If the death of Alexander McQueen hung like a veil of tears over the shows a year ago, the spectacular implosion of John Galliano is hijacking every conversation this time around, even eclipsing such usual scene-stealers as Lady Gaga on the Mugler runway. (A wonderful show, by the way, of Joey Arias–worthy ensembles and dangerous stilettos that have plenty of models but not Gaga losing their footing.)
The streets are closed all around the Dior venue, and the police are out in full force, presumably to thwart protesters, though there aren’t any. There is a lone guy, nearly naked but for a coverlet of caveman fur, with flowers sprouting out of his head and a sign reading "The King Is Dead." (He’s not. He’s in disgrace. There’s a difference.) By now anyone with the remotest interest in this affair has read Dior president Sidney Toledano’s remarks, given from the runway before the show begins, and know that the event closes with the petit mains the faintly patronizing name for the people who actually make the clothes coming out and taking bows. Meanwhile, J.G. has supposedly repaired to some rehab facility on the advice, according to the International Herald Tribune, of his two good friends, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. (Can you just imagine?)
But even in Paris in the midst of scandal, life and the shows go on (and it is still the only place on earth where everyone dresses well enough to be headed for a show). So here is Lanvin in the Tuileries presenting those lovely gazar bejeweled frocks that first made the line’s reputation, and Rue de Mail whose show is on the Rue de Mail offering a little black dress with vast furry cerulean sleeves that might suit Big Bird, if that creature had arms instead of wings. At Dries Van Noten, the initial troop of models looks like lank-haired poetry majors whose fathers have too much money and who are, unlike most of their peers, willing to wear fur. If the offerings also include so many Dries staples the mélange of prints; the heavily embellished short jackets that it seems a little like a greatest-hits album, what’s wrong with that? (After all, they were hits for a reason.)
The Balmain invitation couldn’t be more discreet nor the setting, in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel, more bourgeois-lavish. Neither give any indication of what’s in store namely, a reigning riot of vulgarity, which hasn’t made hordes of bright young things covet the label any less. This season, oddly enough, my complaint is that it’s not quite ugly enough I don’t just want a turquoise metallic Vegas-y jacket, I want turquoise ostrich feather hot pants to match! And that beaded tank-top thing straight out of Runaway: Life on the Streets that closes, barely, on one side and leaves the wearer nearly naked? If only Balmain had sent the model out in dirty underpants, chewing a big wad of gum.
The far more respectable sister of that Balmain slattern may well buy her wardrobe at Isabel Marant, who this season suggests sleeveless puffer jackets; patchwork denim ponchos; and fringes hanging off everything from sweater fronts to white knee boots. As the models march out, a soundtrack plays a rock version of Irving Berlin’s "I'm an Indian Too" from Annie Get Your Gun, a song whose cheerful racism had it dropped from later productions of the show.
Instead of attending the John Galliano presentation on Sunday it’s been downgraded from a full show I decide to visit the Marais, the site of the designer’s outburst. Before I leave, I walk over to the Jewish boys school at 6, rue des Hospitalières-St-Gervais, which is around the corner from La Perle, where the designer made his remarks. On the wall of the building is a plaque that commemorates the 165 students at the school who were deported to Auschwitz during the Second World War. None survived.