Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sensual Sobriety at Lanvin

by Suzy Menkes

Marching purposefully down the wet road of a runway, the women - mostly black clad but one in a scarlet suit - waved at the Lanvin audience.

It was a defining moment in the autumn 2009 season, when bias-cut tailoring, fur stoles circling the shoulders and boldly studded dresses with just a soupçon of the 1980s spelt out the new fashion message: sensual sobriety.

The clothes that the designer Alber Elbaz sent out were an ode to women - not that romantic, ethereal creature of male dreams but a modern woman who can take a curve-heel shoe in her long stride; one who needs a suit, with jacket belted above a slim skirt; and whose idea of exposure is a soft cowl swooping below a bared upper back.

Lanvin has become a byword for modern glamour that responds to the female body, rather than controlling, or even torturing it.

Elbaz was on top form, with his nonchalant way of cutting a plain coat so that it covers but never smothers; or using stretch fabrics, on the bias, with never a hint of vulgarity. He seems to get inside the skin of a 21st century femininity, which is about a flurry of feathers crowning a scooped-back pony tail and the way a bodice is tamed into a big flat bow.

Two factors stood out: First, the technical skill that, as with traditional couture, made complex cuts seem oh-so-simple that the actress Kristin Scott Thomas sighed over a silver gray satin dress and imagined herself inside the scarlet suit.

The program even baptized the outfits with names from Arlette to Violette. You almost expected to hear them called out over the soundtrack.

The choice of fabrics also was exceptional, with the introduction of burnt-out dévorée velvet to give substance to surface, while the dresses remained so light.

Above all, this was a wardrobe of clothes from a designer who understands a woman in her different moods - gentle, aggressive, power worker, mother, lover - and makes fashion to embrace all of that.

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