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'Fashion Is a Game We Play'

The way women dress up is 'our little theater,' says Isabella Rossellini, who'll co-host TV special on fall Paris collections.

July 23, 1999|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITER

The super rich shop with a different sensibility. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Paris this week, where designers wooed those women among the 3,000 worldwide, who can afford their luxurious--and expensive--fall couture collections. Opulence and indulgence reigned on and off the runways.

The arcane world of haute couture, where garments are carefully, intricately and lovingly handcrafted, will be opened to the public again this year thanks to television.

The fall collections of 25 designers, including Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, shown this week in Paris, will be featured in ABC's special "Paris Fashion Collections," scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Thursday.

The program, hosted by actress Isabella Rossellini and Vogue magazine's editor at large, Andre Leon Talley, also will take viewers behind the scenes and through the evolution of couture and fashion over the last century.

"When you wear a haute couture gown it is perfect because it's the gown that has to fit you, you don't have to fit the gown," Rossellini says. She wore a couture gown once for the launch of Tresor, a fragrance she helped develop for Lancome when she was the cosmetics company's spokesmodel.

Rossellini hosted last year's ABC special "The World Fashion Premiere From Paris" with actress Anne Archer. She discussed fashion by phone from her home in New York.

Question: So you're back again this year.

Answer: I was very happy when the show's producers contacted me to host again. I always thought that this would be such a fantastic opportunity for a television show because it's so visual, like news. We'll be bringing haute couture to everybody.

Q: And you'll be doing it with Vogue's Andre Leon Talley.

A: He's a very colorful person and very knowledgeable about fashion. I remember Andre literally crying at a Yohji Yamamoto show in Paris. He was completely moved. Yohji's show was stunning, and the designer deserved being admired. But Andre was sobbing and I thought, "Well, this is passion." I respected Andre for showing that kind of emotion. I mean it amused me, too, but I thought, "You know, Andre sees the creativeness and the effort that goes into fashion."

Q: What will viewers see when they tune in to your show?

A: They'll see that fashion shows are not just a presentation of clothes; they're theatrical. It's an interesting kind of theater because it's abstract, almost avant-garde. There really is no story, no narration, just theater.

Q: Expensive theater. For many, the clothes that people see on the show will be out of their reach. Who can afford a $50,000 gown?

A: When you find out that such a garment costs thousands of dollars, the answer is no one can afford that. So that's the end of that, but I encourage people to look at the show as a performing art, as a visual art, as the art of fashion, as the old art of the artisans in the fashion world of haute couture. Haute couture is where fashion starts and then gets reinterpreted for the mainstream. Fashion is a game we play.

Q: What do you mean?

A: At home, fashion is individual theater. The way we dress up or the way women use makeup, that's our little theater on ourselves, a moment where we say, "I'm a star." We play the fashion game in the privacy of our bathroom. Even sometimes wearing lipstick or putting on high heels is like becoming someone else. It's a fun game to play, and it should be kept as a game. You don't have to play if you don't want to, but if you play, you'll learn that fashion is an expression of your tastes and a reflection of what you like for yourself. Everybody in fashion knows that it is a form of entertainment, like the circus. And that's part of the game.

Q: What have you learned from haute couture, the designers and their work?

A: Designers are artisans, and their work is a form of art that has been really threatened by our modern world. It's still very valuable what they've done, and they've done it for centuries, so I'm glad that the French have protected haute couture because protecting it doesn't mean to protect someone like Karl Lagerfeld, who will always find a job. It's about protecting the embroiderer and the art of embroidery to make a gown by hand and all that goes into it, from sequins to beads to feather work. I think it's fantastic that there is a sense of tradition that carries with it this kind of knowledge so that the embroiderer will not be forgotten.

Q: I visited Francois Lesage, probably the world's most famous embroiderer, in Paris a few months ago and saw the handiwork there. His place is a laboratory, a place for experimenting with creativity.

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