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Paris Fashion Week: For Balenciaga, Balmain and Rick Owens, it's all in the packaging

Balenciaga-pfwIt's probably no coincidence that for his first runway collection since the launch of the Balenciaga Paris fragrance last month, house designer Nicolas Ghesquiere let his imagination run wild with the concept of packaging. Packaging is of paramount importance in the competitive perfume industry and was reflected in the collection he showed on the Paris runways last week.

Because really, what is fashion, if not packaging in every sense of the word?

Ghesquiere worked with a combination of natural and synthetic materials, including nylon, polyamide, cashmere, silk and camel hair, mixing the ordinary and the extraordinary.

The result was like a trip to the 99 Cents Only Store and Andy Warhol's Factory rolled into one. The boxy, mixed-media jackets and dresses that opened the show were incredibly tactile, as if they had been constructed using packing materials such as cardboard, tape and paper. Plasticky striped tops in sorbet colors, cinching models' waists like wrappers cinch pieces of hard candy, were paired with cropped pants and sandals with modular-looking block heels.
A delicate, peach-colored, laser-punched neoprene skirt and top resembled New Age lace, and a yellow-and-green knit sweater and skirt with raised dots brought to mind bubble wrap. The outer layers of parkas and jumpsuits peeled away to reveal text fragments such as "atomic park" and "really ordinary," making the models into sign boards.

Balman-pfwBackstage, the designer said he was inspired by an Irving Penn photograph of a model wearing a paper skirt, as well as by the work of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. The French artist's recent installation at New York's DIA at the Hispanic Society featured dioramas of natural landscapes strewn with books, which art critics described as a comment on the transporting power of the printed word, and its fragmentation in the digital age.

(Now that so many runway shows are streaming live on the Internet, designer collections are becoming similarly fragmented bits of information floating through the cyber landscape, old news before they even have a chance to materialize.)

It was a lot to chew on, starting with the idea that runway collections themselves are elaborate packaging for the more lucrative commodities of the fashion business — perfumes and handbags. But no one has more of a gift for wrapping than Ghesquiere, whose boundless vision has transported him from mere clothing designer to contemporary artist. Whether the clothes are actually wearable, that's another story.

Balmain designer Christophe Decarnin knows a thing or two about clever packaging too, with his inflated pricing and more-is-more, sequined-and-studded approach to creating desire.

This season, he tweaked his rock 'n' roll formula ever so slightly, going from the brash, military look of the Michael Jackson 1980s (you may remember MJ wearing Balmain's pagoda-shouldered jacket in "This Is It") to the baroque, romantic 1980s of Prince.

The exaggerated shoulders retreated, making way for a more traditionally shaped suit with gold crystal pinstripes, paired with a gold Lurex bow-front blouse. A black-and-gold sequined mini-dress with swinging gold chain fringe notwithstanding, there were a few looks tame enough for those who aren't regulars on MTV (a velvet brocade pantsuit and leather leggings that zipped at the ankles, for example).

But it feels like the bloom is off Balmainia, especially now that Decarnin's brand of opulence has been so overplayed at Zara and H&M.

Rick-owens-pfw Opulence is not something you would normally associate with Rick Owens, the dark, bedraggled and Goth-inspired designer. Which is probably why the mischief-maker wanted to throw everybody for a loop this season, when the overriding trend has been to pare down and pull back.

So, in one of his finest collections, he did sequins and frills in his own way, as artfully arranged pieces of horn on funnel-neck coats and dresses, and layered folds on the fronts of asymmetrically draped skirts, worn with second-skin leather jackets, geometric patterned stockings and leather gloves ringed with fur.

The look was rough but disciplined -- less an army than a sisterhood of pod-like hooded fur coats.

"After all that severity, I felt it was time to celebrate," he said backstage.

Rick Owens in a sparkly new package.

-- Booth Moore, reporting from Paris

RELATED:

More runway photos: Balenciaga | Balmain | Rick Owens

More reviews from Paris Fashion Week

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Photos from top: Balenciaga, Balmain and Rick Owens runways. All credits: Peter Stigter and Jonas Gustavsson / For The Times

 
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