Friday was a day of debuts, returns and a great veteran. Master designer Yohji Yamamoto with a masterly display; much-hyped debutant Harris Reed at Nina Ricci; a subtle debut at Ullens and a lesson in restraint at Theory Project

Yohji Yamamoto: Poetry from the master

Poetic fashion from Yohji Yamamoto; somber, special, spiritual even.
Made almost entirely in black with dashes of pillbox red, and cut with intricate, cascading deconstruction, this was a salutary reminder of how great fashion is often best constructed by highly experienced hands.

Yohji Yamamoto – Fall-Winter 2023 – 2024 – Womenswear – France – Paris – © ImaxTree

As is recent wont, Yohji staged the show inside the gilded magnificence Paris Hotel de Ville. A huge crowd gathered outside, defying a windy chilly evening along the Seine.
Anyone who was anyone when it comes to writing about fashion or editing smart magazines took their seats front row joining Guram Gvasalia and his companion for the evening, Avril Lavigne.

It was a tale of two halves. Exotic black serge wool coats and gowns classically made on one side, and the sliced, sawn, razored and dissected on the other. Elements and scraps of fabric intertwined, linked and dangled – bedraggled, yet beautiful.
“The sense of isolation, of going and coming back,” explained the septuagenarian designer.
A collection which won Yohji a thunderous burst of applause in a busy week for the designer, who has also just unveiled a new collection with long-term partner Adidas. Yohji recently feted the 20th anniversary of his Y-3 partnership with the German active sportswear behemoth. He has now followed that up with Y-3 Atelier – a new expression centered on elevated craftsmanship.
Though when a gushing critic hailed him enthusiastically saying, “Yohji, you’re a genius,” Yamamoto deadpanned with a sibylline smile: “No, I am not. Not anymore.”

Nina Ricci: A preposterous debut

 There are human rights offenses, crimes and frivolous fashion. The Nina Ricci debut show of Harris Reed presented Friday afternoon was very much the latter.

Nina Ricci fall 2023 collection in Paris – Nina Ricci

Talk about Entente Glaciale. One of those shows by a designer imported from the UK, where the entire ranks of French editors, critics and insiders begin rolling their eyes, and then quietly sniggering. Buyers, on the other hand, all seemed quite taken by the sheer absurdity of the collection. 
Adding to the dissonance, this show by an Arizona-born took place in the storied former hall of Air France, right next door to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
Towering men, women and other good gender fluid folk traipsing down a black-and-white runway in YSL look-a-like tuxedo pant suits, albeit cut with ginormous flares. XXXlLarge black ladies marching with absurdist clouds of chiffon or organza. A mock Adrian gown, a column completed with acre-wide train, that imprisoned the model so much she literally took four minutes to complete a tour of the 50-meter catwalk.
Unquestionably, Reed does have a sense of theatrics and fashion fantasy. But simple doubling the size of tried and tested ideas does not make a look twice as important – quite the opposite.
Much had been expected from Reed, a London-based talent who is something of a sensation in Blighty due to his Grand Guignol, pumped volume signature collections.
His aesthetic, however, failed to connect to Nina Ricci, whose DNA is flowery femininity and subtle draping. Not perhaps a major league French fashion house, but a revered historical brand, with a substantial perfume business. 
Reed did play around with the brand’s signature image of two doves, but sticking them on metallic plastic bra tips looked rather ridiculous.
Clearly, Reed has talent, but this was a faintly preposterous debut.

Theory Project: Lovingly layered 

 Good to see the return en force of Lucas Ossendrijver, who presented his third collection for Theory Project, a more sophisticated take on the global fashion marque’s advanced line.
A cunning meeting of his own couture-like touches from Lucas Ossendrijver’s days as men’s designer of Lanvin and Theory’s traditionally expert production methods.
Theory Project is made mostly of Italian fabrics, but manufactured in China, so there is not so much pain at the cash register for this sophisticated but easy to understand collection.
For women, very flattering dresses made in horizontal bands of knit, wool and silk satin; fine wool V-neck sweaters with recycled nylon trim; and great baseball jackets in contrasting mixes of recycled wool, leather trim and silk matelassé sleeves. For men, Theory Project offer similar reversible bombers, sleek knits and chinos.
“Layered but easy, without being too fashion but not basic either. It’s very hard to be in the middle without being mediocre, as Alber Elbaz liked to say,” referring to his former great colleague at Lanvin.

Ullens: Christian Wijnants’ classy debut

Now that is what we call a classy first at bat. For his debut at luxe voyage fashion specialist Ullens, Christian Wijnants pulled off an impressive display – as much for the innovation of materials as for his understanding of his brief.

Ullens fall/winter 2023 collection – Ullens

He took a few risks, like Japanese wool denim seen in a perfectly cut pants suit. And then repeated with a similar suit made in a charming caramel Prince of Wales check. Both jackets made with central buttons off-set eight centimeters giving them a contemporary wrapped design.
A group of great cashmere sweaters, which on first sight seemed to be of mohair, turned out to be made of grated cashmere, a rare fabrication requiring unique artisanal skill.
While Wijnants also broke new ground with reversible shearling and suede bombers in soft orange and inky blue. 
All told, a welcome twist on Ullens, a noble brand that has lacked enough fashion impact, something that Christian addressed with skill this season.

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