Yaeger: The (Fake?) Monkey Fur Is Back for Paris Fashion Week

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Junya Watanabe, Martin Margiela, and Lanvin Photo: Imaxtree

Waiters are cruising the still-empty catwalk bearing trays of champagne, chocolate lollipops, and little notepads that say Lanvin, and the song playing on the loudspeaker before the show begins is a souped up disco version of Don’t Make Me Over, which is pretty funny when you think about, because isn’t the whole point of these hundreds of runway shows, these endless fashion weeks, to make us over into something more fabulous, something more fascinating, something more astonishing to the eye?

I am so excited to be in Paris that I manage to swallow my disappointment that this particular Lanvin show does not feature the drapy, droopy Grecian formula Lanvin of my dreams. Instead, there are stiff dresses with curiously distended shoulders; some more of that fake monkey fur which has glutted all three fashion capitals (actually, though I wasn’t in Milan I suspect Mr. Monkey was, so make that four); and models wearing black wigs with scissor-cut bangs in an unwitting homage to Morticia Addams.

At the Martin Margiela show, the ushers are cloaked in those white lab coats members of his elusive enterprise always sport. Though it’s difficult to know who, in fact, is asking you to take this particular brand of medicine: the designer himself no longer has a hand in his namesake collection. (Even when he was at the helm, he was infuriatingly Wizard of Oz-like, forcing journalists to interview him by fax and answering with unilluminating Zen koan-like pronouncements issued anonymously by the house.)

That said, this particular show flaunts numerous Margiela touches: not just the magical quartet of white stitches anchoring the label that proves to your friends that, no this isn’t just any black sweater, but trousers that at first blush appear to have a tan stripe up the back which turns out on closer inspection to be bare flesh. If you are curious as to what happens when a backless pants leg ascends to the, ahem, heinie area—well so am I, especially since the first few examples are obscured by jackets. But it is soon revealed that a little half-embarrassed skirt is employed to restore modesty. In other news, there are wide-waisted skirts that make the top half of your body look like a plant emerging from a flowerpot, and a vast trapper hat with a full veil, as if Sarah Palin had decided to don a chador while still sporting the national headgear of Alaska.

At first I think that the models at Junya Watanabe are wearing super-wide chapeaux like the one Sally Fields sports in The Flying Nun (or, for you more literary types, like the soeurs wear in Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline) but it turns out it’s their hair, extended and teased to cartoonishly vast proportions. I am besotted with the infinite variety of army green coats and long pleated skirts here; even if you are not a fan of camo mixed with ballet tulle, I dare you to resist the nylon air force jacket, shrunken and rendered as tiny as a bolero, but with every detail reproduced in exquisite detail, as painstakingly as a miniature cathedral.

Thirteen years ago, Rei Kawakubo launched her notorious bump collection at Comme des Garçons, wherein the garments were distended with tumescent-like growths. Though almost universally reviled, Kawakubo hasn’t given up on the idea—this season she offers more padded bulges, some in that glistening polyester you can see gleaming from the last row. (I can personally vouch for this.) At first I think, enough with these yucky protuberances, these deconstructed bustles and swollen pinstripes. But then it dawns on me—at this point don’t most of us spend the winter in puffy coats anyway? Maybe we should stop trying to slim down these horrible down-stuffed monstrosities—a losing battle in any case—and just give in and make them even pouffier.

See a slideshow of the Fall 2010 Lanvin collection.
See a slideshow of the Fall 2010 Maison Martin Margiela collection.