Male Box: La Femme Parisienne

Paris has been recognized as the global center of fashion since long before the dawn of the jet age. In recent years, Paris Fashion Week – whose exact dates are set by the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode – concludes “the season” for fashion folk which begins in New York, continues in London, travels to Milan and ends in Paris. This schedule ensures that Paris always has “the last word” on fashion. Those of you who actively follow the shows, waiting breathlessly for the first images to trickle onto the internet or shaky handheld videos to hit YouTube, know that editor types like myself are hesitant to call anything – no matter how prevalent in New York and/or the other fashion capitals – a “trend” until we see it on a Parisian catwalk.  Thus, for many of us, the Paris shows provide the final confirmation of the direction that American fashion will take in the upcoming retail season.
With both the American and French Presidents up for re-election next year, their respective First Ladies will surely be clad in the best fashion their respective countries have to offer. Not since two-term First Lady Nancy Reagan was compared to Madame Chirac has the national fashion rivalry been stronger.  Mrs. Obama and Madame Sarkozy have both national pride and their respective national fashion industries to uphold.
That said, here is my take on the Paris shows and the trends for Spring 2012 that I saw emerging on the New York runways. No doubt we’ll be seeing these designs on Madame Sarkozy as her husband’s re-election campaign gets under way. Ultimately, these are the clothes that fashionable women on both sides of the Atlantic will be clamoring to own and wear.
Color blocking was a very important trend in American fashion that began in Fall 2011 and will continue into Spring 2012. The French designers however have given it a uniquely Continental twist and the result is delightfully fashion forward. Each season since his appointment as Creative Director there, Nicolas Ghesquiere has culled the Balenciaga archives. He punctuates his original designs with mid-century archival designs reinterpreted for a new century. For Spring 2012, he outdoes the American designers by using secondary colors and introducing metallic as a color block. The result is decidedly nostalgic yet utterly futuristic. Christophe Lemaire’s second collection for Hermes was hotly anticipated this season and he did not disappoint. His version of the trend betrays his sportswear roots at Lacoste, yet ups the ante by introducing the house’s signature patterns into the color blocking.
The real story from Paris is the return of femininity. The global recession took its toll on fashion everywhere and we are finally starting to see a return to luxury in the US and a return to fashionable feminine excess in Paris. If Christian Dior’s Corolle collection marked the end of post-World War II restrictions on fabric, then the recent Paris collections as a whole mark the end of post-Recession minimalism in fashion.
The jolie jeune filles of Paris have been known for rocking a skirt better than any American woman possibly could since the days when stockings had seams. Once again, just as hosiery is returning to fashion, French skirts pull ahead in the fashion races. The skirt in question is the pencil skirt which severely restricts a woman’s ability to move and is generally considered too restrictive for the American lifestyle which lends itself better to sportswear. The reason that the slim straight skirt – whether at or below the knee – is so important next season is that it plays a supporting role to the peplum jacket that we saw in both New York and Paris. The American version pays homage to the 1930s original while the Parisian version seems entirely fresh and new. With well-tailored natural shoulders, the ruffled peplum brings attention to the waist and hips, not unlike the shirtwaist dresses of the 1950s. Ricardo Tischi’s designs for Givenchy include layered satin and chiffon in silk and asymmetrical ruffled lapels and peplums. Sarah Burton has been much celebrated since her bridal gown for Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge, was unveiled to the world. Her collection for Alexander McQueen included the best peplum of the season – a double layer of patterned ruffles – paired with a pencil skirt with a ruffled kick pleat. Both of these designers provided the best possible interpretations of this key trend for spring 2012.
One would expect ruffles from that bastion of femininity, Valentino, but the real story next season is lace – prim and proper lace, that is! While designers have used lace in recent seasons for a sexy peekaboo effect, next spring sees lace emerge as a continuation of ladylike dressing. Can you imagine a devoted political wife accompanying her husband on the campaign trail? Even the trademarked Rosso Valentino is given the lace treatment for evening. While much speculation surrounds the future of Marc Jacobs in Paris, no one can deny that his design sensibility for Louis Vuitton is distinctly French. For next season, he employed oversize lace in loose shapes that recall the Spanish infantas in Renaissance paintings.  Individually applied ostrich feathers complete the look, adding a distinctly French level of chicness.
Bill Gaytten’s first prêt-a-porter collection for Christian Dior was destined to be the subject of the fashion world’s intense scrutiny. After all, John Galliano’s successor would undoubtedly be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as say a young Yves St. Laurent when he took the reins from Monsieur Dior himself. While Gaytten’s Haute Couture collection last July clearly bore his own mark on the venerable brand, this ready-to-wear collection for Spring 2012 was tame by comparison. One look combined both key trends for next year – ruffles and lace – as well as the high-low skirt that has been simmering just below trend level on both sides of the Atlantic. This design may just push it over the edge for the following season into a full blown trend!
Regardless of which side you take in the Franco-American fashion wars, there’s no denying that lean times are over. It’s OK again to look like you spent money – serious money – on your clothes. After all, what could be more forward thinking than “investing” in clothes that you’ll have for a lifetime!
— Joseph Ungoco
Photos: Paris Spring 2012 RTW,
Image Layout: Amy Newling

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