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Sumptuous Lanvin gives women what they want

The Associated Press, Friday, October 2, 2009, 1:55pm (PDT)

PARIS (AP) -- While the ever-challenging Maison Martin Margiela dared women to covet a dress made from leather Village People chaps or a jacket modeled off an airplane floatation device, Lanvin gave the ladies what they really want, delivering a sublime collection of asymmetrical cocktail dresses as Paris' spring-summer 2010 ready-to-wear displays moved into day three on Friday.

At Christian Dior, ever-inspired designer John Galliano served up yet another variation on the luxury giant's trademark Bar jacket, this time morphing the private detective's battered trench coat into an elegantly cinched jacket.

Madcap British designer Vivienne Westwood sounded the alarm on climate change with a collection that looked like it had been rescued from the flames of a burning 18th century French chateau. (The models gravity-defying beehive 'dos, however, weren't that lucky).

Japan's innovative Issey Miyake label mixed it up with a colorful collection of prints culled from four continents.

Still, it was Lanvin that stole the show on Friday, with a sumptuous collection that had the woman in audience of the giant hall lusting after each and every piece, from the richly draped dresses to the bead-heavy coveralls.

Paris' nine-day-long pret-a-porter shows enter day four on Saturday, with shows by France's one-time enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier and Spanish luxury label Loewe.

CHRISTIAN DIOR

Galliano looked to film noir for inspiration for a collection heavy on lingerie and long, lean 1940s gowns given a sexy edge by translucent paneling.

Satin slips and little lace-edged shorties were the collection's foundation, (no pun intended): Models with fire-engine-red lips wore nude and black bustiers over tiny satin slips. One model, in sky-high platforms and Lurex socks, showed off a wrap dress that looked like it had been Lauren Bacall's dressing gown in a previous life.

The gowns that closed the show — slinky satin numbers in shocking pink, orange and purple — amped up the screen siren factor. One standout was an ankle-length gown in supple red satin from the waist down and matching sheer tulle through the bust.

And once again, Galliano proved that after more than a decade the helm of Dior, he can still dream up new variations on Mr. Dior's famed Bar jacket: Enter this season's hard-boiled Bar trench, the sophisticated, waspwaisted cousin of the Sam Spade staple.

"I think (the collection) brings lots of new creativity while respecting the codes of the house," said Dior CEO Sidney Toledano in a backstage interview, adding that Galliano's way of tweaking the old staples into something new "is an equation that should work," commercially.

And because it was Dior, accessories — a major cash-cow for the luxury group — featured prominently in the show.

Though they were wearing but the slightest of slips, many models carried structured briefcase totes that meant serious business. And in keeping with the collection's hard-boiled theme, little metal guns dangled from the bags' handles.

Galliano, dressed in a dashing trench like an utra-chic Dasheill Hammett character, closed the show with his trademark puff-chested strut, disappearing into a thick film noir fog.

LANVIN

It's not any old fashion show that can wipe all trace of worry about the economy from the minds of a pack of frazzled fashion editors preoccupied with the falloff in advertising dollars. But had anyone uttered to word "recession" during the Lanvin show, the transfixed crowd would have almost certainly replied, "What recession?"

Designer Alber Elbaz's collection was all sumptuous fabrics, perfect buttery draping, heavy gold beading and enough luxurious details to wipe away any other thought.

It seems wrong in times of economic woe to say that such a rich collection could fit the spirit of the moment. But Lanvin's show, which faintly dripped opulence, did just that.

Each look, from the asymmetrical silk cocktail dresses to the buttery silk skirt suits to the impeccably draped coveralls was undeniably what women want now.

Standout looks from the outstanding show included a lipstick red cocktail dress with an oversized standup ruffle that snaked around the neckline, across the back and over the hip; a gold beaded pantsuit and metallic sweater; the perfect single-sleeved little black dress. Need I say more?

MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA

Crumpled paper dresses. An evening gown made from Hells' Angels motorcycle chaps. Jackets that look like the floatation devices beneath the plane seats that you hope you'll never have occasion to use.

Such were the challenging designs on offer at Maison Martin Margiela, a Belgian label known for pushing fashion's envelope and ushering in new trends seasons before everyone else gets on the bandwagon.

Margiela himself is all the more intriguing for refusing to give interviews and never appearing in public.

Some of the outfits — like the first in the series of chap-based dresses — prompted baffled looks from superstar Rihanna, a regular front-row guest at Paris' spring-summer 2010 ready-to-wear shows this week. But her fellow A-lister, R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, wasn't thrown by even wackiest looks of the lot.

"I love anything that comes out of the house of Margiela," said Stipe in a post-show interview. "This is about art, really. ... It's meant to be challenging."

The show started with short, shapeless dresses in what looked to be crumpled white paper, then moved into a sort of one-piece swimsuit in kitschy tropical prints that could have been peeled off the advertisements for cheap holiday getaways that dot the Paris Metro.

Then came the thigh-high boots so clunky they made the models look as if they had two broken legs and the dresses that appeared to be inspired by lifejackets, with towering shoulders that reached ear-high.

Ever the fan of elusive Margiela, Michael Stipe pointed to such innovations as evidence of the designer's boundary-pushing greatness.

"They brought back the giant shoulder, and you see where that puts us now," said Stipe.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD

Westwood's models looked like 18th century French countesses escaping a fire at the chateau. Wearing outfits that could have been made from a pair of drapes hastily snatched from the windows, and with their enormous beehive hairdos sprayed yellow and red at their teased tips as if they were being licked by the flames, Westwood's models looked lucky to save themselves.

The chateau, we were meant to understand, is planet earth and the fire, climate change.

The spring-summer 2010 ready-to-wear collection is "about running fast because we have to act very quickly to slow down (climate change) and change our ethics and save this planet," Westwood told The Associated Press in a backstage interview before the show, which was held in an 18th century mansion in central Paris.

The reference to global warming was a bit oblique — after all, wildly wrapped dresses worn over flower printed tights don't necessarily scream 'ecological disaster' — but a few pieces drove the point home nicely: A cute summer dress with crayon-scrawled clocks were a colorful reminder of the urgent need for action, as were bags printed to 5 degrees, a reference to the expected rise in temperatures.

Westwood, an eccentric British designer known for her madcap punk tendencies, exercised her appetite for destruction with this collection: Nearly all the looks were distressed, with raw hems and strategic slashes.

Models, in whiteface with wildly smeared red lips, wandered to corridors of the mansion to a baroque operatic soundtrack, as if shellshocked from the blaze they manage to escape.

Rihanna, who shared her front row perch with "90210" star Jessica Stroup, hailed Westwood's collection as "lots of fun."

ISSEY MIYAKE

Models in watercolor print leggings and lightweight shirts shaped like kites traced a dizzying ballet of concentric circles on the extra-wide catwalk.

In the collection notes, designer Dai Fujiwara explained he had culled patterns from around the world and mixed them up, giving, for example, a Celtic print a bright tropical punch.

The result was a fun, upbeat collection of heat-beating summer wear.

Long jackets made from straw-colored ribbon that looked like woven baskets were worn over rauched leggings in fluorescent shades. Light summer dresses in the pretty blue flower patterns of Turkish tiles fluttered gently as the girls turned in ambling circles.

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