PARIS — On day two of Paris's frantic three days of haute couture collections, Chanel took the fashion crowd to the skies and highlights included super-sexy, celebrity-filled Armani Prive.
Tuesday's haute couture shows felt more flashy than in previous seasons — perhaps owing to confidence after some fashion houses revealed rising sales figures during last year.
The Giorgio Armani Prive show was a glitzy affair and judging by its profits, it can afford to be: sales rose 50 percent in 2011 despite the sluggish economy.
Sitting on the front row of the Italian designer's show, US Vogue Editor Anna Wintour quipped: "Doesn't couture always buck the trend?"
French mega-brand Chanel would certainly agree, billing its own couture show as the biggest spectacle yet. Inside a reconstructed jumbo jet, guests — including many from Asia — were treated to a showy presentation.
Another of the day's big collections came from Givenchy, direct from the universe of its imaginative designer Riccardo Tisci, who led revellers around a curious and luxurious exhibition-like collection.
Under Tisci, the French brand has also seen success in the past 12 months, reporting year on year profits of 5 percent.
Haute couture is an artisan-based method of making clothes that dates back over 150 years. The garments, shown in collections in Paris twice a year, are bought by a core group of no more than 100 rich women around the world. Creations range in price from €15,000 to over €100,000 for wedding dresses.
It was blue-sky thinking for Karl Lagerfeld, as he treated guests to a jet-set experience in Chanel's spring-summer collection.
The wet Paris morning failed to dampen the mood outside the imperial Grand Palais, as guests waited excitedly to see the inside theme — always a closely-guarded secret. The "Cocos" — as one fashionista called Chanel followers — were led nervously down a space-age passage.
There were gasps as they reached the catwalk: a life-size jumbo-jet reconstructed complete with luggage lockers, walkways and even a Champagne trolley.
On the runway, signature Chanel skirt-suits were given a retro flight attendant makeover with wide bateau collars in pastel colors.
It was as if stiff-suited Karl Lagerfeld had finally decided to relax into the flight as soft, floaty floor-length silhouettes replaced last season's more fitted, shorter and architectural look.
Speaking backstage in the reconstructed cockpit, Lagerfeld said that blue was used because it's an optimistic color.
Revolutionary the show was not, but the Chanel brand is definitely flying steady with reason to be excited about the future. A strong clientele, and robust business mean that like other couture-producing labels, they are bucking the downtrend in a gloomy financial climate.
GIORGIO ARMANI PRIVE
Giorgio Armani proved once again that his Armani Prive collection is one of the sexiest tickets in town.
A noisy media scrum was triggered Tuesday when actresses Cameron Diaz and Jessica Chastain took their seats, delaying the start of the show.
A black-and-green jacquard silk bustier and ample skirt shimmered with a bodice of black micro-sequins. A flared bustier dress teemed with tiny sequins like green snowflakes.
"I love the green look, so stylish and so elegant with the embroiderings," said Chastain, star of "The Help," which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture on Tuesday.
The last of Armani's 44 pieces got whoops from spectators: a stunning but restrictive mermaid dress with flounces embroidered with green degrade crystals. The model-cum-siren struggled to get one foot in front of the other, stumbling at one point.
Apparently no one told her that mermaids aren't supposed to walk.
A strict palette of red, lime green, black and ivory, and fabric in its purest form, met the fashion set for French designer Stephane Rolland's highly-sculptural offering.
Inspired by the work of kinetic artist Michel Deverne, Rolland's rich floor-sweeping gowns were kept ultra-simple to show off the movement of the materials.
Clean silhouettes, combined with sweeping waist appendages and expert draping, were broken up only by the odd shiny breastplate or waistband in gold metal.
But you couldn't help but feel that Rolland fell short of the mark. His aim was crystal clear: displaying the natural beauty of fabrics such as silk jersey, gazar and organza that often are embroidered to death in couture. However, the collection suffered from its simplicity and became a bit repetitive.
For the finale piece Rolland's muse-of-the-day, former supermodel Yasmin Le Bon looked uncomfortable walking in a humongous red silk jersey ball gown with assorted lacquered metal appliques. She had a right to be nervous: weighing in at 50 kilos (110 pounds) and 45 meters (147.5 feet) of fabric at its longest point, the train had to be carried by two assistants.
Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci opened the doors of his cabinet of curiosity on Tuesday, in what was surely the most imaginative fashion presentation in Paris's haute couture week.
Giant art-deco crystal earrings were shown alongside studded leather jackets and 1930s nubuck crocodile skin dresses.
Pieces were presented on mannequins in 18th century showrooms, just like the historic artifacts in the Louvre museum — a stone's throw from the Givenchy salons in central Paris.
The fashion crowd — so used to the frenetic catwalk — relished the opportunity to study the pieces.
It was a Riccardo Tisci of contradictions, mixing up high and low fashion. A black crocodile biker jacket with embellishments sat on top of intricately beaded organza.
A scooped-front jewelled cocktail dress channeled the 1930s, but was mixed with a dark sporty undergarment.
One floor-length dress looked conventional enough, until it was opened to reveal studs all over the inside. It has apparently become the most-wanted piece of the collection.
Wednesday's haute couture shows include collections from Elie Saab, Jean Paul Gaultier and Valentino.