PARIS — When a parade of black-robed figures files solemnly by, each wielding a long, narrow black scepter, or spear (it was hard to tell), and then carefully mounts the walls of a giant reflecting pool and begins to dip the sticks into the water — and all this happens on the same day that Jacques Chirac’s death is announced in France and impeachment picks up steam in the United States and probably something equally dire happens in Britain — well, it might be natural to assume you were about to see some sort of elaborate funeral rite. Or an exorcism.
And when those very same figures lift up their scepters, or spears, and begin, oh so gently, to pull them apart and whoosh them through the air, it might be natural to hold your breath.
But when out of series of intricate loops come giant, iridescent … soap bubbles (soap bubbles!), floating every which way, dancing on the wind, it is impossible not to laugh.
And when beneath them appears a fantastical assortment of women in giant metallic crowns, like Aztec pyramids, above multilayered tank tops and intricately seamed robes in black and pink and mustard, royal exoskeletons gleaming with sequins, shoulders jutting up to the sky, handbags soaring from waists like sci-fi panniers, ruffles and weirdness all in one, it is as if you have gone over the rainbow to an alternate world.
These are dark times. Yet there was Rick Owens, lord of the gothic gargoyles, being bubblicious. Sometimes it is still possible to be surprised by fashion, in the best way.
(Also, of course, in a less good way, as when Sébastien Meunier took Ann Demeulemeester, down a dirty Rockette route via patent leather, fishnets and lots and lots of flashing bare leg.)
Sure, Mr. Owens came to his alien nation through a somewhat circuitous mental route that began with the hot button issue of immigration (bizarrely, things move so fast now that the topic feels like yesterday’s front page); which made him think about his Mexican grandmother and how she would be treated today; which made him think about visiting her as a small boy and the parks in Pueblo, Colo.; and the movie star María Felíx, known for playing a strong woman in a man’s world. From there he leapt to Josef and Anni Albers of the Bauhaus, and their trip to Mexico, and Luis Barragán, the Mexican architect and his use of color in buildings and — well. This is how it works.
But this was not Frida Kahlo and piñatas; it was a reminder of the positive effects of cross-border fertilization.
Could you tell? Maybe, if you looked really hard. But it didn’t matter. Because in the end, what infused the collection was not anger or cynicism, which often seem the defining tenors of the moment, but an invitation: Let’s play.
Roll the dice. Spin the color wheel. Have some fun. Fun! Remember that? Barely. Stop watching your social feeds. See where it takes you.
The Playing Fields
It took Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne down a daisy-and-heart-strewn highway to the 1960s and ’70s, for both women and men (hello, Paco Rabanne men’s wear). Chain mail isn’t armor, silly; it’s sparkle by another name. It took Glenn Martens of Y/Project into an intriguing reality distortion field, with necklines purposefully pulled to the side, cardigans hoiked up and over, va-va-voom sheath dresses crumpled just so, the familiar twisted just enough to become a tease.
And it took Olivier Rousteing at Balmain to all sorts of exaggerated, over-the-top places, which he (in his notes) situated in the late 1990s and turn of the millennium, in Destiny’s Child and Britney Spears, though VH1 and Grace Jones also seemed to get in the mix.
Actually “mix” might be an understatement for the riot of techno circles and stripes and polka dots, graphic black and white and millennial pink and Tetris tone jersey flares and one-legged sequined jumpsuits that appeared. Metallic discs played a role. So did satin power jacket/plissé gown hybrids; Crayola-toned skinny jeans with matching jean jackets; simple white T-shirts with serious shoulder pads; suspenders; and a Big Bird fuzzy-wuzzy onesie covered in bright yellow tubular beads. Also a plastic-fantastic slip dress that looked as if it had been made from transparent Lego blocks. And a series of haute Playboy bunny white-lapel tuxedo jumpsuits and gowns.
People in the audience were smiling, but whether it was in happiness or sheer disbelief was not entirely clear.
Still, there’s nothing halfway about Mr. Rousteing’s moxie: He’s all-in. It’s a sense of gusto that was missing from a pretty, but dutiful, Chloé collection by Natacha Ramsay-Levi, who abandoned most of her former cool girl-on-the-road complications in favor of a straightforward mix of ’80s pinstripes and floaty dresses. And it was missing from Off-White.
Perhaps it fell through the various holes that an absent Virgil Abloh had punched out of pants and tops and bags (the designer was resting at home for “health reasons,” an email had informed everyone a few weeks earlier).
Said holes were supposed to resemble meteor craters — also cheese from Wisconsin, where Mr. Abloh went to school — according to the show notes, but they mostly seemed like extraneous attempts to cut deeper meaning into what were essentially simple pieces: the shirtdress, the tank, leather pants, the giant parachute-silk ball gown.
The show began with a recording of Dr. Mae Jemison, who became the first black woman in space in 1992, discussing the relationship between science and art. Mr. Abloh is a genius at giving brand language the gravitas of meta-cultural-commentary, but in this case, his Meteor Shower (that was the title of the collection) was more like a drizzle.
So it was a pleasure to enter the maze of white pleated curtains created by Jonathan Anderson at Loewe, dotted with pots of marsh grasses and soaring geodes that had been sliced open to show the sparkling crystals within, and engage in a finely tuned game of hide and seek with history. Bits and pieces of 16th- and 17th-century costume were spliced with the contemporary wardrobe, abstracted and overblown or reduced to a detail.
I spy with my little eye … an extravagant bishop’s sleeve on a slithery black wrap dress; structured panniers atop a sheer lace frock; peaks and valleys of silk and summer lawn in elaborate christening layers; antique tablecloth linen shirtdresses and baby doll macs; ribbed knits, the necks rimmed in marabou, and simple black jackets, the seams dangling diamanté strings.
There’s a Marie Antoinette-before-the-guillotine strain of lost aristocracy running through many collections this season. Mr. Owens also offered two elaborately constructed Versailles gowns, bustles and all, one in cream, one in black, like mirror images of good and evil. You can understand where it comes from.
The obvious reference is Dickens, but the trick of these clothes is that they’ve taken it somewhere else entirely, so instead the phrase that keeps coming to mind belongs to E.E. Cummings: “when the world was puddle-wonderful.” Splash.