Tim Blanks
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Elie Saab

Daywear? Elie Saab has a ready-to-wear collection for that. At his Couture show today he was focused exclusively on after-dark. Saab made his point by lining the back of the runway with chandeliers, which were illuminated just moments before the first model made her grand entrance. The colors refracted in those chandeliers provided the palette: first blue, then pink, next blush, followed by black, white, and gray. For decoration, Saab preferred pearls. Tahitian blue for a navy chiffon goddess dress; white pearls on a long-sleeve princess gown; champagne-colored ones for a strapless cocktail number in a neutral shade of pink. The white-on-white looks were the prettiest, but damn if all those embellishments weren’t heavy. A few of the models really struggled with their gowns, and the bride, with her acres of embroidered train, didn’t fare much better. Surely one of Haute Couture’s pleasures should be the way made-to-measure clothes feel on the body.

Amid the tone-on-tone embroideries and the ombré effects, a sweeping ball gown in pink with tiny blue embroidery stood out. So did a couple of dresses that featured a lavish rose print. Saab should keep experimenting with print. For one thing, it’s a whole lot lighter than pearls.
—Nicole Phelps
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Cheryl Burke Condemns Body Bullies, Plastic Surgery Rumors

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Zuhair Murad

Beirut has been undergoing an architectural renaissance, with Herzog & de Meuron, Norman Foster, Steven Holl, and Zaha Hadid among the starchitects making their mark on the Lebanese capital. Zuhair Murad, who is based there, saw the potential for a Couture collection built from geometry—particularly Hadid’s extreme forms. To most eyes, Murad’s interpretation might seem tenuous; dresses generally adhered to classic cocktail or gala silhouettes, with an occasional angular bustline, displaced hemline, or enhanced-volume overskirt. But look closely at the surface detail and you could see how the stretched, encrusted wave patterns; guipure macramé; and puzzle-piece prism motifs expressed a certain neo-futurist edge—especially when rendered in black, white, and silver (the result of hammered metallic sequins).

In trading last season’s precious garden inspiration for a modern cityscape, Murad nudged his aesthetic forward, even if only incrementally. To his fairy-tale wedding dress, he added a 5-meter-long veil; yet the crosshatched embroidery evoked the distinctive cladding employed by various architects today. The designer could have pushed further beyond his signature glamour comfort zone—but perhaps his clients (well-evidenced by the primped-up women sitting front-row) don’t demand this of him. He mentioned that his couture customers are younger and younger—in age and also in spirit, and maybe the beaded, multicolored jump-short number will be purchased less because it represents a good investment than a youth-affirming indulgence. The penultimate look, a shimmery belted caftan, was an outlier in its Art Deco vibe; its unstudied elegance was the most modern statement of all.
—Amy Verner
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Rag & Bone

It’s hard to imagine a person who wouldn’t look right in Rag & Bone. That’s exactly the point designers Marcus Wainwright and David Neville made with their all-in-one photo exhibition/lookbook/collection presentation. For the men’s Spring 2015 outing, they recruited people of all shapes and sizes—a pro basketball player, a stand-up comedian, a guy who makes perfume, the proprietor of a local bar, men and women, old and young—and the whole cast did the clothes as much justice as any model could. “We made a lot of points about the versatility of the clothes and the individuality of Rag & Bone,” said Wainwright. “How one piece of clothing can be worn many different ways by many different people.”

Rag & Bone’s men’s line, now ten years old, isn’t known for creating new challenges for a guy’s wardrobe. The duo makes exceptionally easy-to-wear clothes with an emphasis on comfort, subtle detailing, and safe fits. This collection wasn’t a departure by any means, but it did shine a new light on the brand’s appeal.

Forgoing the preciousness of a cohesively themed collection, this was a loosely curated assemblage of nearly perfect individual pieces. Best in show was the outerwear—a fishtail parka in a high-tech sailcloth infused with fiberglass, a replica-quality bomber in onion quilted nylon, a moleskin overcoat that could have been from any one of your favorite Belgian designers. Denim—the category on which the house of Rag & Bone is built—was given a worn-in look; a longer rise; a darted and tapered leg; and a cropped, raw-finished hem. The effect wasn’t merely an updated classic, it was a total re-engineering, and to telling effect. Tops were long and languid, mostly stripped of the extraneous details we’ve come to expect.

Wainwright and Neville didn’t present a new vision for Rag & Bone here. They presented what felt like a reaction to fashion’s adoration of conceptual design, and a compelling case for interesting clothing that people actually want to wear. “Some people look for fashion and they look for art and they look for things that are completely new, and I think that’s fantastic,” said Wainwright. “But at the end of the day, if you can’t wear half of it, what’s the point?”
—Noah Johnson
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