Fashion Review: Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Chloé: Fashion Review

March 5th, 2013

Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

GIVENCHY A grunge plaid blouse and slim skirt with a biker jacket zipped over it; GIAMBATTISTA VALLI A parka with a fur-lined collar over a chiffon dress; STELLA MCCARTNEY An oversize pinstripe sweater and flared skirt.

When designers talk about clothes with “raw emotion,” “desire” and “happiness,” as they have since the fall shows began a month ago, you wonder what they mean. Certainly the relaxed shapes at Stella McCartney on Monday — or at Céline, Prada and Marc Jacobs — come as a happy surprise. They are not only beautiful, they are comfortable as well.

But isn’t comfort often associated with food and home? Could the message in the roomier coats, formless sweaters and the exquisitely refined slob appeal of Miuccia Prada’s undone tweeds be: eat, enjoy! And, while you’re at it, pass the potatoes.

This is decidedly bad fashion form, a clear demerit, and I’m sure I’ve missed some higher point about the virtue of an expandable waistband. But it’s interesting to me that these are the collections, among others, that the mavens are craving. Phoebe Philo’s fluttery skirts at Céline had everyone at her show in a swoon of desire, but I thought it remarkable that Ms. Philo had engineered the skirts (and their tops) in knits — rayon, silk or wool bouclé — and without a waistband or a zipper.

You just slip them on, not unlike your sweat pants. (I’ve been told by a Céline production manager that the skirts, which will retail for about $ 1,350 in silk or rayon, will retain their shape.) To be sure, Ms. Philo and her team that worked with an Italian mill to develop the knit get technical bonus points for resolving the problem of a classically feminine style. In a woven fabric, it would have looked like nothing special, or new. But fashion that is life-enhancing, as much as figure-flattering, is surely something that Ms. Philo cares about.

So does Ms. McCartney. She and her mostly female design team have a completely unfettered approach that keeps her brand distinctive. For fall she shifts the mood away from the feminine prints and sinewy cocktail dresses of recent seasons toward pinstripes and dark flannels, a haberdasher’s dream — except everything is a little off-kilter.

Lapels are exaggerated or displaced, and some looks have a swag of fabric at the side that kicks out. But despite the appearance of structure, reinforced by the pinstripes, the clothes move dynamically over the body. There’s also an amusing sense that Ms. McCartney’s women have occupied men’s tailoring on their terms. If they want a looser fit, then so be it. Also strong were long knock-around dresses in gray knit with deep black lace hems and some roomy silk separates in a scarred wallpaper print. Ms. McCartney had lots of color in her prefall line, but she might have given more to the runway.

The latest addition to Giambattista Valli’s ’60s shifts and cocktail chiffon are chic parkas, mostly in creamy white. And moccasins! Chloé looked plenty comfortable, too, with its many uniformlike capes, duffle coats and jumpers, but it needed to break out of the girls’ school.

In their explicitness, Riccardo Tisci’s clothes for Givenchy can often make people feel uncomfortable, and I like that. We can stand to be discomfited. But in the largest sense, this very soulful collection was about home, returning to the influences of Mr. Tisci’s career, like religious symbolism and subcultures. But now he has a much firmer grip on the parts. He knows what he wants. And that was coolly, if not brilliantly, conveyed in new versions of his influential sweatshirts, and dark romantic paisleys interrupted by half-undone corsets taken from the torso of a biker’s jacket.

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