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The Final Curtain (w/slide show)

January 28, 2009


As this show came to an end yesterday, organizers could not complain about attendance.


Halls were consistently crowded until the final tapering off. American visitors were in short supply, but Europeans and Asians, although similarly afflicted by economic woes, seemed to be taking things in stride and conduct their business as normally as possible. Click here for slide show.


The only outwardly visible sign of calamity here in Paris as at home are the number of homeless crowding prominent street corners in heavy shopping areas, sometimes including their children and pets.


Not far from them, and against this background of misery, luxury establishments such as Hermes, arguably the most expensive store on one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world, the Faubourg St. Honore, dazzled shoppers with windows filled with a silver mirage. Furniture and objects from India, including a Maharadja’s peacock throne, low slung tables and a tableaux of wild animals under desert palms were all done in tooled silver. Hello Dubai!


Inside, another surprise: a smart car convertible, displayed smack in the middle of the selling floor. Downsizing? Not exactly. This smart car is outfitted inside with custom upholstery by Hermes of the softest leather in the colors of strawberry and cream. Price upon request. (I didn’t ask for fear that I would fall into a dead faint.) If that’s Hermes’ idea of austerity take note:


"What Austerity?" asked Susan Menkes, the long-time fashion analyst for the International Herald Tribune in her headline review of the opening day couture collections on Monday. No shortcuts for John Galliano, who has spun luxury dreams for the house of Christian Dior for more than a decade. "A sugar rush of lacy collars, organza cornets served up on a blue-and-white Delft pattern with tulips" -created a platform for extreme fashion. Just in case you missed the point, he even invoked the infamous phrase attributed to Marie-Antoinette: "Let them eat cake." Mr.Galliano intends his confections as an antidote to the current doom and gloom…People want to dream…" he said.


Time for editorial comment: There is that word again – Delft. I recommend you watch going forward. Mr. Galliano may well have sewn the seeds for some Dutch in fluences to come as he tapped into the richness of Flemish and Dutch painters, including Van Dyck and Vermeer for this collection.


Back to Maison & Objet. There was noticeably less glitz but I think less out of fear than out of bling-fatigue — although those whose livelihood is centered on bling continue to evolve new uses for it. Swarovski’s booth sported a spectacular light fixture with cascading crystals falling like rain from ceiling to floor. The company also displayed occasional tables with crystal formations like icicles visible through their glass tops.


Fur accessories, too, both faux but more often real, remained omnipresent and have become a luxury staple. Nor was there a diminished supply of rich silks, brocades, damasks and over-the-top trimmings.


You can judge the undaunted presence of luxury products as a politically incorrect and collective "thumbing of noses at poverty," or, you can consider them beacons of hope that once the deeps valleys of the economy are behind us, the luxury trade will be the first to recover. It always does. Remember: The rich are different from you and me - they always have money".


Even the uber rustic furnishings I previously reported on don’t come cheap. These are carefully crafted pieces with woods selected to retain their special markings and sculptural qualities even when bent to commercial use.


As to color, there is the absolute dominance of grays, often paired with black or frequently now enlivened with brighter colors, such as purple, still going strong, or with the newer saffrons, chrome yellows or hot pinks. One of the earliest couturiers, Schaparelli, named the color "shocking". She liked the  name so much she used it for her first perfume and bottled it in the shape of the female body - more than a half century before Jean Paul Gauthier thought of it.


If you want to stay on safer ground, follow the lead of Flamant, the Belgian retailer, who chose bright lipstick red to add life to neutrals as well as the emerging and growing indigo blues. However, with color on your mind: don’t forget to look for the silver lining, when it comes. It will, of course, hopefully sooner than later.