PARIS — White nights and blue witches — this was the weekend in Paris.
Crowds thronged the streets and sidewalks for the annual Nuit Blanche celebration, and circuses, the Rolling Stones and nylon tents crowded the runways. Oh, and there was a half-marathon. Find it hard to imagine? Try this: In the Place de la Concorde, just beyond the tent in the Tuileries where extravagant clothes are shown, there’s another mega-tent — housing a job fair for the unemployed.
Discordant juxtapositions are part of the human condition. They just get a little more exaggerated when Fashion Week comes into play. Largely because fashion tends to play with them. The theory being, I suppose, if you can’t beat ’em, design ’em. It works, at least part of the time.
So at Céline, on a sand floor framed by a billowing ceiling of blue and yellow and orange nylon sails, like so many castaway remnants, the designer Phoebe Philo explored the elements of the urban uniform.
There were black and white lingerie slips and camisoles balanced by tailored pants and jackets, corset-waisted tweed coats and pleated Martha Graham dance dresses with mid-calf skirts, their open backs closed by ribbon ties streaming from the neck.
“I’ve been longing to be more and more in nature, to get away from the city and put my toes in the sand,” Ms. Philo said backstage after the show, and the tension between the two worlds, familiar to most women, was made manifest in her clothes.
(It’s a great look, but not words likely to dispel rumors that the designer is considering a move.)
Meanwhile, Haider Ackermann created a troop of haute hobos and glamorously worse-for-wear luxury lounge singers, their sorbet-hued silken tux trousers drooping off hip bones, silk bathrobes dropping off shoulders and sharp-shouldered devoré velvet jackets cropped at the waist. The moto leather spray-painted with “’Til death do us part” and bias-cut silk dresses swirling at the ankles emerged from a green mist, trailing a Don Quixote allure.
And Junya Watanabe held his show, a riff on the shirtdress (which is a major trend) and orbital vinyl accessories worn around the head and shoulders like a shawl (which are not), at the Museum of Immigration History.
The location didn’t seem particularly significant until the loose black and white cotton tunics gave way to equally loose smocks in patchworks of bright African textiles, batik prints and zebra stripes, the sleeves ringed by tubular metal cuffs, the necklines picked out in decorative chains. Decorative chains, in this context, being a tricky thing. Immigration, these days, being a tricky subject.
It was puzzling, which perhaps is why Jun Takahashi of Undercover chose a relatively straightforward approach, layering and contrasting sartorial stereotypes at the Cirque d’Hiver. Skinny pantsuits in men’s wear fabrics turned into backpacks, and backpack straps became tank tops, and crisp white shirts and black pants sported a playing card suite of Rolling Stones faces (Mick as Hearts, Keith as Spades, etc.) and it all culminated in a dance of tulle ballet skirts in Crayola shades attached to studded biker leather belts over neat boy band suits printed with palatial scenes.
Why not wear all the roles you play on your back? It’s a quick-change act we perform every day.
Certainly it was more to the point than the cheap sexuality on view at Nina Ricci, where Guillaume Henry paired sheer and shapeless organza blouses with squared-off slick patent ostrich skirts and slouchy trousers, the better to — what? Shock? It’s not like women have not seen themselves naked before.
The quasi-bared bosoms could not lift what was an otherwise quotidian array of shift dresses, wrap skirts and blouses into the realm of real fashion. It’s too bad, because paper-thin leather dresses wrapped with a wide V at the neck were a step forward from last season’s march of the bland.
But just because you make a generic shape in a provocative material does not mean the garment itself is provocative. It just means you’ve run low on ideas.
Which is not a situation that ever holds true for Rei Kawakubo at Comme Des Garçons. Indeed, the greatest juxtaposition in fashion may be not between the runways and real life, but between Ms. Kawakubo and the conventions of the catwalk.
She does not, for example, feel a need to make clothes — at least not for her show; for her stores, she’s a dab hand at everything from the dress to the T-shirt. She does not engage in unnecessary iterating (she showed, for example, only 16 looks, as opposed to the now-typical inflationary 50-plus). She doesn’t care if her audience is comfortable (she jammed them into a rough-hewn basement hidey- hole two floors below the grand entrance of the former headquarters of Crédit Lyonnais). She does not feel it necessary to explain, though she will offer gnomic nuggets through her husband, Adrian Joffe, chief executive of Comme des Garçons International.
This season, for example: “Blue witches.”
Blue witches? Powerful women, guardians of the unnatural state — take your pick. They came enveloped in ebony, ivory and sapphire; in regal faux furs and velvets; erupting ostrich and peasant feathers, bristling raffia and courtly lacings, panniers and pouffs; almost invisible under their encroaching robes. (Though peeking out from under it all were long, upturned Wicked Witch of the West black shoes. Also, in one case, some quite wearable velvet shorts.)
The extravagance of the fabrics, their abundance and abstract historicism, conveyed an uncompromising generosity, barely contained by the tiny space around them and imbued with the poignancy of the disappearing women inside. Strange combinations of words that make sense in our even stranger world.