I’m never quite sure what to expect from a Céline collection. On one hand, you have a vague expectation of something that defines French prêt-à-porter the way Calvin (or Anne) Klein or Bill Blass or, well – Michael Kors – defines American sportswear. On the other, Phoebe Philo, has yet to really put a definitive stamp on the brand, to make it her own say, in the way she and Stella McCartney jointly refreshed and invigorated the Chloé line, or for that matter the way Michael Kors did at the label for almost eight years. Certainly there’s an evolution here, but one that parallels a number of design evolutions and trends at a number of labels in New York as well as Paris.
You might read a certain austerity in Philo’s silhouettes this season – certainly there was a purity to the minimalist geometry of the line; but the clothes were really far too comfortable to be called in any way austere. So comfortable in fact that one could easily imagine oneself wearing a dress or entire look through day into night and practically forgetting what one had on. There was a boxiness to some of the sweaters, shifts and coats. One evening wrap or top looked like nothing so much as a perfect square. But this was more about a definition of personal space, and a fluid movement within that shifting perimeter. Some of the sweaters and tunics or blousons had an over-sized ‘boyfriend’ look, but for certain details – cuffed or segmented sleeves, collars and funnel-necks. (One white tunic had the look of a Russian soldier’s tunic right down to the collar and cuffs.) There was a one-button topcoat with slouchy shoulders and over-long sleeves in a soft pink that could have been a man’s topcoat.
I realize the swingy trumpet skirts were about the same kind of fluid movement, but I preferred the stronger classic (albeit slightly retro-) modern shapes of those wool shifts in dove or charcoal gray. There were some superb coats – the best of them emphasized that sense of spatial wrap and movement within an elegantly contoured silhouette. A few dresses (or coat-dresses) joined both impulses – literally wrapping (and tying) an extra set of sleeves around the dress at the shoulders or the waist. Although I was initially put off, I’ve warmed to the clashing plaids in some of the coats and skirt-sweater looks – won over by the same rigorous yet playful architecture that defined the rest of the collection.
I thought about those plaids, the over-sized, masculine scale, the wrapping, the tailoring – and maybe Thom Browne, too – looking at Stella McCartney’s collection. But really, what was she thinking? Pin stripes, chalk stripes, flannels, worsteds, frescoed, ribbed, quilted, dad’s old suits, big brother’s blazers, Savile Row, Hackett’s (I have an old cutaway by Moss Bros. Covent Garden I still wear once a year – no lie) – ya know I get all that. It’s not that the variation on the tuxedo dress has been done before – but it’s been done better. The wrap and the asymmetry? Here it seems to mean that something happened to old grand-dad’s morning coat the last time it came back from the dry cleaners. The most interesting numbers in this vein? – those chalk stripe dresses that made me think of the early proto-Minimalist black (‘pin-striped’) paintings by another Stella – Frank. I have to believe this was deliberate. But I’m not sure I want to wear a Frank Stella, either. Some of the evening looks (some in jewel tones) changed it up a bit – also showing off the body that otherwise seemed to be under wraps.
There’s more to come in this vein – and it’s not as if some of the trends we saw on Paris runways weren’t also seen in New York this season; but I kept coming back to one question as I took in these collections (Owens, Pugh, Céline, McCartney, and more): where is the body in all this? A sense of movement came through in many if not most of these clothes, even McCartney’s; but the sense of body definition and contour was muted if not lost altogether in an architecture that seems to both push away from the body and into the surrounding space even as it closes it off. Hold me, baby – but please don’t touch.