The autumn/winter 2014-15 collections have featured many of the same design themes – strong waists, thick, blanketed layers and blocks of bright colour – but the big gossip was the arrival of Rihanna at shows from Jean Paul Gaultier to Chanel. Would she turn up? What would she be wearing? Would we get the interview? How long would it take her to escape the screaming mobs afterwards? Police vans lined up outside venues trying to control her rabid fans.
In the end, no interviews happened but she proved herself a quite wonderful front-row ambassador for the clothes: serene, unperturbed by the commotion and, of course, beautifully dressed.
At Chanel, on Tuesday morning, she wore a sparkling lilac suit, its tightly corseted waist emphasised by a square-cut crop top and a bumbag complete with revolver brooch. But even Rihanna was outshone by Karl Lagerfeld’s extraordinary vision for the brand’s AW14 mise-en-scène. Always offering a spectacle, this season he filled the Grand Palais with the poshest supermarket you’ve ever seen.
Waitrose, Harrods, even Fortnum & Mason had nothing on this, its aisles filled with Little Black Tea, Chanel bleach, Chanel Brie, even a chainsaw made of the gilt chain from a Chanel 2.55 bag. Perhaps using Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto to welcome guests was an irony too far, but the crowds were enchanted, nevertheless.
The models wandered the store, pushing trolleys and browsing the shelves, a sort of tweed-clad microcosm of a shopping population, from teenage mall rats full of attitude to promenading bourgeoisie. As for the clothes: tweed (of course) in round-shouldered coats, tightly waisted; torn leggings; trainers reworked as sparkling boots; and big bright swing coats lined in abstract pattern. As a voice announced that the shop was now closed, guests sprinted to the shelves, trying to take souvenirs of the occasion – only to have them firmly removed by security at the exit.
If the waist was important at Chanel, it was everything at Jean Paul Gaultier, where a proposed space journey took its guests to a place of futuristic fun. Spherical, sculptural collars and hoods encased the models’ topknotted heads above silhouettes that boosted the shoulders with zipped seams that created an almost leg o’ mutton effect, cinched in the waist with obi-style belts and puffed out at the hips, for the ultimate power-hourglass.
In true JPG style, he filled his catwalk with interesting characters, from the Spanish dancer Bianca Li to an array of elderly punks plus the octogenarian supermodel Daphne Selfe dazzling in a sparkling silver jumpsuit.
Also obsessing over the waist, with a young, flirty silhouette of demurely fitted bodices and full, almost sculptural skirts, Giambattista Valli took his usual exquisite prettiness and pepped it up with monochrome animal patterns that appeared felted into the thick mohairs and wool, followed by mixes of scarlet, burgundy and the most delicate pink silks printed with giant roses. Again, shoulders were rounded and slightly oversized, emphasising tiny waists; rarely did he stray from the baby-New-Look shape, only once in a while venturing into dropped waists or straight coats. It was all, of course, deliciously wearable.
Another designer who never strays from “wearable”, and never should, Elie Saab nevertheless continues to dramatically refine his style, this season evoking the strongest character yet in his wearer. Starting with powerful, plain trouser suits that let the cut do all the talking, with slender trousers and sweeping cloak-like coats, he moved on to a dark dip-dye effect in dresses from silk velvet to ribbed wool, in burgundy, pink and blackened mauve. Only at the very end, and all in a group together, did he send out his signature sparkling evening gowns. It felt like a statement of intent from the oft-stereotyped designer.
Raf Simons also offered a distinctive collection for Dior: a pointed departure from the house classics (though they still offered inspiration), this was more reminiscent of his Jil Sander days, with double-faced cashmere used to make flawless coats and dresses in vividly bright colour clashes, the waists sucked in using a lattice of shoelace-tied corsetry.
It was left to Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent to buck the trends, producing an absolutely covetable collection that featured all his rock credentials of custom (including Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys in the front row) and a mouthwatering array of Rolling Stones-era chicks, Marianne Faithfull lookalikes, wearing little slip dresses, beautiful A-line short coats and capes, and flat patent-leather knee boots. One trio of limited edition dresses, in gleaming sequins, featured works by the artist John Baldessari – just 10 of each will be produced. And not a skinny tuxedo suit was to be seen. In fact, the only thing that mattered more than the clothes at Saint Laurent was the attitude.