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Fashion Is Fishing for New Dimensions

We expect extraordinary craft from Valentino, Schiaparelli and Sacai. The real challenge is making an emotional connection.
The finale at Valentino's Autumn/Winter 2022 show.
The finale at Valentino's Autumn/Winter 2022 show. (Valentino)

PARIS — Pierpaolo Piccioli headed to Paris at the end of December expecting to find a city gagging for release after the strictures of the pandemic. But it was too soon. “Not yet a joyful moment,” he observed ruefully. Piccioli felt further reflection was needed, to create a breathing space between what was and what will be. The monochrome canvases of Italian artist Lucio Fontana struck a chord, “slashed, not to destroy, but to create a new dimension.”

The monochrome he settled on for his Valentino show on Sunday was pink, a colour everyone has a preconception about. There was the challenge: change it! No “pretty,” thank you very much. Piccioli enlisted techno-seer Douglas Coupland to compose a testimonial to the magical power of pink. This is what he came up with. “Intrinsically modern.” “Unnatural.” “A winning lottery ticket.” And how about “Pink is the mother who will always forgive you?” Piccioli’s path to pink was simpler. Restricting himself to one colour liberated his creativity. Subtraction = Amplification.

But did it? As radical as the gesture seemed, the monochrome became monotone. Piccioli envisaged a world of pink enhancing the character of his models, the silhouette, cut and texture of his garments. There was an abundance of gorgeous couture-level detail — bows, ruffles, frills, embroideries, a fountain of feathers — but it was like swallowing the same mouthful of lusciously creamy pastry over and over. Pink wasn’t the colour to create entrancing distinctions.

Which isn’t to say that Piccioli didn’t create fabulous incongruities, largely down to the fact that he had women and men on his catwalk. If a woman swept by in an Old Hollywood-worthy ruffled pink peignoir, a man would shortly follow in a pink duvet coat. Different ways of thinking about dressing for the boudoir.

There was, of course, serious technique. I particularly liked the idea of garments cut on the square, like traditional Japanese clothing. Then there was a coat of Aran knit sparkled with sequins. And a man’s shirt writ so large in pink faille that its tails formed a huge fluttering train.

What feels like centuries ago, in the Audrey Hepburn classic “Funny Face,” Liza Minnelli’s godmother Kay Thompson, playing a magazine editor modelled after Vogue’s Diana Vreeland, worked her way through a musical prescription titled “Think Pink.” There’s a whole audience for whom that song defined fashion’s wayward diktats. But Piccioli proved the song wrong in his show by restoring black to its rightful place as fashion’s ultimate decision-maker.

After pink passed by, a series of cool, calm, comprehensible black looks took to the catwalk: equally sumptuous in their detail — a black nylon macramé T-shirt somehow spoke to a fashion moment — but delivered with a clarity that the pink obscured, for all Piccioli’s good intentions. The master Cristóbal Balenciaga would always present his innovations for the season in one single black dress. Take note. Black!

It was an irresistible fashion synchronicity that Schiaparelli showed later on Sunday. Elsa Schiaparelli’s scent Shocking was named after the pink that was one of her signature colours. Too bad for the point I’m trying to make that there was no pink in the collection Daniel Roseberry showed. Instead, he focused on the black, gold and bone white that coloured his couture collection in July, which was all part of making that group of spectacularly challenging looks accessible to a wider audience. And, to an equally spectacular degree, that was just what Roseberry managed to do.

It’s amazing what you can do with a button: a nipple, a cat’s eye, a tiny surrealist nubbin. Roseberry’s closures were suggestive art, like the rings that clasped the cuffs of a jacket. Or the trompe l’œil pierced belly button that closed another jacket. Similarly beautifully crafted flourishes have turned his make-a-face bag into a bestseller (his studio shorthand for this item is Mr Potato Head) which proves there’s a broader audience for his extravagant imagination once the price drops from the couture stratosphere.

But the fact is Roseberry’s Schiaparelli will never really be ready-to-wear as we know it. Take the huge shearling coat, embedded with a naked torso, or the hand-crocheted dress with the jutting boobs (they’ll always read as Madonna expressing herself to me), or the top with the billowing pleated sleeves studded with black feathers to create an ermine effect. This last piece was paired with black bermudas, which scarcely muted the drama.

Still, it was actually a simpler Schiaparelli. A pinstriped pantsuit. Indigo jeans, grommeted. A pair of navy wool pants, with a gold tape measure waistband. (Allow Roseberry his moment with navy wool pants.) And he loved velvet. He enthused that it didn’t need embroidery to create magic. He also recreated to the cashmere stitch Elsa’s own little sweaters (beautiful!).

Roseberry insisted, like Piccioli, that he was inspired by the restricted colour palette. “One less thing to think about!” That also made it easier to appreciate just how graphic and fascinating his clothes are. Like very grown-up toys. Stephen Jones made hats to match: a unicorn horn, a multi-spiked couture gimp mask and, best of all, the shoe hat that Salvador Dalí designed for Schiaparelli. It was about as fashion-iconic as a fashion icon gets.

Daniel Roseberry illuminates his work with an acute appreciation of fashion’s underappreciated past. The same impulse triggers Japan’s finest. On Monday morning, Chitose Abe showed pannier and bustle silhouettes for her Sacai collection. Like the show-opener: Julia Nobis in a ribbed silk tank paired with a bifurcated overskirt like huge panniered pants. It was the most exaggerated tomboy look you could ever wish for. But exaggeration was a theme: waists cinched paper-bag style, or dropped like flappers; breasts cinched to extend butts; pockets big, puffers bigger; and stonking platforms. Thing about Abe is, there is such a persuasive logic behind everything. As arcane as everything seems, it actually makes sense.

So, it also made sense that this collection was produced in collaboration with Cartier to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Trinity Ring. Abe clanked a wristful of Cartier bangles to show her connection with the brand, but I was thinking about that ring, how it’s a tiny Rubik-style challenge to put it together, love, fidelity and friendship. The masculine/feminine tension is integral to Sacai’s hybrid nature, but in this collection, Abe said she’d opted for something that remoulded the basics rather than adding to them. In other words, it made more sense than ever, which was hugely gratifying. It’s hardly a moment when anyone feels like being challenged by clothes.

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