Haute couturethe supreme arena of fashion's artisn't the place where you expect to see great designers trotting out old ideas, unless that is, something fabulously unforeseen comes out of them. That's why Jean Paul Gaultier stumbled this season. He opened with an old equestrian joke (which he's told many times recently in his own collection and at Hermès) and then randomly added a supposedly new device: flashes of neon. (Only that's "old" in its own waya fad that flared and fizzled out in clubs last summer.)
It was a leather framework of saddle epaulets and harnesses strapped over a fur coat that set things off on the wrong foot. It was that, and then not letting the thing go until he had run through all the punning comparisons with cages and corsetry, right up to the bride's whalebone "veil." Like the use of hard-to-love jolts of fluorescent pink and green, the stable and boning references only provided a tiring distraction from the classically amazing pieces the eye really wanted to drink in. Gaultier is an indisputable master of the trench, tux suit, and draped evening gown, and they were all presentthe trench in plissé silk, the tux formed into a trompe l'oeil jumpsuit, the dress brilliant in pea green crepe or cobalt blue jersey. At this stage of his career, these rare accomplishments come so easily to Gaultier that perhaps he underestimates how much people appreciate them. It was a pity he worked so hard to cover them up.