Thursday, 9 October 2008

Paris fashion houses are like banks - who to back?

Seeing the merry-go-round of designers (good and bad) at the Paris houses over the last week or so has made me think that they are like the ups and downs of the global financial market and so now the question is - who to back?

On one side you have the risk investments: most are new, some are hot and some are so cold they're out.

So with the possibility of high return we have Hannah McGibbon at Chloé - solo and back at the helm after sharing the golden years with Phoebe Philo, this time around with a girly fresh summer's day mood; Christophe Decarnin at Balmain - all bling and rock chick fabulousness; Olivier Theyskins at Nina Ricci - lost in a romantic Edwardian dance of flowing dresses and flyaway fabrics; Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy who is carving out quite a name for himself at the house especially this season with his take on "Western Bondage"; Esteban Cortazar at Emanuel Ungaro, who is relatively new to the house but a bit lost in a Southern Belle ruffle bubble; Stuart Vevers at Loewe - all hardware and serious grande dame accessories; and unfortunately for Alessandra Facchinetti it was a very short tenure at Valentino (how last season is that, already?) who was replaced just hours after her second collection by the long standing house accessories designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Picciol. Facchinetti, who was fired via the press no less, was on the way to being a modern, elegant and contemporary shot in the arm for the house but where was the courage in their conviction? Too much intrinsic value placed in the creator's vast archive of design and not much else is the answer. A similar fate happened this season for Ivana Omazic at Celine, who after a more respectable four season tenure at the LVMH house so beleaguered by unsuitable designers it seems, sent out a credible bourjois tribal last collection, and knowing her fate to boot, was replaced by the probable sure fire hit of Phoebe Philo.

But looking forward for a fashion-land nano-second, just this week there was news of beauty giant P&G re-firing its fashion house Rochas with ex-Halston designer Marco Zanini at the helm of a Gibo-backed label. Meanwhile outside bets are being taken on where the considerable talent of Giambatista Valli will end up? Valli's vintage prom dress fest of a show, drew in a packed social-set front row this season and he is surely waiting for the right offer. Previously connected with Valentino rumours, he didn't get the job but then with all that Facchinetti bad blood floating around the Rome atelier, the promotion of the new creative directors seems like it was always going to happen.

And on the other side you have the safe bets. The old guard rule the successful Parisian houses with an iron creative hand and not to mention years of experience. The fact that some of them have, this season been accused of playing it safe only goes to show their wealth of talent - maintaining a credible house signature as well as pan-global appeal.

From Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga - who can do no wrong with his vision of sci-fi couture (despite his runway-only-production collections), to Alber Elbaz at Lanvin who keeps on re-inventing modern glamour and want-it-now eveningwear meets daywear that women lust after. That he attempted to say "Bonjour Saudi" with a sparkling and colourful range of bejewelled dresses and shoes in preparation for his new Middle Eastern backers only goes to show his attitude to embrace the new and keep the cash tills ringing. John Paul Gaultier is another genius designer turning equestrian heritage and understated luxury into an ever louder shrill at the cash tills for Hermés. His take on gaucho cowgirl will blaze across the retail desert for spring. And what about commercial king Kaiser? The retail dream that is Chanel continues a very real and global appeal for the Paris wardrobe of choice. This season's homage to the House of Chanel and all its manifestations was a message that this fashion label is unlikely to be touched by the economic downturn - everyone still wants to dress in Chanel non? And let's not forget the king of couture John Galliano at Dior. His RTW collection for the house has to be the jewel in LVMH's global crown. This season's offering of tribal chic will appeal from Moscow to Dubai to Shanghai and every other luxury-conscious fashion capital that respects his particular take on conspicuous consumption that maintains its relevance in the global credit crunch.

Mind you Louis Vuitton has to be mentioned in the same breath for global aspirational appeal - Marc Jacobs maybe the darling of New York fashion but his RTW collection for the house put a final celebratory line under the season in one of his most successful, widely appealing and wholly Parisian yet still sublimely luxurious collections for the label for some time.

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