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With a flourish

Paris offers a touch of romance, a whole lot of glamour.

October 14, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Paris — Paris

Beauty abounds in this remarkable place where, for the first few minutes of every evening hour, the white lights outlining the Eiffel Tower twinkle like champagne bubbles. Thanks to the new lighting system inaugurated in June, it is impossible to take your eyes off the jewel of the skyline. One imagines Paris fashion designers asleep in their stylishly appointed beds, dreaming up ways for their creations to compete with the dramatic tower, or "Venus de Milo" at the Louvre, or Notre Dame at dusk.

The shows here, like nowhere else, are full of theatrical flourish. When the clothes are worthy, it's fashion at its best. But when they aren't, all the can-can girls in Montmartre can't save them. The spring shows ended this past weekend with occasional nods to the season's romantic, windblown mood -- chiffon dresses and lingerie as outerwear -- but far more intoxicating was a heady streak of gilded, feathered and sequined glamour befitting this diva of a city.

Alexander McQueen energized the Paris fashion scene with a sublime show inspired by the film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" Starring Jane Fonda and set in the Depression, the 1969 film tells the story of a dance marathon in which contestants dance until they drop. Held in the 19th century Salle Wagram dance hall and choreographed by Michael Clark, McQueen's homage unfolded like a metaphor for life, with couples kicking up their heels in elaborate scenes. The opening was elegant and formal, with Oscar-ready fishtail gowns, one covered in silver sequins with a low back and fluttery cape sleeves, another in peach satin leaving marabou feathers in its wake, and a third in a silk print reminiscent of Tiffany glass. After a disco ball descended from the ceiling, a dance derby followed, with the models in sportswear, including pink and red leggings worn underneath belted chiffon tunics with numbers on the fronts, metallic tank tops and the like.

But the most hauntingly beautiful scene was the finale, when only a few models were left lunging around the dance floor like rag dolls, or creeping along on their hands and knees. A tattered, patchwork dress and coat looked as if they could have been made during the Depression from fabric scraps, and a gold lace gown seemed burnished with age. The presentation was wonderful, but so were the clothes, and it's a tribute to McQueen that one did not outshine the other.

With frizzy hairstyles as big as poodles and a Motown soundtrack ("I'll Be There"), Tom Ford also presented a masterful show at Yves Saint Laurent. A clever mix of the 1970s and early Hollywood, with dropped-waist tuxedo jackets and jet-beaded smoking robes, the show conjured images of the denizens of Studio 54 and Greta Garbo in "Mata Hari" simultaneously. A new silhouette -- long and lean, with a waistband sitting on the hips -- appeared in the form of a slouchy black satin trench coat and a mocha leather jacket, both with double rows of buttons down the front. The pants were new too -- full at the top and slim at the bottom, with buttons at the ankles.

For evening, Ford used a palette of rich bronze, orange, yellow and green (all key colors for spring), mixing matte and shiny silk in breezy gowns held onto the body with ropes of dainty silk buttons. And any grudge one might hold over his fixation on the hips should melt away after laying eyes on the ultimate Cinderella shoe: a T-strap spectator pump, every inch encrusted in black and white crystals, that brought to mind the sparkling Eiffel Tower itself.

Marc Jacobs' unusually sultry turn at Louis Vuitton made one wonder if he might have shared a cafe au lait or two with Ford. Or maybe J. Lo, currently featured in the company's ads, is rubbing off on Jacobs, who is usually the king of cute. When black curtains dropped down, covering the glass walls of the building where the Vuitton show was held, and a disco ball scattered tiny LVs all over the runway, it was a sign that something was afoot.

Jacobs put some shimmy back in the label with geometric-patterned skirts draped horizontally in thin gold chains, or vertically in strips of gold leather, stitched at the hems to create a bubble effect. He hit a sportier note with a gold satin track pant that tied in front and laced up the back, a wine satin skirt with a fuchsia sequin border, and a bronze, crinkly satin sleeveless top with a rosette at the waist. The Vuitton accessory of the season? A white doctor's bag with gold or silver trim. Ooh, la la.

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