PARIS — With only one day to go, the final furlong of Paris' roller coaster nine-day long fashion week has produced strong and fantastical ready-to-wear offerings from the houses of Alexander McQueen and Chanel.
Inspiration for the collections spanned the terrain, and beyond — from a cosmic ice palace to the organic depths of the earth.
Sarah Burton further consolidated her position as one of the most imaginative designers working in the French capital, with a weightless flight through texture and feather in the bold spirit of house founder Alexander McQueen.
Meanwhile, Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel designer with a penchant for spectacle, colonized Paris' turn-of-the-century Grand Palais with an installation of hundreds of mock crystals up to 7 meters (23 feet) long. But behind the aesthetic, it's clear the designer knows on which side his bread is buttered with a front row sprinkled with potential clients from Asia, a growing source of business for the iconic brand.
Nearly upstaging the clothes was news that Yves Saint Laurent has chosen a new creative director to replace Stefano Pilati, who gave his swan-song collection for the house Monday.
A source who attended a YSL staff meeting told The Associated Press that employees were told that Hedi Slimane, the former Dior Homme designer, has been appointed to head the creative side of the prestigious French house. The source was not authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.
An official announcement was expected shortly. Word of Slimane's arrival ends months of speculation over the creative direction of the house.
Karl Lagerfeld turned Paris' Grand Palais into a cold, crystal fortress for a wrapped-up, layered fall-winter collection that channeled the space-age sheen of the 1980s.
The show invoked an other-worldliness reminiscent of the 1980 movie "Superman II," in which Christopher Reeve flew to an Arctic palace.
Lagerfeld certainly displayed his superhuman eye for detail. Tectonic shiny appliques gave gray woolen coats a textural friction, while geometric A-line coat dresses had the feel of gems quarried from deep within the earth. One long, flowing dress in purple even drew gasps as the model disappeared into a matching amethyst backdrop.
The collection, one of the most layer-heavy this season, was a play on volume with skirts on top of trousers and thick coiled scarves, reminiscent of the 1980s New Romantics.
"Paris is about layers, so I didn't use any fur," said Lagerfeld, standing next to a crystal shard in cold gray.
The wonderment was tangible at Sarah Burton's accomplished and vibrantly colored ready-to-wear show for Alexander McQueen. Feather explosions that ballooned in three dimensions spelled awe for spectators.
The inspiration for fall-winter was said to be the "rippling underbellies of mushrooms," but like the house's spring collection it looked more like a coral reef.
The teeming feel to the fibers blown by the movement of walking models painted a scene of anemones and medusas in a sea-palette of ice white, soft blue and crimson. The peplum of one blush pink dress, with a metal pincer belt, recalled the layers of a jellyfish, and the tooth of an octopus. At several points the audience gasped.
"It was exhilarating," said Hal Rubenstein, InStyle magazine fashion director. "With talent like Sarah's you just sit back and relish the sense of fantasy. No one else has it."
Horse hooves — feathered platforms without heels — and visors reminiscent of horse blinders added danger to the visual repertoire. A voluminous black trapeze coat in Mongolian hair had the heavy, almost muscular feel of a cantering horse, with a large equine bustle that moved from side to side.
With silhouettes changing shape from every angle and bold ideas, it was by far the best example this season of a designer at the top of her game. It also was a show carried out in the spirit of McQueen, who committed suicide two years ago.
In a house as classic as Valentino, there is little room for the revolutionary, a point made clear in a sober ready-to-wear.
Designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli described an "imaginative journey" that "explored different iconographies" but the program notes better captured the mood: They cited the show's "dominating sense of control."
Structured silhouettes in deep red, black and midnight blue had tight, sophisticated smocking and the painstaking embroidery seen in January's highly artisanal couture.
High and scooped collars on long coats and knee-length dresses were expressed in thick black leather. Frog fastenings closing straight, slim coats, tone-on-tone trim running along precisely cut bodices and tapered menswear trousers emphasized the constructed look.
It was finely executed, but at times had flashes of the stern headmistress, albeit at an extremely glamorous school.
To be sure, there were traces of the designers' worldly travels: tunics with fabrics that smacked of a Balkan patterning that playfully moved to white touches of Jackie Kennedy — who was famously dressed by founder Valentino Garavani.
Paco Rabanne put a spin on the house archives in his fall-winter ready-to-wear collection that included variations on the 1960s Do-It-Yourself Rhodoid dress.
Manish Arora, in his second effort as the creative director, succeeded in capturing an essence of the founder, who first cut his teeth in jewelry design, in a sparkling array of signature waistless cocktail dresses.
Sometimes the designer hit the right button, invoking Brigitte Bardot's mini-metallic dress made in 1969. Its squareness and the play between the mail and contradictory lightness made it feel very now. But other references looked slightly off-balance.
One jumpsuit in metal pieces revamped an outfit for singer Francoise Hardy 40 years ago, and was — so said the program notes — "reborn." However, the low-slung and heavy baggy pants produced a formless silhouette that even made the 6-foot (1.8-meter) blond siren wearing it look clunky.
On Wednesday, the ninth and last day of Paris' biannual ready-to-wear calendar, collections include Louis Vuitton and Elie Saab.
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