Fashion And Beauty For The Hardcore | Taming of the Runway
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Taming of the Runway

IF success is measured by distance traveled, then this has been the Paris season that ran the gamut — as Dorothy Parker once famously sniped about Katharine Hepburn’s acting range — from A to B.

Chic happens, and it happened and happened again and happened some more, a relentless exercise in disciplined good taste that dominated the runways here all week, to the clear delight of the multinational owners of so many French labels and of the press and also of retailers anxious to come out the other side of the recession alive.

“This has been a terrific season from a commercial point of view, but not so much so that it’s safe and boring,” Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director of Bloomingdale’s said before Tuesday’s Chanel show, whose theme seemed to be “Hee-Haw” meets “Emmanuelle.”

The trick to stimulating the consumer, Ms. Solomon said, is to “make her believe she needs to update her wardrobe, to make her feel there is something she needs to have to get that emotional boost.”

It is hoped that for the spring of 2010, this increasingly chimerical-seeming person will gaze into her closet and suddenly wonder with terror why she does not see, as Ms. Solomon suggested, “a sexy, short, ruched, cut-out, pleated short dress, or a pair of slouchy pants.”

And she will buy those things for the emotional boost it gives her. Or else, if you believe the analysts who characterize the current economic upswing as the midpoint in a W-shaped double-dip recession, she will probably elect to pay her electricity bill instead.

“Retailers are getting very worried,” the designer Gareth Pugh said on Sunday night at a party held in the Bon Marché department store to inaugurate an installation of films by the influential photographer Guy Bourdin, who died in 1991.

The many tribes of what one blogger calls Funky Fashion Folkum mobbed the party, held on an upper floor of a store whose name is French for a bargain but whose wares are anything but. “People are all hoping that what is being pushed at the shows is what will be pushed on the sales floor,” Mr. Pugh added, referring to the commercial designs so much on view this last week.

The clear message to experimentalists like Mr. Pugh, and to the exuberant eccentrics and the creators who rate design on the basis of something more than an uptick in department store sales, was to keep the day job while you wait out the recession.

The sort of outrageous designs that put Mr. Pugh on the map (graphic vinyl armor, monster boots and exoskeletal bodysuits) were not to be seen on catwalks, and you can blame chic for that, also. Good taste held everyone in its straitjacketing grip.

As usual, the story was a lot different on the city streets. Outside the shows, the loons of fashion descended in all their crazy plumage. There were people like Jean-Paul Paula, an Amsterdam-based editor of an online fashion magazine whose fashion sense (and whose own legs, in the heels and tights he favors) suggests Grace Jones in a Juliette Gréco mood. “I am my own work of art,” said Mr. Paula, who, despite his feminine appearance, has a woodchopper’s handshake. And how.

At the Bernhard Willhelm show last Friday, there was a woman with a chain running from her nose ring to her ear; a man in a skirt and a Prussian officer’s jacket; another man dressed in a sequined yellow sweatshirt (it was just past noon); a woman wearing Daisy Dukes, a pair of Converse All Stars and an immense Vermeer ruff. Throughout the week one kept spotting fashion followers wearing leggings made from issues of Le Monde lashed to their legs with packing tape, and guys in clogs soled with hardback books or two-by-fours. Whether they were making reference to homelessness or creative reuse or were just being Dada is anyone’s guess.

The truth is that no one looks to the streets anymore for the future of fashion, and that is a bit sad. Even designers who seem to favor grit — like Christophe Decarnin, the Balmain designer, whose ’80s glitter rags exerted a lot of influence over the last few seasons — turn out to be posers, like tourists who visit S & M clubs for a few strokes with a velvet lash.

You cannot say that Mr. Decarnin’s shredded T-shirts and glitter militaria don’t look cool and sexy on models like Daria Werbowy, with her boyish body and foxy, hooded eyes. But if you happen to want to look as sexy as Ms. Werbowy in Balmain, you will have to be prepared to spend about $17,000 for a jacket, $10,000 for a pair of blue jeans and $2,500 for a T-shirt that looks like the salad bar at the end of a moth banquet.
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