Women will be raiding men's closets next winter for boxy overcoats and suit jackets, but the masculine pieces will be used to set off flirty tops and dresses dripping with ribbons, sequins, and embroidery. That was the major trend to emerge from the Paris autumn-winter ready-to-wear collections, which ended on Tuesday after a week marked by the departure of key designers, including out style maven Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent. The fashion industry is about to embark on a game of musical chairs, with luxury giant LVMH seeking new designers for its Celine and Givenchy labels, while rival Gucci Group is expected to announce soon its replacements for Ford at its Gucci and YSL labels. The upheaval comes at a crucial time for the luxury goods sector, with business picking up after a year marked by the war in Iraq and the SARS epidemic in Asia, but retail buyers are still cautious. The unfavorable exchange rate means buyers from the United States and Asia are being more picky than usual. Designers must deliver something that is original but does not scare off overseas customers faced with rising price tags.
Ford stood out with a flamboyant farewell show at YSL, where he received a standing ovation with his Chinese-inspired collection of sizzling satin skirt suits and cheongsam evening gowns that glimmered with a thousand sequins. Paris designers tapped into the craze for vintage looks, with flapper girls at Nina Ricci and Lanvin, 1940s elegance at Stella McCartney, and Audrey Hepburn clones at Givenchy and Celine. That meant a big return of slinky satin and velvet, topped with rhinestone jewels and lashings of fur, from a purple fox chubby to a delicate ermine stole. Valentino and Sonia Rykiel cited the influence of screen diva Marlene Dietrich, while Dries Van Noten was inspired by Bloomsbury set writer Virginia Woolf.
Coats emerged as the status item for next winter, with masculine tailoring and military touches providing a sharp counterpoint to the retro romantic look. Other menswear looks ranged from oversized rockabilly jackets at Christian Dior to blazers at Chanel, where designer Karl Lagerfeld sent male and female models down the catwalk to emphasize the androgynous trend. Jean Paul Gaultier offered dashing trenchcoats and jodhpurs in his well-received debut at Hermes, which injected the label with a fresh sex appeal. Phoebe Philo's collection for Chloe was hailed as another highlight of the season. Her camel coats and wide-legged tweed trousers contrasted with pin-tucked chiffon blouses and girly cocktail dresses, providing something for everyone.