PARIS (AP) — Judging from the glamorous parties and store openings in Paris this week, you would be forgiven for thinking the economy is thriving — prompting some observers to say the fashion industry is fiddling while Rome burns.
As harried retailers stay glued to their Blackberries for hourly stock market updates, partygoers throng trendy nightclubs and upscale boutiques. It was a pleasure, therefore, to see a grounded collection from Stella McCartney kick off Thursday's round of ready-to-wear displays.
New York Times reporter Guy Trebay commented on the mob scene at Tuesday's opening of a new Bulgari store in an article headlined: "Fashion Has a Marie Antoinette Moment."
Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief of the U.S. edition of Harper's Bazaar, justified this effervescence by saying fashion offered a glimmer of hope.
"In troubled times, historically, fashion has always shown its most glamorous side. Every person wants to dream," she told The Associated Press. "Having said that, fashion is also a business and it's very important to run an efficient business. I think what people want right now are ideas."
McCartney offered real clothes for real women, and with real sales potential.
There was plenty of flesh on offer, and not just the mile-high legs of the models perched on see-through perspex platforms. Nude tones mingled with soft shell pinks on outfits including tailored jumpsuits with plunging necklines.
Elongated lapels gave a fresh new proportion to smart tailored suits inspired by the British designer's training on Savile Row, the London hub of made-to-measure suits. McCartney said that while she took a practical approach, there was room for fantasy even amid a global financial crisis.
"At times like these, sometimes it needs to get less real. I think you need to just find a balance," she told The AP.
"I mean, in the fashion industry, it wouldn't be very exciting if it was all too real. I think that mine stands out, possibly, in this particular week as being one of the more real ones, but I think you look for that in Paris, the unreal," she said.
Pity Ivana Omazic. The Croatian designer has not even left the building and everyone is already talking about Phoebe Philo, her successor at Celine beginning next season.
Omazic showed her last collection for the French label, capping a three-year collaboration that has seen her modernize the brand with her take on glamorous sportswear.
She drew on tribal influences for outfits including indigo dip-dyed crinkled voile dresses inspired by the veils of Saharan nomads. A sleek dark gray jersey T-shirt and matching leggings were set off by a wide silver collar and pearls loosely inspired by the Masai tribespeople of Kenya.
Although she has done a creditable job, luxury conglomerate LVMH has unceremoniously dropped Omazic in favor of Philo, a critical darling who cut her teeth at Chloe before taking time off in 2006 to be with her family.
Pierre-Yves Roussel, chairman and chief executive of LVMH's fashion division, said it was counting on the British designer's comeback to rapidly boost Celine, which is considered a second-tier brand in its arsenal.
"I think there is potential for very significant growth," he told The AP. Philo will present her first collection next March for the autumn-winter 2009 season and will stage her first runway show a year from now.
YVES SAINT LAURENT
From the spectacular steel structure arching over the catwalk to the grid booties on models' feet, Italian designer Stefano Pilati had geometry on the mind in his display for French label Yves Saint Laurent.
The metallic tunnel mirrored the steel vaults of the Petit Palais building, where the show took place in front of guests including 1990s supermodels Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour.
In a season when many designers have looked to exotic cultures for inspiration, Pilati opted for elegant Oriental touches like kimono sleeves and muted silks woven with a drop pattern. Slim gray tailored wool jackets sprouted square pleats of fabrics behind the shoulder.
The designer also adopted the sheer fabrics that have featured in the spring-summer collections from New York to Milan.
Since taking over Saint Laurent in 2004, Pilati has been hailed as one of the most influential designers of his generation. Unfortunately, that means he is expected to lead the fashion pack, rather than follow.