PARIS: Everyone loves a high-profile rivalry, but perhaps the fashion world more than most. This might explain why fashion writers have so eagerly pitted the two new influential faces of Paris’ ready-to-wear calendar against each other.
In the Christian Dior ring, Raf Simons – the house designer appointed in April whose Friday collection wowed journalists – and in Yves Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane, the 44-year-old appointed in March, who himself used to work at Dior menswear.
Amid incredible pressure to deliver, Paris-born Slimane unveiled his new vision for the rival house Monday, with YSL adding to the buzz through their strict guest list.
Meanwhile, the front row presence was proof enough of the brand’s enduring allure: From French first lady Valerie Trierweiler, actress Jessica Chastain and a roll call of his designing peers Vivienne Westwood, Alber Elbaz and Marc Jacobs.
So who won?
Well, when fashion editors put down their pens halfway through a catwalk show, it’s always cause for worry.
This was the case at Hedi Slimane’s disappointing debut at Yves Saint Laurent – a rather confused ode to excess that used fringing, leather, lacing, tassels, feathers, sequins, skinny menswear tailoring, baggy pants, cinching cummerbunds, capes, tribal pendants and almost everything else under the sun.
Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s former partner said: “(Slimane) knows the Saint Laurent DNA, the spirit.”
There was definitely a nod to YSL’s iconic details.
For example, black silk neck bows, a house signature that was used as a leitmotif. But the collection lacked the empowering sex appeal that made Saint Laurent one of the most famous names in fashion.
The bows, rather symbolically, instead of unifying the collection, fought with other busy materials for attention. Unflattering floppy Stetson hats capped it off.
As for Dior’s show Friday, freedom was at the heart of Belgian designer Simons’ debut ready-to-wear outing – a confident show that twinned the essence of the 1950’s “New Look,” with the liberated hemlines of the 1960s.
Simons took the “New Look” bar jacket, in black, gray and white and sent it down the catwalk often bare-legged, with the hemlines of the sexual revolution.
It was the same rebellious mood with which Christian Dior founded the house in 1947: His long-length “New Look” shocked the fashion world in its indulgent use of material – a backlash against wartime fabric rationing.
“The foundation of the house is a reaction to restrictions,” said Simons. “I wanted to do that too.”
Do it, he did – not forgetting to have fun on the way.
The strongest of the 53 looks were the highly wearable plays on the “bar.”
Cheekily, Simons turned it and other jackets into mini dresses – twinned with black uber-short shorts.
Straight H-lines and ball gowns were truncated, as were flared A-lines, often curved with deceptively complex mixes of pleats and godets a dash of Simons’ own signature architecture.
Simons’ has been swatting up.
Where Christian Dior loved garden flowers – here, Raf Simons delved even further into the bushes, bringing back in his jam-jar six sumptuous insect-inspired looks in silk and tulle.
One pink and blue loose A-line used tulle and embroidery to create the translucent veins of an insect wing.
Another beautiful, subtle touch was an orange embroidered organza dress with the delicate patterning of a butterfly wing.
It was details like this that made this collection fly so freely and so high.
On the other hand, YSL’s Slimane took a gamble on the no-holds-barred approach to impress, however he somehow fell short of the mark in his basic silhouette.
Many individual garments – like one sumptuous look with side a spread of black feathers – were highly creative.
Here, however, the plumes’ dynamic horizontal energy was drowned out by the bow.
Slimane pulled it off well when he wasn’t trying too hard: A classy skinny menswear pant looked great with a sharp-shouldered tuxedo.
Had he kept it cleaner, Slimane might not have given the upper hand to his Dior rival.