West puts prejudices about celeb designers to bed

PARIS (AP) - October 1, 2011

He was right to worry: The fashion industry is notoriously catty and, even though West had been a front-row regular at fashion shows for years, it had greeted the news that he was planning to launch his own line with raised eyebrows, preemptively consigning him to the same category of celebrity designers as the likes of Lindsay Lohan and her leggings.

But West proved nay-sayers wrong with his slick collection of sexy, hard-edged looks that were hands-down better - in terms of design and construction - than much of what's been shown during the first five days of Paris' spring-summer 2012 ready-to-wear collections.

Attended by the creme de la creme of the fashion world and a sprinkling of celebrities, including Lohan herself, West's debut was THE event of Paris fashion week, and it stole the thunder from Saturday's other shows.

Jean Paul Gaultier can usually be counted on to deliver a real fashion spectacle, but Saturday's show was strangely plodding and staid. With Paris in the grips of a freak heat wave, the venue became an sort of inferno and the show's hour-late start turned the whole thing into a sort of Chinese torture, redeemed only by the beauty of the clothes.

Usually Viktor & Rolf collections are exercises in an almost ostentatious creativity, but Saturday's display was less about over-the-top experimentation than detail. But outrageousness had not completely deserted the building: The models took to the catwalk from beneath a giant pleated skirt the size of a giant teepee.

France's reigning queen of knitwear, Sonia Rykiel, was also more subdued than usual, though her pleated culottes and relaxed pant suits in creamy whites and yellows were as still sporty and fun as usual.

It was as if Japan's Tsumori Chisato were in touch with the weather gods: With the Indian summer beating down on Europe, her tropical themed separates felt spot-on.

Australian-born designer Martin Grant's was one of those collections where you coveted simply everything. The wide-legged trousers in canary silk jersey; the halter tops in graphic black and white prints; the maxi-dresses hung with floor-length strips, like seaweed. It was a great collection and among the strongest shows of the day.

Paris' spring-summer 2011 collections move into day six out of nine on Sunday, with shows by three of the City of Light's top labels, Hermes, Celine and Givenchy.


Given their more than healthy dose of skepticism about the West's line, it was with slightly humbled wonder that the fashion editors, stylists and journalists hand-picked to attend the late-night show greeted the sophisticated, highly designed looks on the catwalk.

Sure, West didn't reinvent the wheel: You could see the influence of established designers - many of shows he frequented over the years. There was a bit of Balmain in the short, sex-drenched dresses and some Givenchy in the gothic, bondage-y leather jackets and skirts, for example.

But luxed-up streetwear elements, like hooded jackets made in a mosaic of crocodile skins, gave the collection a unique voice of its own.

The specifics of project remained foggy: The extent of West's involvement in the actual design remained unclear, as did the identities and pedigrees of those on his design team. But West's emotional attachment to the brand was clear.

Speaking to reporters after the show, the seasoned performer kept repeating "I'm so scared, I'm so nervous.

"The biggest conversation I hope I can end tonight is whole 'celebrity designer' thing," he said once he'd managed to collect himself. "That's the biggest hurdle when you want to get amazing people to work for you."

Another challenge, he added, was figuring out who to work with. The fashion industry is notoriously opaque and often inscrutable for outsiders, even ones as well connected as him.

Celebrities (R&B singer Ciara), designers (Joseph Altuzarra, Alexander Wang and Olivier Theyskens) and celebrity designers (the Olsen twins) turned out for West's show, which drew a mob of celebrity-crazed onlookers.

Ciara, defying the stifling weather in a fur stole, said "he did a great job. I walked away from this show feeling like I would love to wear this line. There is so much in it that's right up my alley.

"Especially since for me, it's so cool to see someone come from our music world and do something like this. It's really hard," she said a backstage interview.

U.S. designer Jeremy Scott concurred.

"Everyone probably thought it was going to be another, like, Jennifer Lopez's Macy's line and it's not, it's really clear it's not," said Scott, who's known for his kooky, colorful designs. "Kanye has impeccable taste and you see his taste level is up there. He's a fan of design across the board. I have five-hour long conversations with him all the time about everything because he's so obsessed, and I think we got a little bit of an insight into his mind there."


Backstage was front-and-center at the Gaultier show, where the models changed on-set and even the dressers took a lap on the catwalk.

It was a novel approach, but perhaps one that would be better suited to a public of fashion-hungry novices than a roomful of industry insiders for whom backstage holds little mystery or interest. Tack on the fact that the said roomful of fashion editors, stylists and journalists had to wait nearly an hour after the scheduled start time in a room that felt like an oversized oven and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, the clothes measured up to the genial French designer's habitual brilliance and were the saving grace of the plodding, overheated exercise. The theme was tattoos, and Gaultier served up ravishing jackets, bustier dresses and trenchcoats in flesh-tone leather covered with old-school tattoos. Other Gaultier staples, like ultra wide-leg pants in liquid silk jersey and sailor striped tops, filled out the strong collection.

Two tattoo-covered non-models walked in the show, sparking the implausible but still uncomfortable thought that the garments had been made out of their skin. (They hadn't, but still.)

Instead of a soundtrack, the show was moderated, in the style of a classic couture presentation. The moderator - a moderately well-known actress who got her start as a weather girl on French TV - read off the name and a description of each outfit.

To spice up her presentation, she also rattled off trivia about the cast of top models. The problem was that the models were more banal than you'd think by looking at them, and their favorite things - chocolate, lasagna, steak, the color red - were pretty uninteresting, really.

But between the gorgeous clothes, the girls changing on scaffolding at the top of the runway and a photographer shooting them in a makeshift studio on the catwalk, there was plenty to watch - even if the pace could have stood to be ratcheted up a notch or two.


It looked as if Viktor & Rolf had been playing with those sewing-made-easy kits that teach children how to stitch by threading bulky yarn through a constellation of little holes on cardboard.

The Dutch duo sent out pretty cocktail dresses and bourgeois skirt suits with oversized stitches at all the hemlines. Bulky red stitches dressed up the tiers of a multilayered pink evening gown and shimmering electric blue ones embellished the flippy skirt on black trench and an A-line cocktail number.

Filled with wearable pieces, Saturday's collection was quite tame by Viktor & Rolf standards: Regarded as experimental vanguards, the pair is known for playing with scale and has sent out collections where cocktails dresses are the size of pup tents and outsized tulle skirts that threaten to swallow the entire garment.

Still, the outrageous staging of Saturday's show more than made up for the lack of wackiness in the clothes themselves. The lights went up to reveal a hip Paris duet, Brigitte, perched some 20 yards (meters) in the air atop dresses with endless pleated skirts. As they belted out their signature number, "Ma Benz," their skirts parted and the models emerged from underneath, like little children from beneath their grandma's dress.


With its tennis-ready ensembles in swinging seventies shapes, the Rykiel collection felt like something out of Vittorio de Sica's 1970 classic "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis."

White cropped culottes and flirty pleated skirts in ivory silks with black accents were paired with ribbed V-neck sweater in Lurex stripes. Striped sundresses with little bib-style tops were worn with cropped leotard tops for a sporty seventies vibe. In a toned-down palette of ecrus and yellows, the collection was less eye-popping than usual, but still pretty and appealing.

Rykiel has a reputation as an upbeat house, and they encourage the models to act bubbly on the catwalk - something that often proves an insurmountable challenge for many. This season, they had only to wear cheery smiles, and even that was too much for many of them, for whom dour, hipper-than-thou grimaces have apparently become second nature.

Before the show, ushers in black polyester suits lined the runway, holding onto ropes meant to keep the audience off the yellow chalk that covered the catwalk. Between their suits and the heat wave that has had Paris melting for days, they were roasting, but with ropes in each hand, they couldn't wipe off the rivers of sweat that poured down their faces.

After, Nathalie Rykiel, the daughter of the label's founder and namesake, took to the mile-long runway alongside the house's new creative director of ready-to-wear. April Crichton, a Scottish designer and graduate of Central Saint Martin's, was promoted to the role from within a day earlier.


It was a beach holiday in cotton and sequins. Chisato delivered an easy, breezy collection of vacation-ready separates which, emblazoned with a shimmering grove of sparkling palm trees, made it hard to resist the urge to immediately book an island getaway.

Parasols and oversized straw hats were the accessories of choice, and were paired with cute palm-emblazoned knit dresses and T-shirts hung with tufts of raffia and sequins. A blouse with a cartoon Carmen Miranda in a full banana regalia was worn with a pair of mini bloomers or a stretchy miniskirt with kissing crocodiles.

It was just the kind of light, slightly kooky looks that Chisato - a Japanese-born designer who's made known for her wacky knitwear - does best.

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