High Fashion Hijinx: Margiela & Rykiel Anniversary Collections Inject Humor Into Paris S/S 09

What separates Paris from the other Fashion Weeks? Well, in addition to the City of Lights’ rich sartorial legacy and the fact that the industry’s most iconic, directional, and envelope-pushing luxury houses present there, for Spring 2009, it is also the most likely location to catch a glimpse of the lighter, wittier side of fashion (and unlike in London, the humor is intentional). Notable cases in point include legendary left-of-center designers who have achieved two of Paris’s greatest legacies: this week, Maison Martin Margiela and Sonia Rykiel presented twistedly joyous commemorative collections; both were heavy on tongue-in-cheek and ironic connotations. Now who says fashion people take themselves too seriously?

At Maison Martin Margiela‘s weird and wonderful 20th anniversary celebration, a bizarre parade of classically unidentifiable misfits donned garments reflective of the Belgian iconoclast’s most influential designs over the years. In addition to cameos from MMM’s jarringly prophetic legacy pieces (Remember the iconic white lab coat, the AIDS t-shirt, the paper-shredded frocks, and the peaked shoulder blazers of a few seasons ago? All present and accounted for), there were many ensembles whose main purpose was to tickle the funny bone. Wigs – one of Margielas favorite props – not only appeared on models’ heads (often faceforward, mind you), they appeared as epaulettes on jackets before evolving into entire garments of their own. Other offkey, comedic highlights included representations of a human “jewelry box”, spotlighted “legs” and “lips” on otherwise obscured figures, and silliest of all, the gigantic “cake” finale.

No less provocative than his best collections, this irreverant “look back” at the MMM legacy not only reaffirmed the magnitude of this enigmatic visionary’s aesthetic legacy, it provided delightful, surprisingly lightweight entertainment value. We hope the escalating rumors of Margiela’s retirement prove to be false. Can anyone else rival the prescience and conceptual prowess of the mystery man who turned avant-garde fashion on its head?

Sonia Rykiel may not be fashion’s premiere intellectual innovator, but as France’s doyenne of cheeky, sometimes creepy flair, she presaged later fringe favorites such as Vivienne Westwood and Betsey Johnson. The so-called “Queen of Knits” has infused her own vibrant brand of stylish oddity into pantheon of Parisian chic, and has attracted a fiercely loyal following over the years. Suitably, Rykiel celebrated her 40th anniversary this week with a wildly hedonistic and eccentric party that showcased both the past and present achievements of the arbitress of kooky cool. Spring 2009 for Sonia is all about easy, sleazy 70’s chic: a Gallic take on the Disco era propagated lsequined berets, plenty of polka dots, glitz, and girlish accents, slouchy menswear-inspired separates, and wide rang of the line’s token party dresses – naturally, more Chez Regine than Studio 54.

The real fun began when models rushed forward in classic Rykiel pieces during the second part of the show. As is a gleeful trademark of many of Sonia’s shows, a showering of roses and champagne and dancing – both on and off the catwalk – inaugurated the spontaneity and mischievious spirit that followed. But the best was the still yet to come! The third(!) and final parade of looks featured Sonia-inspired one-of-a-kind tributes from 30 designers, ranging from Rodarte to Alber Elbaz to our favorite enfant terrible, Margiela. The latter’s fur chubby mimicked Rykiel’s infamously red, frizzy hair while Jean Paul Gaultier crafted a knit dress featured crochet needles and all. Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters, meanwhile, contributed an uncharacteristically basic Obama-themed twin set. For ridiculously fun shock value, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s Sonia Face dress probably wins, with Kim Noorda’s flamboyant Sonia makeover – courtesy of Christian Lacroix – a very close contender.

Best of all, though, was for once seeing the models having a blast, laughing, singing, and spirits running wild. Sometimes even high-fashion girls (and boys) just want to have fun.

Images courtesy of WWD.