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Dior stumbles, Rochas soars

John Galliano's Paris creations take a back seat to the wondrous Grand Palais, while Olivier Theyskens mimics Monet.

October 07, 2005|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Fashion designers face some stiff competition in this city, where every frieze, statue, molding and monument teases the eyes with unspeakable beauty. So when John Galliano presented his Christian Dior collection at the newly reopened Grand Palais, it was a risk. Because as the spring runway shows continued here this week, there was more than one case of set design overshadowing clothing design.

The Grand Palais recently reopened to the public after a $123-million, 12-year face-lift that anchored the edifice to bedrock and refurbished its glass and steel dome with shatter-proof panes. Built for the 1900 World's Fair, the architectural gem helped project France's position as leader of the arts, and the Beaux Arts beauty continues to shine in the Paris skyline, between the Champs-Elysees and the Seine.

The Dior show was held in the 145,000-foot central hall, where lighting was directed skyward toward the glass ceiling and intricately worked steel supports, which were freshly painted a sea foam green. Well-placed spotlights and mirrors created the illusion that models were walking out of an endless tunnel. The soundtrack too highlighted the building's brilliance, with piercing booms reverberating like fireworks off the glass.

But the clothes were less explosive. Minus the over-the-top historical and cross-cultural references Galliano so loves, this collection was a half-hearted attempt at spring's minimalist trend. Flesh-colored tulle and black lace were crafted into a number of silhouettes, from chemise dresses to bikinis. There were more tailored pieces too, such as a glossy nude trench coat and a pair of jeans etched in lace, worn with a tank top that had the outline of a lace bustier.

Galliano's transition into color was jarring. A dress with trompe l'oeil seams traced in jet beads looked awkward with a fuchsia dip-dyed skirt. And the new huarache clogs and cheap-looking hobo bags were less than enticing. All said, there wasn't much here to draw the eyes away from the magnificent surroundings.

At Rochas, Olivier Theyskens is the master of subtlety. The spare elegance he has pioneered is a perfect compromise between spring's schizophrenic trends of pretty and plain. And there was nothing better than a bare runway to show it off. For the first time, he worked his straight-line Edwardian aesthetic into daywear, introducing long, lean pants and jackets. Some pieces came in a nubby, storm gray linen, others in black with a slight sheen, as if they had been caught in the pounding rain on the show's soundtrack.

For evening, Theyskens pursued the romantic vision of long dresses and skirts worn with high-neck blouses that he began in the Rochas winter collection. This time, he was inspired by Claude Monet's gardens at Giverny, so the plunging back of a long-sleeve gown, overlaid in green chiffon, was edged in leafy cutouts, and the glistening train on a deep blue chiffon gown pooled behind the model like a puddle of water. But the most extraordinary pieces were long skirts with delicate water lily embroidery. The models should have slowed down to let the audience have a good, long look.

Riccardo Tisci's inaugural collection for Givenchy was staged on a modernist white set with a giant orb in the center. One wondered if the orb would burst and the models pop out, but alas, what ensued wasn't any less laughable. The show was a montage of zombie-eyed models in overly worked clothes and block-heeled shoes circling the orb for what seemed like hours. Hobble skirts, some with pockets resembling Mickey Mouse ears; studded, World Wrestling Federation-size belts and white blouses with heart-shaped lace insets were about as far as one could get from Hubert de Givenchy's vision of simple, modernist dressing, made famous by Audrey Hepburn. Then again, with four different designers at the helm of this beleaguered house over the past decade, who knows what Givenchy stands for anymore?

Jean Paul Gaultier continued the travelogue of Ukraine that he began at his couture show, this time with a visit to the countryside. Unfortunately, his runway romp was anything but romantic, held in a sweltering space piled high with smelly hay that left many in the audience with a lingering cough. "Is this a new perfume?" one guest joked.

With stalks of wheat in their hair, Gaultier's farm girls wore embroidered cream silk off-the-shoulder peasant blouses with knickers that tied at the knee or odd-looking overalls. Folksy floral dresses were trimmed in lace, along with the designer's signature striped sailor T-shirts. His tailoring took the form of a brown taffeta jacket ruched around the middle to fit, with a scarf-like collar tied in bows. But mostly, this bohemian rhapsody felt like it came a season too late.

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