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Forward in reverse

In Paris, pretty gets turned on its head with playful blasts of Baroque and punk.

October 06, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Paris — FASHION can be such folly. But there was never a more welcome sight than the upside-down wedding gown, spiky stegosaurus coat and Mohawk headdress that appeared during the first few days of runway shows here. After the lackluster Milan presentations, where nearly every show began with a white lace or ruffled chiffon dress, something had to give. And it did. Paris designers thumbed their noses at the conventional notion of pretty, rocking the runways with punk and Baroque style.

Set against the backdrop of nationwide labor strikes here Tuesday, which polls showed were backed by three-quarters of the French public, one wonders if we are seeing the seeds of a new anti-establishment mood. Higher-than-usual rates of unemployment are a concern across much of Europe, where political disillusionment with President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is not unlike the rage against Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

On the sartorial front, kids are snapping up reissued Ramones and Sex Pistols T-shirts, whether they know what the bands stood for or not. So it makes sense that many designers are turning to music, with all its rabble-rousers, as inspiration for the next big thing.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 07, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Paris fashions -- A review of the spring collections in Paris in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section omitted the word "breakthrough" in a sentence in a description of fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquiere's presentation. The sentence should have read: "Nicolas Ghesquiere had nothing short of a breakthrough show for Balenciaga."

Nicolas Ghesquiere had nothing short of a show for Balenciaga. He started with architectural creamy white dresses that were a nod to the house's legacy, one a perfect bubble shape and another with a cape back. But from then on, the look was hyper-embellished and all his.

It centered on the kind of Baroque-style suit that Mick Jagger or another rock 'n' roll royal might wear. Stovepipe pants (some in black-and-white stripes) with lace print waistbands were topped with frilly, high-neck blouses fastened at the collar with brooches, or concert-style T-shirts with "Devils du Balenciaga" spelled out in Gothic letters on the front. Jacquard jackets were cut lean with crests on the breast pockets.

Pieced-together whisper-weight dresses combined bits of silk paisleys, lace and tulle. Some had weighted hems and were suspended from shoulder straps in such a way that they stood away from the body. The show ended with a Baroque fantasy -- couture-quality cutaway coats with pastry-thin layers of chiffon on the lapels, corset lacing on the sides and frothy lace cuffs that would have looked at home in Louis XIV's Versailles. Even though most people will not be able to afford this collection, it still may be one of the most influential of the season. Not to mention it means we can get our brooches out again.

Junya Watanabe skewered the season's girlish vibe with a band of angry punks in spiky Mohawk headdresses. Black trenches were made over into cutaway coats, molded and pinched in the back, and worn over skinny black cropped trousers with studded belts and combat boots. Cut-up T-shirts were fashioned into long dresses with jagged hems, and boucle jackets looked as if they had been put through a blender, with the buttons fastening at the side and the lapels pulled out to the shoulders.

Invitations for Jun Takahashi's Undercover show came in record sleeves and the collection was presented in an underground space lit by tall votive candles. So when models came out in shrouded cone-shaped hats and ripped concert T-shirts, one wondered if this was a meeting of some kind of rock 'n' roll cult. He took T-shirts screen-printed with random words and slogans, ripped them apart and sewed them back together as loose tank dresses; wrapped the sleeves around the waist to create skirts; and super-sized shirts so they could be pulled down and worn as strapless dresses.

At Commes des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo hinted at Britain's lost empire with punk-rock spandex Union Jack pants and crowns made from used auto parts set aloft on models' blond ringlets. Clashing tartans and Polynesian florals wrapped the body, padding the shoulders and arms, and covering the legs in voluminous skirts. And a brass-buttoned red coat was cut and twisted to form the bodice of a bustle-back dress. With a mock reverential soundtrack of "Land of Hope and Glory," the show was an artistic triumph -- though it may not strike the same chord in stores.

YOHJI Yamamoto reworked a waiter's shirt and tails, exaggerating the basic elements, and pushing the boundaries between men's and women's dress. To the white shirt he added curled black ribbon to the collar, or enlarged the collar points so they became ornamental. Camouflage pieces suggested wartime but were softened by feminine silhouettes -- a bolero jacket with ruffled shoulders and a balloon dress with a bustle back.

A floor-sweeping coat trimmed with the triangular plates of a stegosaurus brought to mind a Halloween costume. Then, out of nowhere, the last few looks were lassoed with black cords. Was Yamamoto suggesting we are prisoners of gender-appropriate dress? Who knows, but it made for good dinner conversation.

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