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An Intriguing March of Mods


PARIS — No invitation, no admittance, no matter what. Those are the rules in the high-stakes game of international high fashion. And when spoken to a journalist at the door who had forgotten his invite, "them's fightin' words."

That's what happened when I arrived at the famed Moulin Rouge for Karl Lagerfeld's signature collection--among the last presentations here this weekend. Being officially registered for fashion week doesn't necessarily give one carte blanche.

So a "Get Smart" plan was hatched. Two other reporters headed in, found a photographer with an "All Access" pass and sent him on a search and rescue mission to find me on the Boulevard de Clichy. After eye contact and a half-block stroll, he slipped me an invitation and--poof--was outta sight.

Call it fashion espionage!

Lagerfeld, I'm sure, would have loved it. His own collection, after all, was a 1960s fashion flashback of those stylish spy girl outfits that could have been worn by Maxwell Smart's paramour, Agent 99: black leather hot pants with thigh-high stiletto boots, swingy short, chevron-patterned dresses, giant houndstooth suits and Carnaby Street hats that looked as if they had been Jiffy-Popped. Lagerfeld's march of the mods played well in a week where several designers yearned for a "youthquake" redux.

John Galliano, of course, followed his own fashion beat with a mix of silhouettes, prints and comic book colors. Models torpedoed onto the runway at the Theatre de l'Empire in fringed, crocheted ponchos and miniskirts, deconstructed military jackets and leather bandeaux worn with leather palazzos. His sheer dresses and skirts over catsuits were a runway disaster. But later he sent out some of the most stunning dresses seen this week: deconstructed and laser-cut floral Edwardian gowns that made you wonder how a dress that seemed as if it had been put through a Veg-O-Matic could look so fabulous.

Peter Speliopoulos for Cerruti presented a minimalist collection staged in the Galerie du Cinema of the Palais de Chaillot, along a curving corridor. The clothes were luxurious and gimmick-free, with cloth-covered buttons often the only decoration on well-tailored, lightweight wool snug suits and knee-length coats. Especially elegant were sexy, short dresses decorated with ribbon that wrapped around the entire garment--nice, not naughty.

Earlier in the week, Gilles Rosier at Kenzo kept alive the spirit of the Japanese designer's knack for mixing prints and layering with a romantic collection that combined gypsy flowered skirts--among the prettiest shown all week--with motorcycle jackets and vests hand-painted with roses.

Thierry Mugler's show, in a tent facing the Eiffel Tower, smoldered with sexiness as models in curvaceous neon-bright double-breasted pantsuits in orange, purple and green paraded with matching drag queen flippy wigs, fingernails, hosiery and bags. His jungle fever prints--panther and leopard--and lion-like manes of yarn and fabric around several suit collars--answered the call of the wild.

Christian Lacroix's collection also exploded with colorful sequined collages on dresses and on kimono-shaped sleeves on fur-fringed coats that were long and short. But his blood-red, trench coat dress adorned with square sequins was the best of show. Other evening fare, such as a quilt-stitched bodice on a gown with red moire striped skirts, looked like leftover fabric thrown together.

As the previews ended Saturday, the crowds--like circus-goers weary of the same acts--were cranky, having endured a nine-day marathon of eight to 13 daily shows. Models looked tired, bored and angry (but they always look like that.) Photographers also reached breaking points, shouting at models to stop or slow down on the runway. The audience, in turn, shushed the photographers as if the clothes were about to speak. In an odd sort of way, the collections here did speak--with vibrancy, retro inventiveness, fun and attitude--leaving New York, London and Milan in the designer dust.

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