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What's the Big Idea?

Designers shift toward oversized silhouettes, with quirky, capricious and appealing looks


PARIS--It is an exquisitely difficult job to advance fashion, please a wide range of tastes and deliver original clothes with lasting impact.

With a significant shift toward full and oversized silhouettes for next spring, women may welcome the freer fit--and not fret about an extra croissant or two.

Though fashion has long been quoting retro references verbatim, the best spring clothes here are looking fresh and distinct, even though they trigger flashbacks. Halfway through the collections, miniskirts, sheer evening dresses and resort-ready looks abound. Holdovers from the '80s such as oversized shirts and tight, high-waisted, cropped pants have invoked despondent sighs, mostly about how quickly fashion cycles return but few comparisons to the economic advantages of the yuppie years. Those blown-up shapes are back because it's simply time for the narrow silhouette to change.

Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton used the balloon as a symbol of the inflated silhouettes he showed on Monday. A dozen huge, round or cartoon-character-shaped balloons printed with the new, multicolor LV logo floated outside the Parc Andre Citroen. They were a nod to the recent balloon installation of his latest guest artist, Takashi Murakami, whom Jacobs invited to tweak the LV logo. Models carrying the new logo bags marched out with the first dozen dresses, each in a color in the new logo. Though a stiff, neoprene coat and a ruffled micro-mini stood away from the body, Jacobs stuck to sleek tight cuts for high-waist pants, striped sweaters and lace dresses. Though at first glance his clothes seem proper and conservative, a second look shows that a prim skirt, a swingy trench coat and a ladies-who-lunch suit were cut from rubber.

At John Galliano's namesake show, models had their hair wrapped over a trio of balloons, a perfect look to accompany his supersized '80s bombers and ruffled hoop skirts. The inflated looks also contrasted with the items that likely will be the big sellers--trim, fitted leather military jackets with a stack of bands that zip off the sleeves. Galliano probably has a whole range of elegant pieces in the multicolor silk prints that he showed as scarves and burkas on the runway. His Sunday show was a dazzling production, if only for the multicultural finale that showered the clothes, the stage and front-row VIPs with colored chalk dust.

True, all the changes coming next season sound quirky, capricious and complicated, but avant-garde designers have embraced the classics to good effect. Clever styling on runways has proven that spring's romantic/utilitarian/exotics will require careful attention to details. Micro-shorts, skinny cropped pants, slim minis and full, knee-length skirts each demand a different kind of shoe or boot, though most here are skyscrapers on soles. Bags large and small, belts wide and narrow and ribbons and scarves in vivid, contrasting tones often give the outfits their panache. The days of tossing a black jacket over black pants are gone, unless you work in a mortuary, or the fashion industry, where it remains a uniform.

Yet legions of those noir-loving fashion pros swooned over Alexander McQueen's colorful show on Saturday. In a large music auditorium on the outskirts of the city, McQueen screened a three-part video that enhanced the show's three fashion acts: medieval shipwreck, ultra-gothic black and vivid ethnic feather prints.

He brilliantly delivered clothes with understandable proportions and inventive personalities. In other hands, a corset vest might seem romantic and innocent, but McQueen's turned edgy with leather belt straps lashed across the front in the shape of a cross. He disguised the utilitarian origins of a cropped, white military jacket under a sprinkling of coin-size silver paillettes. While many have tried and miserably failed to create sexy harem pants or knickers, McQueen succeeded with cascades of silk that gently wrapped the legs and tapered to the knee. His swirling, swinging feather-printed dresses in a rainbow cascade of colors subtly recalled the 1980s, the last time prints were in fashion and the last time clothes seemed to have a distinct, original personality.

The British designer, who will open a store soon in Los Angeles, played up his bad boy image in his show's second act: an all-black gothic escape that was like those horror flicks where teens turn into vampires and zombies. Still, he can't hide that his precision tailoring appeals to women with a wide range of tastes, ages and professions.

If McQueen ever leaves fashion, he should create stage shows with Galliano, who also designs for Christian Dior. Galliano's campy, paratrooper drag queens at Dior with their rhinestoned eyelids, pink glitter lips and lace-applique eyebrows were great distractions from the fact that his catwalk looks won't be recognizable when they're worn on the street.

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