The City of Lights: A la Mode

From Louis Vuitton, to Chanel to YSL and Alexander McQueen, the biggest names in the industry wrap up a month style and glamor at the Fall/Winter 2011 Paris Fashion Week.

Chanel (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Dior’s lead designer, John Galliano’s anti-semetic remarks were  heard with horror around the world, but nowhere did the shock reverberate more than in Paris, where the designer’s disgrace hung like pall over the City of Light. Despite opening under this dark cloud, the Fall/Winter 2011 Paris Fashion week went off without a hitch, illuminating the fashion capital of the world with all the glamor and style expected of it.
Like at the New York, London and Milan shows, fur, leather and lace dominated, minimalism and masculine styles returned and designers continued to look to the iconic styles of the retro 70s and ladylike chic 60s for inspiration; however, as it was the French, a certain “je ne sais quoi” was expected, and the French, with a few tricks up their sleeves, did not disappoint.
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A subdued and eerie feeling filled the Dior show as the icy blue tent set in the gardens of the Rodin Museum seemed almost haunted by the disgraced spirit of John Galliano. The somber tone drifted through the collection, which was missing the former designer’s trademark exaggerated designs and dramatic makeup. Instead the new collection showed more tailored and elegant ensembles composed of tweed skirts, richly colored velvet trousers, fur trims and jacquard knickers, along with medieval capes and giant floppy hats. The line continued to pay homage to the 70s, incorporating the decade’s boho styles and jeweled tones throughout the collection.
While the daytime line was extremely wearable, composed of lavish colors and relaxed ensembles, it was the after 6pm collection that really captured the spotlight and the true essence of what the luxury brand has achieved through the ages. For evening wear the French brand sent models cascading down the runway in soft pastel-hued ruffled dresses and ultra-feminine sheer lace gowns paired with platform heals.
The show was dedicated to the "petites mains," – the seamstresses, craftsmen and pattern makers, behind the successful brand. At the end of the show, instead of Galliano’s usual lengthy strut down the runway, 30 of the atelier’s huge team took the stage in white lab coats to welcome a minute-long standing ovation.
Apocalypse Now
Unlike its serene lady-like spring/summer line, the Channel AW2011 show was a collection of dark and tough pieces, with almost a masculine feel. A mixture of solemn winter hues and minimalism, the somber line was heavily made up of charcoal grays, blacks and "greige" with only the occasional flash of red or dark green, lending the collection an almost apocalyptical feel – a 360 degree turn from the colorful Parisian garden inspired spring/summer collection. Even the hall at the Grand Palais was transformed to mirror the bleak symbolism of the collection – giant black blankets obscured any light from entering the giant domed glass roof, the floor was covered with several tons of charcoal and black rubble, while swirls of gray smoke drifted over an ash covered runway.
The clothes were relaxed, grungy even, with models wearing loose-fitting faded trousers bunched or cuffed at the ankle, or distressed leggings, under Chanel's signature boxy jackets or long, chunky knit cardigans.  Tweed was a predominate fabric with many of the models wearing some grunge variation of the classic piece over worn out jeans. Accessories were minimal, with a few of the models carrying a new art deco adaptation of the iconic 2.5 handbag; however, unlike the previous version this small pochette was “sans” quilting, and with a chunkier chain. For the shoes, simple black patent kitten heels reigned, with no girl wearing heels over two inches – again a direct contrast to the spring’s lavish collection.
The evening wear, although offering a slightly softer feel, continued the daytime’s line somber tone. 70s styled loose-fighting jump suits continued to rule the catwalk, with many of the models streaming down in black sequin and lace-knit versions as well as feminine A-line smock-dresses with shaggy sleeves and pockets.
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Pretty in Pink
In contrast to the smoldering dark hues seen on the Chanel catwalk, the Valentino show was a romantic collection of overflowing silhouettes with soft ultra-feminine looks. The new Fall/Winter collection saw models flowing down the runway in proper and prim ensembles in a variety of dusky hues.
For the daytime line, designer duo Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccoli draped the models in casual sixties cut cashmere dresses and swingy lady-like knee-length wool skirts paired with princess coats. Lace was used to some degree in almost every piece–with lace and cashmere woven together to create three-dimensional looks. The new Valentino collection also continued the spring/summer 70s trend, with many of the ensembles incorporating the retro decade’s wide leg trousers, paired with sheer tops (another spring/summer popular style). While the color palette hovered around soft tones, from dirty pinks, to aubergine and petrol blues, the outerwear hosted a deep variety of rich tones, from the trench coats made entirely from green or teal leather (below) to the deep blue fur, adding just the right amount of contrast to balance out the soft and delicate collection.
A British Invasion
However, it wasn’t only the French fashion houses that left audiences in awe, British designer Stella McCartney’s show was  “tres magnifique”. The fall 2011 ready-to-wear collection was full of the Brit’s signature sharp tailoring, minimal monochromatic palette made up of blue, black, ivory and gold, as well as gorgeous cocktail dresses. The show kicked off with massive amounts of volume, as McCartney sent models down the runway in masculine extra-wide-shouldered blazers that nearly doubled the width of their tiny shoulders, and a series of chunky knit sweater dresses that despite the odd choice of materiel held their maxi-shape. The volume motif was even carried through to the “little black dress” where the designer added pleats and dropped-shoulder-sized balloon sleeves.
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Other highlights included metallic foiled dresses and coats (above), elongated gold bomber jackets, and printed dresses with batwing sleeves. However, despite McCartney’s recent move towards the minimalism trend, her cheeky sense of style was still present – especially in the evening-wear line which consisted of a series of slinky tight sexy polka dot dresses (below).
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A Royal Secret
The Paris fashion week was abuzz with gossip that Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton would be designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. While the rumors were quickly put to rest, the collection filled with lavish white gowns completed with waterfall skirts and pleated chiffon trains had a definite regal air about it.
The show took place in the rather ironic location of La Conciergerie, which became known as "the antechamber to the guillotine” during the French revolution as it held many high-value prisoners, including Marie Antoinette, prior to their execution. The odd choice of location provided a perfect backdrop to a collection that merged structured yet voluminous Gothic regal styled dresses with visible studs and even harnesses. The collection name “The Ice Queen and Her Court” included a very limited color palette of mostly white, black and grays –with only the occasional use of minimal lilac tones.
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As the show went on, the clothes took an eerily dark turn as the white fur trimmed ensembles were replaced by armor-like black dresses, completed with zippers, elaborate harnesses and even hardware evoking torture devices, and worn with bondage boots (above). However, the final numbers transitioned back to  the show’s opening look, as angelic styled gowns in organza and adorned with pearls graced the runway. And then came the finale – with more than 500 meters of  chiffon forming the train, and a bodice hand-embroidered in tulle, chiffon and pearls, the breathtaking gown which concluded Sarah Burton's collection for Alexander McQueen, was absolutely fit for a queen.
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All in One
And then we come to one of the most celebrated French brands of all time - Yves Saint Laurent. Despite rumors that he may or may not be receiving the heave ho from YSL, Stefano Pilati showcased a flawless fall/winter collection that achieved the perfect balance between sexy and the brand’s iconic elegant style. The line was a perfect blend of so many of the different trends that have swept the catwalks this past month. From the wool princess coats with oversized fur sleeves to the 60s lady-like A-line skirts and 70s inspired wide length trousers to the voluminous cape – it was all there in one incredible show.
 The day collection, while extremely wearable, had a certain “je ne sais quoi” attitude to it. The show kicked off with a series of coats and blazers - fitted and over-sized - in gray Prince of Wales check, as well as double breasted blazers and baseball jackets. While the collection was mostly gray, white and black, light pops of purple and deep blue added that all essential runway flair. While the daytime line, wowed the audience, it was the after 6pm collection that really dominated the show. The evening wear line was a vision in white, with goddess like gowns adorned with gold chain straps worn over flared ankle-length pants. The collection was a triumph, all the way to the very last detail, the shoes. Boots and loafers with wedge soles complemented the daytime ensembles perfectly while two-tone metallic sandals sexed up the white evening gowns.
Last and certainly wearing the least
After a week filled with shame, controversy and gossip it seemed almost too fitting for the fashion power house Louis Vuitton to close the nine day event on a rather scandalous note. The Marc Jacob designed collection merged fetish fantasies with high fashion as the most anticipated show of the season saw models parade on stage dressed as hookers, chambermaids, mistresses and in any other sexed up uniform imaginable.
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Inside the two- story magnificent black tent erected outside the Louvre, probably the most expensive set design of all the AW 2011 shows, guests were greeted by “French maids” adorned with the infamous LV logo – a hint as to what was to come. Seated in front of a circle stage, where only four old-fashion elevators stood, the audience waited in suspense to see what LVMH and the American fashion designer had in store for them. As the light began to dim, an elevator creaked into motion and the first of Vuitton’s kinky mistresses emerged in a monogrammed chauffeur cap, a buttoned jacket draped over a patent corset and a sheer skirt which revealed just stockings beneath. The elevator then descended out of sight, and returned with a new model and so it went on –each girl (including veteran supermodel Naomi Campbell, below) emerging in a different sexy version of a fantasy ensemble from the skimpy bellhop uniform with a matching LV monogrammed cap to the naughty school girl ensembles completed with prim sweaters and fit-and-flare knee-skirts or modest puff-sleeved dresses, white collars and Mary Jane shoes, inspired by the children’s classic “Madeline”.
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Some ensembles looked innocent enough, simple black dresses with just a few sequins, until the models turned the corner revealing their wrists bound in 18 carat gold, crystal or crocodile handcuffs. Of course, as it was Louis Vuitton, all the models carried some version of the infamous bag, with the new lockit handbag making its debut appearance. For the evening wear line, the uniform allusion transitioned from bellboys and chauffeurs into sexy French maids, as Jacob ferried models to the stage in sheer black cocktail dresses completed with a prim white color and an ostrich duster.
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Louis VuittonLouis VuittonHowever, it wasn’t just the naughty ensembles that caught spectators’ eyes, but also Jacob’s use of unusual materials. While the American designer incorporated silks and fur (the biggest trend seen so far for the upcoming fall/winter season), it was the dress made entirely out of black leather (above), the jacket with a car paint bodice as well as the red and blue python pailette skirt (above) that really captured the spotlight.
The last girl to check out Louis Vuitton’s hotel was “heroin chic” supermodel Kate Moss. A perfect ending to show themed around “naughty behavior” Moss showed off a dominatrix ensemble completed with a rubberized lace jacket and cashmere hot-pants as she puffed her way across stage smoking the ultimate “bad girl” trademark, a cigarette (right).