Chanel and Armani: Playing for Keeps in a Barbie World


PARIS — These days it’s hard to see any bright pink item of clothing and not think: “Barbie!”

Images from the Greta Gerwig movie, currently filming with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (among others), have become the social media dopamine hit of summer — rife with plastic-y postmodern perfection and a potential revisionist narrative for the doll that codified gender stereotypes in a quazillion childhoods. After all, if ever a movie was ripe to shape fashion, it would be this one, especially now, when all that’s available are a few pictures of the neon-clothed stars that look mostly like crazy smart fun.

But that’s probably not what was going through Giorgio Armani’s head when he put a series of about 10 bubble gum pink looks in the middle of his Privé runway — though if there are trend roundups (and you can bet there will be), these will likely get swept up in the net. Mr. Armani’s Hollywood reference book is less pop culture and more olde silver screen glamour; back to the days of Champagne toasts and starry starry nights, a reminder of a different tradition. One where Kay Thompson shrieked “Think pink!” in “Funny Face,” rather than Mattel.

That’s what Mr. Armani provided, anyway, in his first couture show in two years, which was effectively a tour through his own greatest hits — the ones that transformed the red carpet way back when — with liquid suiting in black velvet and silver, his Chinoiserie jacquards and an entire nightclub’s worth of twinkling beaded dresses (he actually called the collection Pétillant, French for sparkling). He even built a replica of the theater in his Milan headquarters for the evening in the middle of the Salle Pleyel concert hall on the Rue du Faubourg St.-Honoré, complete with white-cushioned stadium seating.

After the pink period, which included a loofah-like evening cape and a slithery sequined pantsuit, came some moody blues, all draped in fringe, swathed in satin peplums, bristling with frills and glimmering under the lights. At the end, a single white look appeared in the form of a beaded T-shirt with matching vest atop some swishy silk trousers, like a punctuation mark for an era.

It was full of gravitas and glitter, but missing a sense of fun. Even at the couture, which can feel heavy with money and the responsibility of preserving a tradition of savoir-faire, that’s a necessary ingredient.

See, for example, the soft-sculpture constructivist creations that the artist Xavier Veilhan dreamed up for the entrance to the Chanel show: a series of enormous baby pink blocks, arches and spinning tops that transformed the equestrian center in the Bois de Boulogne into something of a giant’s sandbox and set the scene for what turned out to be one of the designer Virginie Viard’s lightest collections. One that dipped into house traditions without trying too hard.

Gone were the wannabe cool ’80s references she has favored since taking over the house; instead, Ms. Viard was simply at play in the fields of Chanel, offering up slouchy, long-line silhouettes from narrow little shoulder to mid-calf skirt in variations of the brand’s signature bouclé, often paired with boots and hats that had just the hint of the cowboy about them. Mixed up with metallic floral-print tea frocks (including one in, yes, pink) and tulle trapeze dresses, they looked low-key chic without being stiff.

Or see the ultimate plastic-fantastic vision of Julien Dossena at Paco Rabanne, one of the cluster of brands (including Alaïa and Patou — the latter of which also happened to feature a lot of LPDs, or little pink dresses) that acted as sort of opening acts for the couture.

Using latex, chain mail, PVC and lace, Mr. Dossena filtered the futuristic vision of the brand’s founder through a dystopian lens to create a fetishy parade of slipdresses and grunge grounded by heavy combat boots and topped by babushka scarves. Some dresses looked like armored tutus, others as though they had been molded from melted Play-Doh. The materiality of the garments was key, but so was the propulsive energy.

If Barbie were competing in “The Hunger Games,” this is what she might wear.



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