Quick — somebody tell Junya Watanabe it’s against the law for women to cover their faces in France! The notoriously enigmatic Japanese designer obscures his models’ faces with stockings — the kind bank robbers wear in movies, though here they are stark white — a bit of staging that even the kindest viewer will have to admit hardly constitutes a feminist manifesto.
But how odd is fashion? Despite that horrible idea, there is good news here: Watanabe has replaced his obsessive love of militaria (the past two seasons look as if they were meant for an especially chic women’s barracks) with stripes — and not the kind you are issued in the brig. These blue-and-white numbers sing of an afternoon on the plage in Deauville, where you loll in the sunshine, oblivious to the fact that you haven’t got a face.
Next question: Is that a recording of applause interrupting the show at Lanvin, or are people in the audience moved to these spontaneous declarations? Though I generally love Alber Elbaz, the Donna Karan-esque body-suit tops and long skirts that open the show, followed by a lot of one-shouldered garments (in a few unfortunate cases featuring a single puffy sleeve) and then a group of ensembles highly reminiscent of Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please, are far from the usually masterful Elbaz’s best work. What I want from Lanvin is glorious draping, beautiful colors, and big slouchy satiny bags — not the hard little constipated structured purses he sends out this season. (Does anyone really like having to cram her stuff into these miniature vessels? Or are you all carrying a purse within a purse, a ridiculous suggestion one comes across in fashion magazines — can you imagine a man carrying two bags around all day?)
Nuttiness of quite another sort ensues at Viktor & Rolf, where the models emerge from a Picasso-esque backdrop under a giant blowup of a wax seal like the kind used to close the duo’s Flower Bomb, the successful fragrance that is no doubt keeping the house alive. Here the pair, known for their Elsa Schiaparelli-esque forays into surrealism, build clothes that exhibit a series of oversize cuffs running up their sleeves, a conceit that, believe it or not, proves surprisingly appealing.
At least the models’ features are visible at Comme des Garçons, but that hardly means their lives are a bed of roses. If they are not wearing their coats upside down, then they are staggering under the weight of two jackets, since many garments have additional outerwear attached at the back, like a conjoined sibling left to flap around helplessly as you go about your business.
Rei Kawakubo, the house’s designer and a woman so taciturn she makes Watanabe seem like a chatterbox, clearly thinks spring will be a little late this year. Everything is dark and heavy, and though it appears that there are nice slim long dresses (or maybe skirts?) under those double coats, no one on the runway ever takes one off, so who knows.
The finale of the show offers pairs of models connected by a third dress that is stuck uncomfortably between them, as if a ghost has left her empty dress behind. When I first see this, it strikes me as something that should be confined to the halls of an undergraduate art school. So why is it that hours later I am still thinking of these haunting garments and the singular world Kawakubo creates?