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A model walks the runway at the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week.
A model walks the runway at the Chanel show during Paris Fashion Week.

Getting swept away in Paris Fashion Week's sea motif Add to ...

The shark teeth at Givenchy had to mean something.

In the showroom two days after the runway défilé, buyers could be found placing retail orders as models slinked through the room. Members of the press had also been invited to “re-see” the collection.

Anna Dello Russo was there, thumbing through laser-cut leather tops and dresses, making her selections the way most people would pick a melon at the grocery store.

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Then, a few hangers down from where I was browsing, a man pulled out what appeared to be a leather skirt and exclaimed, “This smells like the sea!” To which a Givenchy associate assured him, “Yes, it’s Seawolf.”

The Atlantic wolffish, a.k.a. Seawolf, is an ugly fish; at best, it resembles an eel crossed with a piranha.

And indeed, it gives off a faintly salty smell.

Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci used the skin, along with salmon skin, as an alternative material for his spring/summer 2012 collection. He also created circular, gill-like pieces out of conventional leather that made for ultra-menacing armour.

And then there were the teeth – formed into jacket closures, moulded into giant pendant necklaces and appearing on bags and footwear. Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up.

Tisci descended into a darker, predatory region of the ocean compared to Karl Lagerfeld, who conceived a dreamy underwater vision for Chanel that consisted of handbags shaped like shells and pearls placed in models’ slicked-back buns and down their spines. Just no mermaids, he made sure to point out. His dazzling set within the Grand Palais included a white sandy floor, massive sea forms, glass ball bubbles and red-hot flame-haired chanteuse Florence Welch, who sung from a giant clam shell.

The sea also appeared as a reference at Alexander McQueen, where designer Sarah Burton encrusted one gown in coral pieces and gave several others the blooming weightlessness of a sea anemone (she stopped short of a full-on oceanic theme, which was already explored by McQueen in his last collection, titled Plato’s Atlantis).

Among Dries Van Noten’s photo prints was a bold coastal image in blue green. Nicolas Ghesquière showed oversized fishing visors as a nod to Cristobal Balenciaga’s sailor father.

Was it merely coincidence that so many designers were swept up in the wave?

It’s all too tempting to mine Paris Fashion Week for subtext. So much statement-making clothing must give way to a deeper message, some collective headspace among the designers or reflections on the world at large.

Tisci notwithstanding, designers gave the impression of being in a happy place for spring; how else to explain all the pretty lace and soft Sweet Tart colours or, as was the case with Christophe Lemaire at Hermès and his hemstitched whites, the sense of refined serenity?

When show notes (much more common in New York than Paris) were provided, they typically contained the designers’ desire to convey romance and joy. None more so than Louis Vuitton. According to the literature, “This season at Louis Vuitton the circle has turned once more and arrived at a place of pure enjoyment, gentleness, joie de vivre and love.” Anyone familiar with the current fetish-inspired collection will agree that this is a complete 180.

There is also a sense of preciousness that makes for a blurrier line between ready-to-wear and couture (especially with Valentino, Giambattista Valli, Chanel and Elie Saab, who all do both). All the finery – beading, feathers, embroidery – was strong for spring.

In some cases, fabrics were so masterfully cut (an ultrasound machine did some slicing and sealing at Céline) that they ruled out the likelihood of knockoffs.

Exposed exterior shoulder pads (at Lanvin), basket-weave printed-silk jackets (Stella McCartney), organza-wrapped Broderie Anglaise lace (Louis Vuitton) and pleated leather that’s been bonded as opposed to stitched (Céline) is the stuff that no fastfashion chain can touch.

Ditto Balenciaga’s moulded jackets and single-pocket pleated pant.

That look felt new and modern – “directional” in fashion speak. But directional isn’t necessarily what women end up wearing.

I’m thinking instead of the impeccably constructed jackets and the wider, relaxed trouser options at Céline. Stella McCartney’s pajama-sporty-beach mashup is a look that will be well received. The expert print mixing alone is reason enough to buy in.

There seemed to be an unprecedented number of designer debuts this time around: Claire Waight Keller at Chloé, Manish Arora at Paco Rabanne, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim at Kenzo, April Crichton at Sonia Rykiel, Yoshiyuki Miyamae at Issey Miyake, Jeanne Labib Lamour at Ungaro and Bill Gaytten realizing his first collection under the John Galliano label. Some – Kenzo, Rykiel, Arora – showed more promise than others, with honourable mentions going to Waight Keller, Miyamae and Gaytten. (It’s not worth dwelling too much on dw by Kanye West; there has been sufficient eviscerating criticism of him and expletives fired back by West to make a full-length mixtape. As I see it, retailers must first make the leap to carry the label; then people have the power to determine its success. Regardless, he has work to do.)

Marc Jacobs, on the other hand, proved that he is ready for couture – the house of Christian Dior, specifically. While Gaytten’s collection for Dior was beautifully executed and respectful of the past, it is Jacobs who conceives on a level that is past, present and future – sprinkled with the requisite amounts of ego and fantasy.

The Vuitton show was a grand spectacle, complete with a fully functioning merry-go-round and Kate Moss. One model to a horse, they gradually stepped off and promenaded around the circular runway.

Was this Jacobs’s swan song for Vuitton (owned, like Dior, by LVMH)?

Perhaps the staging served as opulent subtext for the designer shuffle that’s to come. Then again, sometimes a carousel is just a carousel.

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