Fashion Review: Chanel, Ungaro, McQueen, Valentino: Fashion Review

March 6th, 2013

Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

CHANEL A tweed coatdress woven with silver threads; A plastic box bag; A tweed jacket woven with silicone over another wool jacket, with silver-flecked leather leg warmers.

Karl Lagerfeld called the latest Chanel collection, simply, “Globalization.” That’s thinking big. And he stuck a giant globe in the middle of the Grand Palais on Tuesday, with pin lights marking cities and red flags indicating the 300 Chanel boutiques around the world. So Chanel rules.

The globe is also a symbol of French luxury power, despite a tendency to bemoan the state of affairs. Fashion is one of France’s biggest exports — Chanel is practically a national monument, judging by the hordes of picture-snapping tourists — and this has been a dazzling ready-to-wear season.

But I wish Mr. Lagerfeld would start thinking local. He put on a great show, but the distance between my seat and the models probably qualified for airline miles points. Later, when I looked at images, I realized that the white dot on the runway was Mr. Lagerfeld’s snowy head. O.K., I’m exaggerating, but not by much, and definitely not as much as the scale of Chanel’s shows in recent years. Remember the iceberg? The farmette?

Oh, it’s been fun, but we’re missing the clothes. People who work closely with Mr. Lagerfeld have urged him to return to more-intimate settings, and he is said to be amenable. The trouble is, the Grand Palais holds a lot of people. All those red flags aren’t just parts of the realm, they represent business. Also, Chanel probably wouldn’t care to see its competitor, LVMH, there instead.

Still, isn’t it better to actually see the goods rather than hoist a flag over them? Because it’s the remarkable hands-on quality that Chanel — and Mr. Lagerfeld and his team — have preserved and modernized.

Here is what you don’t see: a black tweed coat that cleverly offers two perspectives of tweed, one in a larger pattern with black velvet and crackled silver ribbon, and the other in a tiny grid pattern; a silver-flecked jacket with miniature gray and black quills scattered over the shoulders; a jaunty A-line skirt in black tweed that unzips in front over a mini in the same fabric, so you’re not flashing everybody, and a gorgeous featherlight black wool coat dress with silver threads etched into the waistband.

The silhouette, at least, is boldly drawn. Mr. Lagerfeld has rounded the shoulders and put swing into loose-back jackets and tops. There’s a touch of Ridley Scott drama in the shapes. Skirts are longer in back. Instead of pants, he offered a Lagerfeldian boot, low-heeled, that comes snugly over the knee. There were large, single silver chains at the neck, and cute fur caps in the shape of Anna Wintour’s bob. Apart from some severe black dresses, you won’t find much evening wear.

As he said, “Red carpet is a little démodé.”

But he should also realize how all that wool bouclé, Chanel’s signature fabric, looks when it floods the Grand Palais: up close, many of the dresses and new zip-front skirts are truly fresh, but at a distance, it looks like an undifferentiated mass.

If you are planning a visit to Paris, by all means check out the new “Haute Couture” exhibition at Hôtel de Ville. Some of the most beautiful and complex pieces are quite severe, and no doubt they added to a wearer’s self-possession. That quality came through as well in the austere lines at Valentino, though sometimes without a real human feeling.

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli opened with A-line minidresses with white cutout collars, and followed with longer versions of similar chilling restraint. Every curve of satin seemed as controlled as a porcelain vase. Colors were based on Flemish paintings, with the starchy collars or white insets at the shoulders of some gowns throwing light on the face (a technique that Mr. Lagerfeld used in his January haute couture show). But something about Valentino’s elegant poise seemed an affectation. It’s also boring to see a nearly all-white cast of models.

The final days of the fall ready-to-wear shows are sort of all over the map. Ungaro introduced a new designer, Fausto Puglisi. He is the sixth or seventh designer at the house since its founder retired, in 2005, and the company was sold to Asim Abdullah, an affable Silicon Valley entrepreneur. (I’m not sure whether to count Lindsay Lohan, who briefly served as artistic adviser.)

Anyway, Mr. Puglisi, 36, who was hired by Ungaro’s new partner, the Italian firm Aeffe, did a thoroughly professional job. The world probably doesn’t need trousers with legs in contrasting fabrics, but the clothes had a nice balance of conservative cutting and leopard-print swagger. Mr. Puglisi takes an honest approach to his design. Some of the high notes were blazers with print blouses and full-cut trousers, and a cute glen plaid mini tossed with a fur.

With Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen on maternity leave, the London company opted for a small presentation of 10 sensational looks, all based on high church garments. The layers of detail were impressive, with folds, grids and lavish beading — like a shimmer of pearl-beaded white tulle that resembled raindrops. On top was a cloud of white feathers. The small collection was beautiful but exasperating. It will be great when Ms. Burton is back with her shears.

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