Jean Paul Gaultier is the new designer in the Hermès stableliterally. He showed his debut collection for the ultimate French haute-horsey leather-goods house at the École Militaire cavalry training ground, where the audience sat on bales of hay, under crystal chandeliers. Now, in a serendipitous turn, equestrian just happens to have been trotted out as a trend this fall. So, in a happy case of Gaultier-esque double-think, he barely needed to give Hermès a fashion leg-up to make it sit easily with the season. And because Hermès is haughtily blinkered to "fashion," anyway, this collection was set to keep everyone in the audiencefrom thoroughbred traditionalists to nervy trend-jockeyssmiling.
An elegant top-hatted riding habit opened the show, followed by a couple of suede "jodhpur" skirts that curved into the kneean amusing acknowledgement of the bubble-skirt shape that's been turning up elsewhere. From there, Gaultier played on all the house classicsdiscreet gray cashmere cardigans(with detachable fur collars), the distinctive Hermès orange canvas (as a sporty jacket), navy pea coats (with the proportions chicly exaggerated), and luxe fringed scarves (draped to become coats).
He also made a typically witty JPG transposition by taking the iconic brass hardware of the Hermès handbag and using it as fastenings on a camel toggle coat, as details on gloves and boots, and even as padlocked chokers on leather-trimmed halter dresses. Persuading Lou Doillon to walk in a leather jacket, pants, and riding boots, swishing a crop, was another excellent twist on Hermès culture (because, of course, as the daughter of Jane Birkin, the girlis dynastically related to that iconic bag). Speaking of whichthe Birkin turned up remodelled in an elongated version that is certain to make the legendary Hermès waiting lists even longer.
There were moments in this collection when Gaultier's penchant for perversity made a discreet appearance among the bourgeois classics. For the sharp-eyed, the harness head-straps made a sly reference to the notorious Paris Vogue shoot by Helmut Newton that depicted an unusual deployment of Hermès saddlery in a hotel bedroom. For the most part, though, there was nothing to frighten the horses in this collection. Quality and conservatism won out, which is probably just as it should be, for the time being. How Gaultier sustains the interest over the coming seasons will be something to watch.