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Tough and Tender at Givenchy and Stella McCartney

Alexander McQueen showed hard-as-nails looks for Givenchy; while Stella McCartney opted for romantic looks.

THE TWO SIDES OF FASHION —THE TOUGH AND THE TENDER — WERE VERY MUCH IN EVIDENCE ON WEDNESDAY AS THE PARIS SPRING SHOWS MOVED INTO HIGH GEAR. AND TWO YOUNG BRITISH DESIGNERS SUMMED UP THAT OPPOSITION: ALEXANDER MCQUEEN AT GIVENCHY AND STELLA MCCARTNEY AT CHLOE.

PARIS — England swings. At least it did here on Wednesday, when two young Brits showed collections that were a study in contrasts. For her debut at Chloe, Stella McCartney got off to a terrific start with a collection she infused with a grown-up girliness. And at Givenchy, rough-and-tumble Alexander McQueen continued to wave the mantle of tough chic for a new generation.

 

Just about everything about McCartney's show was charming — even its imperfections. The low-key nature of the clothes was heightened by the glorious opulence of the Opera Garnier where she showed, and even the most jaded in the audience were utterly charmed by the conduct of Stella's parents. Here were Paul and Linda McCartney, acting like the proud mum and dad, leading the applause throughout the show, and, at the end, leaping first to their feet for a standing ovation. And, oh, they brought along Ringo Starr to punch up their cheering section.

 

What they saw was simply delightful, an upbeat frolic with a party atmosphere. Stella's soundtrack had a little of this, a little of that — oldies, rock, opera, a snippet from Dad's new symphony. And the collection itself was a similar happy hodgepodge of appealing clothes. "Anybody who's seen my work knows I'm not into shock tactics," she said last week. "It's a nice, mellow, pretty collection. It's all really wearable."

 

McCartney's basic approach is to cross soft, pretty pieces with classic tailoring — she even imported Savile Row tailor Edward Sexton to lend a hand. The results were a pleasantly approachable quirkiness. Throughout, Stella showed fairly simple shapes done up with gentle flourishes — ruffled or lace edges, fagotted insets, sweeping sleeves, a drawstring hem. Even her bermudas had a sweet touch — curved, ruffled trim. There were wonderful cottons with the feeling of vintage underwear, sexy shirred tops and dresses, slips, pretty bias frocks and all sorts of corsetry.

 

On the tailored side, McCartney showed suits with a Seventies feeling, and a group of Prince of Wales suits dolled up with ruffles and vibrant facings. And, through it all, she managed to maintain a level of spirited sophistication.

 

What Stella didn't do was edit, which is part of the learning curve. Nor did she set fashion on a new course. But with this collection, McCartney has indeed turned the house of Chloe in a new direction — one that's fresh, young and laced with a trace of English eccentricity.

 

There is a great deal riding on that course. Chloe president Mounir Moufarrige said recently that he wants the house ready-to-wear business to grow "dramatically, by twofold or threefold" over the next two years. And those hopes are pinned on Stella. "The designer," he said, "is the house."

 

And lest anyone forget where that designer calls home, Stella closed her show with the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen."

 

Had she been in town, the Queen might have been impressed by the debut of Sir Paul's daughter. On the other hand, it's likely she would not be amused at the goings-on at McQueen's second ready-to-wear collection for Givenchy.

 

Lest there be any doubt, McQueen has absolutely obliterated all but one trace of Le Grand Hubert — his name over the door. McQueen is instead a disciple of the Montana-Mugler school of fashion, a school that views women as utterly aggressive, tough as nails. He may have put a country-western spin on this show, but in reality, his women looked more like hard-core 42nd Street hookers. It's a look that sends a complicated message. One one hand, it's admirable that McQueen sticks to his guns: This is not a mood that's in the forefront of fashion these days. But it's disturbing, as well, when women seem to be stripped intentionally of their beauty.

 

That's not to say that McQueen, gifted as both designer and technician, doesn't make beautiful clothes, because he does. His tailored pieces are cut impeccably, and if those demonstrative shoulders aren't for everyone, who ever said designer clothes should be?

 

In addition to the suits, usually cut very short and very tight, his big messages were fringe, which he showed on everything from leather cowgirl skirts and dresses to a sexy beaded shimmy dress, and breasts, which were all over the place. McQueen also showed bustiers, as corsets over shirts, sexy dresses and sweeping ballgowns. And there were plenty of extras in the form of elaborate embroideries and appliques, as well as glitter studs on men's wear plaids.

 

Not surprisingly, in the midst of all the trashola — the cowboy boots, the holsters, the red glitter lips — the merits of the clothes sometimes got lost, as did the fact that one or two shapes even veered toward the dowdy. But underneath it all, one could find some great-looking clothes, clothes in which women can indeed look beautiful.