Weekly Feature

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Roundup of Fashion Week Fall 2009: Paris

March 16, 2009
by Anne Szustek
Paris Fall 2009 Fashion Week embraced the current recession by turning it on its head: ostentation, bright colors and pieces verging on the outlandish responded to the economic downturn by insulting it rather than granting it concessions. Other designers incorporated 1980s trends, such as wide shoulders and high-waisted pants, in the latest iteration of fashion’s usual 20-year cycle.

Deconstructing the Classics

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One highlight of Alexander McQueen’s collection was his black and red gown inspired by the art of M.C. Escher. The show as a whole, however, drew its inspiration from the recession.

McQueen adorned his runway with the flotsam and jetsam of prior collections: broken mirrors and props from prior shows. The hats worn by the show’s models were from old garbage bags, recycled household junk and aluminum cans. The clothes themselves were a twist on fashion staples, like little black dresses.

In effect, McQueen’s collection satirized the concept of classic items suggesting frugality, a trend which largely dominated the New York runways last month.

“This whole situation is such a cliché,” Mr. McQueen told The New York Times. “The turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway, and I think that is a big part of the problem. There is no longevity.”

However, the usually ostentatious McQueen, has recently released a line for Target, much-awaited by budget-conscious fashionistas.

Recycled Trends

A revamp of 1980s trends such as wide shoulders, bubble skirts and high-waisted trousers were a common thread among Paris Fall 2009 Fashion Week shows, albeit toned down for recession-conscious audiences. Chloé’s show offered a neutral palette; khaki, beige and hunter green shaded wide-leg pants, collared shirts and belts comprised a wardrobe that could shift easily from workday to evening.

Louis Vuitton’s show
also demonstrated a commitment to the boom-and-bust decade of 20 years ago. American designer Marc Jacobs, who helmed the collection, cited French icons of the 1980s such as supermodel Inès de la Fressange as inspiration for his wide-shouldered, full-skirted collection. Lace, baubles and paisley rounded out Jacobs’ paean to the 1980s.

The Heck with the Recession

Some designers seen at Paris Fall 2009 Fashion Week flouted the recession ethos—or at least, the fashion conventions for times of economic distress—with thigh-high hemlines, knee-high boots and sky-high heels.

Generally the fashion rule of thumb is when the Dow goes down, so do hemlines. This was the case during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as well as the stagflation of the late 1970s, when granny skirts were so popular. But “this economic recession is so different we can’t use history as a yardstick. It’s really new territory,” Andrew Bolton, director of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, told  New York Magazine’s The Cut blog. He goes on to say that “the idea of a more practical, more modular dressing” will set the shopping mode this economic downturn.

Case in point: the mix-and-match sportswear brights shown by Antwerp-based designer Dries Van Noten. They embrace at once cheer amid financial adversity as well as shoppers’ practicality.

But at the end of the day, a key facet of fashion is independence—both on the parts of the designer and the wearers. Designers need to stand out in order to make a retail mark. And in the all-too-French spirit of “joie de vivre” and shock la bourgeoisie, Comme des Garçons and Maison Martin Margiela’s collections verged on the bizarre and entirely impractical for the workplace. FabSugar has a slideshow of some of the more daring looks.
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