Friday Column | A Tale of Three Revivals

Balmain A/W 2009, courtesy of Style.com

Balmain A/W 2009, courtesy of Style.com

PARIS, France — I’m in Paris for the collections, after sitting last season out. It’s funny the way everything looks different when you’re actually here.

Take Balmain, for instance. I assumed, from what I read in the press after last season’s showing by designer Christophe Decarnin, that it was the collection du jour; the one that everyone adored, adored, adored. It turns out that well, this is not really the case.

The talk amongst the fashion intelligentsia before and after the show centered around one key point – and that point was not: “Isn’t Decarnin a genius?”, but rather “Who can actually buy this stuff?”

What I knew of Balmain was summed up in the Michael Jackson Thriller jacket (short, sparkly, superlative shoulders) and ripped jeans look that I assumed everyone in Paris would be wearing. The house is credited with kicking off the most recent 1980s revival trend.

The Balmain collection shown yesterday was nothing if not 1980s. The dresses were short, sparkly and strapless. The trousers were billowing and, left open down the front, bizarre. The only look of note — and probably the one you’ll see in most wrap-ups — was the last. The white sparkly jacket with strong shoulders and distressed jeans was a subtle evolution of last season’s one hit wonder.

Except that, in the real world, the collection isn’t a one hit wonder at all. One buyer told me that it sells out before it hits the selling floor. Customers are emailing photos from the internet and requesting pieces. Another said they’re getting 95 percent sell-throughs. No one cares one bit that the current collection has very little to do with the brand’s history. (A note to other designers attempting a revival.)

So who is buying this stuff then? All I could think was that the hedge fund fathers haven’t had the gumption to their daughters that the free-spending days are over. Certainly not many born before 1985 would, or could, wear this stuff.

Marco Zanini, the former designer from Halston, showed his first collection for Rochas this week. The house had been on a three season hiatus after dismissing Olivier Theyskens. The lovely collection, produced by Gibo and owned by Procter and Gamble, provided a redemption of sorts for Zanini. It was pretty, and perfectly formed.

The PR took pains to say Zanini did not revisit the archives – he simply thought about what the house meant to him. It made me wonder what was going on behind the scenes at Halston for his only collection there to have been so bland.

As for Theyskens, he is, for now at least, designing Nina Ricci. Many editors I spoke to thought the collection was a poke in the eye of the brand’s owners, the Spanish cosmetics company, Puig. It was meticulous in its construction, but absolutely unwearable – a point he underlined by putting the girls on the most absurd platform, heel-less shoes we’ve seen thus far.

Some loved it, some hated it. Most seemed to think it was his swan song. Rumours abound that Theyskens has already been fired.

Lauren Goldstein Crowe is our Friday columnist and co-author of a book on Jimmy Choo to be published by Bloomsbury later this year.