PARIS — Walls and isolationism may be increasingly part of the conversation in both Europe and the United States, but in fashion, designers are still ranging pretty far afield. When all else fails, travel! In your mind, if not in actuality. Surf the globe (or the Internet) for inspiration and see what comes up.
The problem is, too often, the answer is a postcard version of a complicated reality. One that increasingly rings trite, and opens fashion up to legitimate charges of superficiality. Cultural appropriation has always been part of the industry’s aesthetic history, but that doesn’t mean it should be one of the default options, like the 1960s or ‘70s. At least not unless it is deeply considered and purposefully done.
Yet there was Riccardo Tisci, after his Givenchy show, delayed for an hour by the late arrival of Kanye West and Chris Brown while Bradley Cooper and Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis sat patiently waiting, announcing that the phantasmagoric prints on his L.S.D.s (little silk dresses) and military coats were all about “psychedelic Egypt.”
Egypt? “It was the beginning of everything,” he said, as the usual crowd of editors and audience members lined up to kiss his cheek. “I’ve wanted to do a show about Egypt for a long time, and now it happened.”
How it happened, however, looked less like the present-day state than the Gerard Butler film, “Gods of Egypt,’ from the eye of Horus necklaces and prints embedded in exploding mandala designs to the gleaming multicolored metallic leather falcon’s wings on shrunken jackets and the straps of lacy slips. Also in the mix was snakeskin — asp’s skin? — both real and printed, as well as leopard (which may be only loosely Egyptian, but happens to be the dominant skin of the season).
Less clear was the connection between the iconography and the military coats trimmed in gold and navy, however, which segued into big gold discs on velvet bomber jackets, many of which were shown paired with knee-length velvet and leather shorts — shorts! — atop stretchy over-the-knee boots. Oh, and there were some double-layer marching band jackets in there, too, as well as two understated black velvet dresses, trimmed in fur.
The result was a collection in two halves that did not entirely make sense. It could have used a unifying. … well, eye.
At Akris, by contrast, what was going on was unmistakable: The Lion King had gotten a makeover. Which is to say, we were on safari in Africa. If the red-earth floor had not given the theme away, the sunset tones of the clothes — rust and burnt orange and yellow and baobab brown — would have been a clue, not to mention the animal prints (leopard — yes, again— and zebra stripes) of the silks, and even the leather python scales, burgundy, green and gold, undulating on the front of a sleeveless jersey sheath.
They were beautifully done — the scales, especially, were a technical feat, and the materials lush — but such visual tourism feels reductive, and the show was at its best when the connections were the least obvious: in a juicy thick-ribbed cashmere tunic, an astrakhan jacket with a extravagant funnel neck, and second-skin leather pants in all shades.
So it was a relief to see Giambattista Valli at least return to the familiar landscape of sepia-toned Paris, as first addressed in his couture show in January, and now translated into black and white and florals and tweeds; embroidered, overlaid, pleated, asymetrically shirred, long and short, but best when paired with ribbed gray Shetland knits.
And it was a relief to discover that, despite a soundtrack that included Jaded’s ironic refrain “Made in China,” Stella McCartney was happily reference-free (at least as far as locations go; in a more macro sense, her reference is usually herself). Her collection may have been all about the big easy, but that meant cut and effect, not New Orleans. The only concrete symbol on view was a swan, swimming its way across silk blouses and soft pajama pants.
Otherwise she offered a grab bag of wardrobe relaxation: gleaming copper and sapphire velvet “feather free” puffa vests and coats; metallic pleated skirts; bleached denim; lacy lingerie slip dresses; tweed trousers and curving bustier tops; and a few blanket-like schmattas with ruffled bibs in gray and bubble gum pink that took the idea of effortlessness to a perhaps oversize extreme.
At least at Sacai, Chitose Abe has never fallen into the trap of literalism, recombining elements at will to transform their points of origin. This time that was the phrase “Love will save the day,” partially, but not wholly, derived from the 1987 Whitney Houston song of the same name, according to Ms. Abe. It was written in gothic script by a young Japanese calligrapher and then chopped up and rendered as giant stand-alone letters on rich burgundy and navy brocade bomber jackets, the sleeves zipped open and spilling frills; on a strip of orange embroidery embedded in deep blue palazzo pants and matching tunics; and as quasi-military crests fluttering like leaves on an airy pearl organza, all of it held together by grommeted luggage straps.
They cinched the thighs on velvet trousers, circled the ribs of pleated dresses and caught skirts just under the rear, to create a blouson science-fiction-meets-Belle Époque effect. Which is to say, they were delightfully free of constraints of place and time.