Comme Des Garcons and Undercover break all the rules, dazzle the eye at Paris Fashion Week

The ballroom at the Westin Hotel here is dizzyingly ornate and grand. There’s thick molding and frosting-like curlicues in every corner, lush paintings on the walls and crystal chandeliers glimmering from the ceiling. And so it is not surprising that a fashion designer showing his fall 2015 collection there would elect to welcome his guests with glasses of champagne served from silver trays held by white-coated waiters. Why,merci very much!

But the clothes, designed by Jun Takahashi of Undercover, are not precious or traditional. They’re eccentric and strange and a little bit perverse. There are oversize baseball jackets blown up to swaddle the body like a luxurious cocoon. Wispy layers of ragged chiffon form a translucent scrim over long white shirts printed with giant flowers across the back.

But the clothes, designed by Jun Takahashi of Undercover, are not precious or traditional. They’re eccentric and strange and a little bit perverse. There are oversize baseball jackets blown up to swaddle the body like a luxurious cocoon. Wispy layers of ragged chiffon form a translucent scrim over long white shirts printed with giant flowers across the back.

He wraps a model’s torso in layers of smoky gray satin below which billows a skirt in deep red velvet. Other skirts are imprinted with Renaissance faces — their skin bearing the tawny texture of oil on canvas.

[A review of Undercover's Spring 2006 show was part of the package that won Givhan the Pulitzer for criticism: Jun Takahashi expresses modern tribalism by exploring t-shirts]

Designers like Takahashi are known for their willingness to challenge even the basic elements of a garment. What exactly is a tuxedo? Does it have to be a pair of trousers and a jacket, or can it be black coveralls cut from a fine wool crepe and with a pleated white bodice? Isn’t that just as formal as some jacket with shiny lapel?

Most people do not want their fashion to be challenging. Women don’t want a dress that will turn heads as much as they want one that will make them feel appropriate, worthy and just right. Those sentiments are rarely more obvious than in the most formal circumstances, when we feel that we must adhere to rules both written and implied.

Takahashi shows his wholly untraditional work in the most traditional of spaces. In doing so, he expands our grasp of what is acceptable. His work for fall adheres to no rules. Yet, it is exquisite. How can it not be worthy of champagne toasts?

Fashion rules are a reflection of a human need to create order. Up-end those stylistic laws and the social codes change. The leaders fall to the middle of the pack. And new ones have room to emerge.

Over the weekend, Junya Watanabe and Haider Ackermann also chipped away at cultural assumption. But no one was as astute and contrarian as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons.

Watanabe’s collection was a dazzling display of technique. He used pleats, cuts and folds to create voluminous skirts and jackets that expanded and contracted as if they were spring-loaded.

His egg carton pleats — three-dimensional and precise — gave his clothes the look of abundance without turning them squishy and soft. The clothes — in a black and white palette interrupted with an intermission of fuchsia, red and purple — would have been “pretty” if all those lines and angles had been curves. Instead, they were coolly intellectual, but no less compelling.

Watanabe created his own version of lace with his interlocking loops — like some mathematical algorithm played out in ringlets and circles. The result was as nuanced and intricate as the most lavish hand-embroidery.

Ackermann can transform an emotion into a garment. His runway shows are visual poetry, communicating in whispers and phrases.

The young women sauntered down his runway in long pleated black kilts that buckled at an angle along the hip. His short tweed jackets hitched up at the back as if the wearer was frozen in mid-sprint. There were tightly pleated miniskirts worn over black leather leggings and slender trousers with a low-slung crotch.

Without words, Ackermann told a story of stoic rebellion — of women silently charting their own path with nerve and independence.

Kawakubo’s clothes do not look like clothes — not if the definition is exemplified by T-shirts and blue jeans. Her garments are protective and enlightening, beautiful and transforming. And for fall, they touched the heart.Her presentation began with the sound of mournful strings. The first model emerged wearing a garment constructed of puffy white spheres. If a woman could be cloaked in cumulus clouds, she might look something like this model who practically floated down the runway barely tethered to the ground.Other models were nearly entombed in an exoskeleton of black lace. One by one, dressed in black or white, the women appeared. The outline of their body was hidden beneath stiff lace forming domes and cages. One couldn’t decide if the women were protected or imprisoned. Perhaps, it was both.

As the models went back and forth down the narrow runway, they could barely pass one another without colliding. So they turned sideways, looked each other in the eye, then silently moved on. One could envision the interplay between angels and demons, joy and sorrow. Those who have passed away and those left to grieve. It was impossible not to consider the terrorism, murders and deaths that have left France in upheaval and shocked the world. Sadness was palpable in Kawakubo’s collection. But it was also beautiful.

The designer is loathe to explain herself, but she did relay, through a spokesperson, her desire to explore “how to make more beautiful, the pain of separating.”

By the finale, models were hidden beneath a mountain of black lace, an unbearable burden of sadness. Tucked into the rosettes and pleats, one could even make out tiny children’s dresses incorporated into the design. Here was the short life of an infant memorialized in a christening gown or a first birthday dress. Paralyzing grief was made plain in a single, breathtaking bit of lace and tulle.

As the last model departed the stage, lights affixed to a tower of scaffolding slowly bathed the runway in blinding luminescence. The runway was empty. But the beautiful memory of what came before remained.

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