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The Shock of the Nouveau


PARIS — Only here would a die-hard fashion fan risk life and limb for style. Consider this scene after Stella McCartney's preview of her collection for the house of Chloe.

As hundreds of guests headed downstairs at the Louvre's Decorative Arts' Museum hall, a security guard was in hot pursuit of a dreadlocked, camouflage-wearing, fashion-loving guy who crashed the event.

"S-t-e-l-l-l-l-a," he shrieked at the guard, sounding like Marlon Brando crying out for Kim Hunter in the 1951 flick "A Streetcar Named Desire." The guard and crasher tussled on the steps, shoving, shouting, grabbing at each other's clothes and exchanging a few sloppy swings as departing guests watched--some in horror clutching their purses to their chests, others amused. A few ringside-loving fashion mavens shouted out bets on who would win the fight.

"I've got 50 francs (about $7.50) on G.I. Joe," shouted a woman in English in tight jeans, stilettos, a fur vest and a cigarette dangling from her lips. "Shut up and just keep moving," said her pal. "This could get dangerous."

Of course, it could, honey. So put those Prada pumps in fast gear or stick around. This is full-throttle fashion--groupies, paparazzi and surprises--the Parisian way. And that also means designers are unafraid to take risks--fearless of experimentation and certainly not scared to flaunt their imagination.

In a week of a frenzy of shows, they used shape and form to create a combination of looks that are at once feminine and masculine; wearable and wacky. Their fabric treatments were intricate and fine, resulting in unusual textures, and an occasional flop in execution. They gave clothes additional flourish with eye-popping color and prints. Even black--which is beaucoup popular on runways here and almost exclusive in several collections--has been infused with vitality and verve through finely contoured silhouettes that draw the eye beyond the lull of the somber shade to a garment's fine construction and lines that speak to the very essence of style.

Sometimes, though, a logo overload detracted from a designer's craft. Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel presented a logo-studded collection Thursday. He splashed interlocking Cs on earmuffs, mittens and earrings. In a twist, he scattered CHANEL letters every which way on fabric. But his collection was uptown and chic, with baby-doll dresses adorned with blue, red, yellow, purple and black paillettes. His full, circular coats that he dubbed "the flying Chanels" were plentiful in tweed. Dresses were mostly in sheer black chiffon--ruched, pleated, long, short and shorter--with ribboned bows tied on shoulders. One dress had a paillette-splattered front with a fully pleated and sashed back.

No one puts on a show quite like the madcap guys of French fashion: John Galliano for Christian Dior and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Both produced ebullient and fascinating collections that were all about layering.

At Dior, Galliano sent out a collection that was a trip around the world with cultures colliding on garments from head to toe. Like a puzzle pieced together, a typical outfit consisted of a leather miniskirt over a green sheer tulle dress topped with a green laced corset.

He showed psychedelic printed maps on plastic coats and ponchos, graffiti popped on low-waisted pants and jumpsuits that were accessorized with hip-hop rapper gear such as purses that were shaped like boomboxes. Smiley face T-shirts, a la 1970s and others that screamed "J'adore Dior" seemed perfect for all-night rave parties when teamed with knitted, pointy ski caps, leggings, see-through lace dresses and miniskirts with Japanation prints. Lush mink coats embroidered with flowers were topped off with oversized knitted hats covered by a veil.

Gaultier, who showed his creations at the Carrousel de Louvre, offered deconstructed jackets over lace tops worn with miniskirts over longer chiffon skirts over trousers: clothes for the woman who can't seem to make up her mind or wants to have it all. "I just want for women to have clothes with the freedom to take off whatever they want and still have on whatever they want. It's all about freedom," Gaultier said backstage as fans clamored for his attention. For the Gaultier woman, that also means wearing clothing with removable parts: a jacket, for example, with sleeves attached with clips.

Tom Ford's second collection for Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line was sexy with off-the-shoulder peasant tops, shirred long skirts--some styled after those worn by flamenco dancers--short in front, long on back and frilly. Stretch knit tops and column dresses wrapped beautifully around bodies. Prettiest of all were his princess coats, superbly fitted at the bodice and floor-length like a ball gown. Enjoying the show at the Rodin Museum were actress Isabelle Adjani and Alexander McQueen, who recently sold a majority interest in his own label to the Gucci Group.

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