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Chanel undersea set awes; McQueen returns to S&M

By Jenny Barchfield

Associated Press

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

Everything was covered with pearls: They stood in for buttons and replaced chain belts, punctuated the models' slick, wet looking hairdos and were stuck onto their ears and backs — in neat rows down their prominent vertebrae.

Ahead of the show, which attracted A-list guests including Uma Thurman, Lagerfeld himself emerged, like Neptune, to survey his underwater kingdom. He hammed it up for the scrum of photographers that immediately materialized around him, pretending to strum a fish-adorned harp as the flashes popped furiously.

Like tourists at the Eiffel Tower, guests posed for snapshots on the set: Two Chinese couples dressed in head-to-toe black — the women in floor-length Chanel evening gowns, the men in tuxes with bow ties for the 10:30 a.m. show — contrasted smartly with the backdrop of gleaming white coral.

A border terrier named Frickey in an Yves Saint Laurent leopard print collar ran in excited loops around the set, sniffing at the mammoth fiberglass seashells. Thankfully, he was well-trained and didn't dare mark his territory.

ALEXANDER McQUEEN

The ivory silk wedding dress that Kate Middleton chose for her date with history was, of course, Alexander McQueen, but it was hard to imagine the demure now-Duchess of Cambridge sporting the S&M-infused black teddy, the head-enveloping lace-and-leather face masks or any of the other extreme looks that came down the label's runway Tuesday.

The house was built on just such harsh beauty, but following the Feb. 2010 suicide of its namesake and founder, it appeared as if his successor would steer the label in a softer, more consensual direction. For her debut as creative director one year ago, Burton delivered a collection that loosened the screws on McQueen's punishingly nipped waists and smoothed out some of his harshest angles.

And then there was the dress, the wedding down that saw Middleton transformed from commoner into royalty — the single most coveted commission in recent fashion history. Kept under the strictest of wraps up until Middleton alighted at Westminster Abbey on April 29 — before some 2 billion spectators worldwide — the simple-lined, long sleeve concoction became an instant legend and unleashed a bridal wave of copycats.

But the Duchess of Cambridge has notoriously low-key style, and trying to imagine her in anything from the spring-summer collection was absurd. After all, what would she do with her luscious locks — not to mention her face — in one of those lacy pantyhose head masks that topped off all the looks? (Covered in pearls or sporting a metal beard made out of what appeared to be straight pins, they were the world's chicest and most twisted Mexican lucha libre masks).

With Tuesday's collection, Burton's third as creative director, she tightened the screws again. Suits with flippy skirts and shrunken jackets were cinched at the waist with oversized belts with kinky lace-up detailing. Evening gowns entirely covered in pearls or mother-or pearl scales were ravishing, but looked about as conformable as straitjackets.

The show elicited among the most positive reactions of any of the Paris collections, and Burton looked almost embarrassed by all the hubbub as she ducked onstage for a bow.

VALENTINO

Valentino's concoctions of lace and tulle had all the delicate transparency of exotic jellyfish, their luminous membranes pulsating gently in deep-sea depths.

For spring-summer, the design duo that has remade the Italian label in its feather-light image following the retirement of founder Valentino Garavani continued to refine their now-signature airy looks, sending out a collection of see-through dresses in lace, tulle and organza.

Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli delivered chemisier dresses embellished with dramatic flame-shaped panels of lace, A-line bustier dresses like frothy millefeuilles of chiffon and organza and the simplest of ankle-length gowns, with a slight seventies vibe.

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