PARIS — Twenty-three blocks of ice, each almost five feet tall, enclosed perfectly preserved gardens of flowers at the peak of their color and bloom on the second floor of a long, cavernous warehouse space at a grungy edge of the Eighth Arrondissement of Paris, just beyond the railway tracks of the Gare St.-Lazare, like a three-dimensional gallery of Dutch flower paintings. Then the melting — and the Dries Van Noten show — began. Everyone watching knew that all that frozen beauty would inevitably end in puddles in the floor. Disney came to mind. Also Robert Frost.
“Nothing gold can stay” is sort of the refrain of the moment in Paris, for obvious reasons, and during fashion week the metaphors were in full swing. Change and transformation (and decline) is inevitable. The question is how you handle it.
Fashion, at least, is trying to figure out the answer. Looking backward and forward and sideways for some new ideas. Welcoming outsiders in. Hint, hint.
Rihanna came to Paris, and no one blinked. This is a new thing. Five years ago Kanye West arrived with much-touted dreams of high style and a collection very different from his Adidas collection, only to be greeted with suspicion and disdain — and that was before he showed any clothes (he lasted two seasons before retreating, and took back with him a fashion world persecution complex).
But there she was, on the second season of her Fenty x Puma line, and she wasn’t just in Paris: She was in the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, the 19th-century mansion that has been home to the shows of classic couture brands such as Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent, and François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, which owns Puma as well as Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, was in the front row. Rihanna has been very good for business, Mr. Pinault said as he settled in to watch what she called, backstage before the show, the garments “Marie Antoinette would wear if she was going to the gym” instead of, you know, pretending to be a shepherdess.
Although a more accurate way to put it might be: “A gender-fluid version of what Rihanna would wear if she was playing at being Marie Antoinette going to the gym,” with a dose of Gucci influence on top.
There were ruffled nylon babydoll windbreakers and sweeping floor-length parkas with silk chinoiserie hoods; pink silk floral boiler suits with tightly shoe-laced corsets underneath. Lingerie played a role, so did hot pants and so did sweatpants, all of it in shades of powder pink and lilac and ivory and army green, all of it accessorized to the hilt with ropes of pearls, lace do-rags, backpacks ruffled like petticoats, baseball caps with net veils complete with little leaping pumas, giant platform hi-tops, and a fanny pack made in the shape of a big pink bow.
Sure, it was silly, but it was also fun, in part because under all the frills and frou frou it was about standard streetwear basics, reworked in luxed-up fabrics; in part because Rihanna just seemed so excited to be there, instead of wildly defensive; and in part because even though fashion has been filching from the sports complex for a while now, it didn’t look as if she had just shopped her closet (i.e., copied what was already in there), but tried to come up with a fresh hybrid. It’s not going to change fashion, but it might change SoulCycle. And in its own way, it fit in with the more general conversation.
With, for example, Paco Rabanne, where Julien Dossena layered bike shorts under ankle-length chain mail skirts; hung plastic crystal mesh slip dresses over message tees; and buckled hooded harnesses atop anoraks.
And even with Chloé, where Clare Waight Keller streamlined her usual boho silhouette, juxtaposing it against the “French classicism” of marinière stripes on OshKosh B’Gosh overalls cropped culotte-length, precise shoulders giving way to balloon sleeves and small waists to blouson trousers, cinched in at the ankle. They had a corsair élan missing from the pleated babydoll tiers and off-the-shoulder smocks in ’70s floral couch prints. “I though it was time to change the spirit,” she shrugged.
For an example of why that is necessary, consider Rochas, where Alessandro Dell’Acqua riffed on one note — pleated and ruched chiffon tea dresses in layers of sugary shades — for a collection too sweet to be satisfying. It needed some salt, or some pepper.
At the very least a vegan truffle or two. This is not a time that anyone can pretend is about a single kind of taste (maybe that explains the many straps and strings to hold the sliced and skewed tailoring together at Ann Demeulemeester). To do so is a recipe for limited appeal.
Which is perhaps why Dries Van Noten didn’t even try. Among the ice cubes dripping water into rivulets on the floor (they had been created by the Japanese artist Azuma Makoto) wove women in raw linen shorts and smocks splashed with abstract geraniums; elaborate brocade poet’s shirts and jet beaded trench coats; tulle-veiled pencil skirts; and sweatshirts planted with paillettes.
Mr. Van Noten said he was thinking about “opposites” — the high and low, courtly dress and denim, kimono silks and Victorian decoration — and the result was both deeply nostalgic, and entirely contemporary. In that tension, we all live. And, maybe, dress.