If the staff members lined up outside the Chloé show bearing baskets with ribbons soaked in Chloé’s new fragrance make you think the recession has really changed things — no free perfume samples waiting at your seat these days! — you will be disabused of this notion by the time the week ends. The Paris shows, as you will learn in a moment, will become more and more elaborate, even if the clothes, with a few notable exceptions, remain depressingly austere.
At Chloé, the show begins with the kind of neat trim coats we've been seeing with sad regularity since the spring 2011 shows began five weeks ago (though it seems like 500). Of course the credit (or blame) for all these stultifying clean lines, these solid blocks of conformity, is Phoebe Philo at Céline, who doesn't offer any surprises on her own runway, unless you consider a boat neck blue denim gardening smock a leap into the unknown. The next morning, at the breathtaking Paris opera house (even Hitler was not immune to its architectural splendor), Stella McCartney sends out still more plain pantsuits, and even has her own version of denim play clothes. I am happier when the oversized pineapple prints and taxicab yellow rain poncho emerge, a brief reminder that there is a world beyond vanilla blazers.
There's a woman dressed in a Marie Antoinette costume in the square outside the Opéra Comique where John Galliano holds his show, a testament to the kind of nutty enthusiasm this master of the imagination still engenders. Inside, painted cherubs gambol on the plaster ceiling, and the designer begins the show with literal smoke and mirrors — the catwalk is reflective and some kind of smoke bomb goes off, clouding the runway in a hazy mist, and unnerving more than one audience member, what with the terror warnings blaring nonstop from hotel TVs. When the air clears, a series of latter-day Luisa Casatis make their way down the runway, clad in everything from layers of printed chiffon to spangled gowns — clearly these goddess flappers wouldn't wear a gabardine tunic even to take out the poubelle. At the end, there is yet another burst of smoke, and then Monsieur Galliano, bent and gloating and looking like Anthony Perkins as his own mother in the last scene of Psycho, comes creeping down the catwalk.
But the stunning venues employed by Johnnie and Stella, glorious as they are, are but fetid molehills compared with Karl Lagerfeld's adventure at the Grand Palais. Three fountains are spewing; fake topiary outlines an endless runway — well, really not a runway at all but curving paths that seem to go on for miles. A live orchestra has been installed (they open with Björk's "Isobel") and even before the first model's wedge-clad toe touches the white gravel — she'll be wearing a jacket with holes, a sort of Margiela-meets-The Kaiser conceit — who can imagine complaining? More than 80 mannequins wander these paths, including a toddler (and I thought sixteen was too young for a catwalk) and Ines de la Fressage, the only one, except for the kid, whose hair is not slicked back with some kind of thick gelatin. There are so many clothes on display that it is almost impossible not to see something you want — if it's not the tweed shorts with Lurex-trimmed cuffs, then maybe it's the 1930's redux tea gown. I keep my critical distance until a living doll wearing a printed frock with a tulle underskirt and a biker jacket strolls by, and then I give in to the general atmosphere of excess and desire. Okay, Karl. You win.