Balmain show sparkles, Ukraine designer evokes life at home

A model wears a creation as part of the Lilia Litkovska Fall/Winter 2023-2024 ready-to-wear collection presented Wednesday, March 1, 2023 in Paris. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

PARIS (AP) — Balmain’s pearls and crystals dazzled Paris Fashion Week Wednesday in its stylish ode to the ’80’s. Meanwhile, geopolitical activism met tuxedo jackets when one vocal Ukrainian designer put on a show paying homage to her country and team of over 20 people currently working in Kyiv.

Here are some highlights of Wednesday’s fall-winter 2023-2024 ready-to-wear collections:

UKRAINE’S LITKOVSKA GOES “ON AIR”

“From the war zone with peace,” read the ticker outside Paris’ Grand Rex cinema, a model of New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Inside, guests gathered in the Art Deco auditorium for a show by Ukrainian designer Lila Litkovska that continued with a radio theme.

Titled “On air,” it was a metaphor for the unpredictable way life in Ukraine is unfolding by the minute. The soundtrack of the ready-to-wear show flicked between radio stations, in constant interruption. Litkovska’s collection reflected this sense of haphazardness by mixing up styles in a generally loose and oversized display.

There were the more commercial looks, such as a black tuxedo coat worn over a floppy black slit skirt and sneakers, alongside more abstract plays in shape, like a black coat wrapped on the midriff with long sleeves to create an intentionally off-kilter silhouette.

Simple menswear suits were the nicest in what was ultimately a low-key show, with long sashes from the silken undergarments fluttering elegantly behind like a train.

But it was not just about fashion. A video link beside the runway showed a live shot of Litkovska’s team in Ukraine’s capital.

UKRAINE’S FASHION ACTIVISM

Litkovska fled to Paris with her 2-year-old daughter when Russian missiles started pounding Kyiv in February 2022. But the bright-eyed and optimistic designer, who launched her eponymous brand 14 years ago and shows at Paris Fashion Week, pressed on creating her “made in Ukraine” designs by relocating studios to a safer location within the country.

“In the first week of the Russian invasion, we relocated to Lviv in the west of Ukraine. But we came back (to Kyiv) at the beginning of summer with our productions and with everyone there,” she told The Associated Press.

Litkovska said that now “it’s the same factory the same office, the same team,” as before the war and she has even “extended (the size of) our team during the first year of the war because our orders are up.”

By organizing activist fashion events with other Ukrainian designers over the last year, including pop ups in Paris, Berlin, Munich and Milan, she has raised about 50,000 euros ($53,000) that has gone toward buying medicine, as well as to supporting Kyiv’s biggest children’s hospital and the armed forces. She asked for 30% of profits to go to Ukraine.

“It’s an amazing process,” she said, describing how one of her initiatives involved selling little angels.

The fashion community is key to raising awareness — and money — for the war effort as it “has a big following, millions and millions, and they can attract their audience for what’s going on,” Litkovska said.

BALMAIN’S ’80s SPARKLE

VIPs such as Jessica Alba negotiated screaming crowds outside Le Carreau du Temple to enter Balmain’s world of calm, wafting perfume and champagne-serving waiters.

This fall, Olivier Rousteing channeled his disco ball realness for an infectious collection — featuring all-pearl shades, iridescent archive bell-skirt dresses and blinding crystal-embellished jackets that unfurled like flowers.

The designer said he was inspired by the “New French Style,” attributed to house founder Pierre Balmain, with the collection’s glamorous post-war styles, flying saucer hats, nipped waists and bell silhouettes.

The collection was also just an excuse to sparkle. Bold 1980s looks stunned guests — including kinky black sheeny gowns, giant textured jackets made solely of pearl, and huge cranberry knife pleats that shot out from a skirt.

There were screams when the designer came out to receive applause.

DRIES VAN NOTEN, GENDER BENDER

The Belgian master of contradictions subverted the feminine with menswear for his fall collection, breaking it up with lashings of flowers and flashes of gold. They were touches that gave the sumptuous collection both softness and edge.

Soft silk trim peaked out of the hems of a charcoal pinstripe men’s suit jacket, while another pinstripe style — this time double breasted — was worn atop a silk printed foulard skirt that hung on the bias. Subtlety was the name of the game.

Even glam rock elements, such as a gold leather coat, were handled carefully. The coat had a vintage feel with little wrinkles and was worn on a bare chest.

UNDERCOVER MAKES CONTRASTS

Jun Takahashi, founder and designer of the Japanese streetwear-infused brand Undercover, once cited British designer Vivienne Westwood, who died in December, as an inspiration.

Whiffs of Westwood’s signature punk were in the air as Takahashi displayed a funky collection with eccentric flourishes and contrasts galore.

Sheeny gray bubble material became a parachute-like shawl with contrasting bib that looked regal. It was worn over Formula One-style wader boots and a black and white racing check motif at the crotch.

This high versus low musing continued in a frayed bomber jacket made of posh tweed and kinky boots in bright violet. Sartorial suits came in acid tones.

Gloves on one hand, and a hand motif on pants that seemed to want to creep spookily up the leg added this season’s must-have gimmick.

LAGERFELD BOOK

Fashion insiders gathered by the Musee d’Orsay to celebrate a new book about former Chanel front man Karl Lagerfeld, whose death in 2019 at age 85 still leaves a shadow over Paris Fashion Week.

To mark the global launch of “Paradise Now: The Extraordinary Life of Karl Lagerfeld,” author William Middleton conversed with magazine editor Elizabeth von Guttman about the genesis of the book.

Middleton said his biography talked about the German-born couturier’s business acumen — beyond his design artistry.

“When Karl joined Chanel in January 1983, the house was on the verge of bankruptcy,” Middleton told AP. “When he died, it was a $11 billion powerhouse. That was Karl’s business sense, of course, but it was also his strength as a designer.”

Champagne-clinking VIP guests discussed the enduring legacy of the man, whose decades-long stewardship of both Fendi and Chanel made him one of the late 20th century’s most influential designers.

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