Chanel undersea set awes; McQueen returns to S&M

By Jenny Barchfield

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 4 2011 6:55 p.m. MDT

Models wear creations for French fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac's spring-summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection presented Tuesday, Oct.4, 2011 in Paris.

Francois Mori, Associated Press

PARIS — Before Britain's royal wedding, when the identity of the designer behind the dress Kate Middleton would wear to the alter was still the best-kept secret in the kingdom, some in the fashion world cast doubt on the rumors pointing toward Alexander McQueen, saying the label's aesthetic was too dark for a princess-to-be known for her demure style.

Though McQueen creative director Sarah Burton did end up scoring the plum commission, the label's spring-summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection Tuesday served as a reminder of just how somber the house's look really is. Nip-waisted skirt suits borrowed elements from bondage gear, while stunning pearl and mother-of-pearl covered gowns felt like beautiful straitjackets.

There was nothing constricting about the Valentino collection, where the airy concoctions of organza and lace were as light as a whisper.

Karl Lagerfeld said that with everyone and their mother churning out knockoff Chanel skirt suits in heavy-duty tweed, he'd decided to send out the label's iconic suits in the lightest of high-tech materials.

Lagerfeld bragged that his iridescent sheath dresses, made from Space Age polyester shot with fiberglass and paper — "not that horrible polyester from the seventies" — "weigh literally 3 grams."

Beyond the technical virtuosity of the materials, Chanel impressed with its ever-awesome set. This time, the luxury powerhouse — which has just about the deepest pockets in the industry — transformed the steel-and-glass domed Grand Palais into a pristine seabed, its sand-strewn catwalk dotted with towering clumps of seaweed and coral made from bright white fiberglass.

New beginnings dawned at Paco Rabanne, the iconic sixties label that relaunched its shuttered women's line after a yearslong hiatus, and at Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, where a new owner has resulted in uncharacteristic austerity.

After eight grueling days under the blazing sun of a freak Paris Indian summer that finally broke on Tuesday, the collections come to a much-anticipated end Wednesday, with Prada second line Miu Miu and Elie Saab, the Lebanese designer who's omnipresent on red carpets the world over.

But before breathing a sigh of relief, fashionistas were setting multiple alarms to be sure to make the Louis Vuitton, which is, cruelly, in the 10:00 a.m. time slot.

Unlike pretty much every other show, where a half-an-hour late start is considered on time, Vuitton actually starts at what the rest of the world would consider promptly, and sometimes early, even.

Last season, stragglers made a blind dash for their seats when the lights went down and the music came up two minutes ahead of time. Rumor has it that Vuitton will start a full five minutes early this season.

CHANEL

Like a luminous Venus rising from the sea atop a half-shell, pearl-covered Chanel models in light, liquidy fabrics emerged from a giant sea anemone onto a catwalk transformed into a sprawling undersea kingdom.

There was nothing literal in uber-designer Lagerfeld's take on the ocean theme: None of the clothes were covered in sailor stripes or emblazoned with kitschy red anchors. The collection was more about play of sunlight on the surface of the ocean — shine, reflection, radiance.

"I absolutely wanted to avoid mermaids and things like that," Lagerfeld, sporting a seashell pink shirt and matching tie for the occasion, told reporters in a post-show interview. "I was inspired by the movement of seaweed, its lightness, and by certain fish that have very modern shapes, like sting rays."

Frothy puffs of chiffon clung like sea foam to the hemlines of some of the narrow skirts, and shiny aqua ribbons zigzagged down the white shift dresses like angry waves. A cocktail dress had puffs of slick ribbon embroidery at the sleeves and the hips, like clumps of black seaweed.

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