As a small but intense addendum to the season, what's going on at Vionnet deserves recognition. The name has been revived in a very rarefied, technically accomplished way by Sophia Kokosalaki, who was hired by the French owners of the dormant brand last season, in arrangement with Barneys New York, who are, for the moment, the sole stockists. "It has to be French, formal, and pure," Kokosalaki said. "I avoid festoonery and anything to do with cool Britannia, which I can do in my own line." Following in the footsteps of Madeleine Vionnet, who laid down the fundamentals of twentieth-century dressmaking, is a daunting task, but Kokosalaki has taken it on in a way that shines a subtle sidelight on fashion's pent-up desire for simple-seeming but ultrarefined minimalism.
Sophia herself likes trenchcoats and dresses, and that's what she showed in her low-key, appointment-only presentation. It gave a close-up of some exceptional things. There was a pliant brown shearling coat with a small waist and a soft, undulating bounce in the skirt, one of the best of its kind seen all season. The draped, twisted, and knotted evening dresses, especially the one in silver silk lamé, gave a quietly impactful alternative for women who prefer to pass under the radar of red carpet branding. Integral here is the manipulation of superluxe fabrics to trick the eye: patinated silk that looks like leather, textured cloque that could be astrakhan, and minute dustings of pearl Lesage embroidery (taken from an original Vionnet sample) that, as Kokosalaki puts it, "make it look as if you've been snowed on."
The fact that the designer has taken lessons from the authority on Vionnet's complex cutting techniques is part of the magic, though she's intelligent enough to see that it isn't about being slavishly referential. In this collection, Kokosalaki worked on Vionnet's "barrel" shape rather than bias cutting. It produced, for example, a square-cut coat with a collar that can fold into place, or be left loose to create a standout shoulder line, according to whim or weather. The price tags are some of the highest in ready-to-wear, but so far the cost is proving no deterrent. Within three weeks, the spring delivery of Vionnet's little-publicized first collection had sold out, an indication that Kokosalaki's woman-flattering approach is very much on the right track.