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Playing the updating game

With varying success, some designers reach into the past to capture the imagination of today.

October 09, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Paris — ABOUT this time in the four-week fashion show odyssey from New York to London, Milan and Paris, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on clothes. Distractions are everywhere. What on earth do Katie Holmes and Victoria Beckham have to talk about in the front row? Is that Italian TV commentator propped up on the side of the runway floor actually being taped giving a play by play? I wonder if a model has ever fallen off her shoes and broken her ankle?

It wasn't hard to imagine it happening at the Yves Saint Laurent show, which had one of the most hazardous runways in history. The bed of planted violets looked pretty, but it made for an excruciating 20 minutes watching models navigate the sod in 6-inch spike heels. Shoes have gotten so treacherous with brick-like platforms, sky-high heels and wedges as sharp as knife blades that words like "foot binding" and "torture" come to mind.

Petal pushers aside, Saint Laurent designer Stefano Pilati continued to prove his ability to dive deep into the archives. But it wasn't clear that he added much of himself. He showed slim skirts and cropped jackets with rounded shoulders in black and white picnic checks, with flashes of red and purple. It was the epitome of '80s French chic, especially with the berets and fishnet stockings, but a bit too dated for today. Zouave pants in cotton or print organza, with the crotches dropped to the ankles, referenced Saint Laurent's gypsy look, but nobody is going to wear those. For starters, how do you cross your legs? And it would have been one thing if the droopy pleated dresses with floral print aprons had a sexy or subversive spin. They just looked silly.

More successful was the sharp-looking tuxedo worn with a blouse covered in white organza flower cutouts and a long violet chiffon dress with a billowy petal-strewn skirt. By far, Pilati's evening offerings were his best, which is important now that red-carpet dressing can really propel a brand to coolness. A purple chiffon halter gown had a bouquet of blooms in front and a seductively bare back, but it was the dramatic finale gown -- a sweep of white frills and appliqued flowers -- that at last made this trip down the garden seem worthwhile.

There was more flower power at Alexander McQueen, where the finale gowns were sprinkled with live flowers, one style with a conical, flower-filled collar that framed the model's face in a bouquet. The show was a delightful Victorian costume drama, set to live harpsichord and string music with fitted jackets spilling over with lacy blouses, dramatic corseted gowns, some with exaggerated padded hips (as if women need any more of that). It was hard to picture how this romantic vision would play in present day, save for a few asymmetric tunics darted with metallic thread or intricately embroidered, and worn over simple pants. Now that McQueen is poised to reap the benefits of his lower-priced McQ collection, perhaps it doesn't matter.

There's no one better than Karl Lagerfeld when it comes to bringing icons of the past into the present. This season, he took his cues from Coco Chanel's innovations in sportswear, bringing things up to date by keeping them short and sweet. A white dropped-waist dress edged in navy blue, with bows on the front, brought to mind a tennis outfit, and a great-looking boucle one-piece bathing suit with tiny pockets on the hips looked for once like it might actually make it from the runway to the beach.

But the real stars were jackets -- cropped black and white check with raw edges, yellow and black boucle with black sequin trim, even a black sequin bolero fastened with gold chains. It was all very cute and very Lindsay Lohan, now one of Chanel's star clients. And of course there were accessories galore, including bangles, glittery platform shoes, open-toed flats and the newest quilted, chain-handled bag, in clear plastic. And it looks like the spring successor to Chanel's wildly successful Black Satin nail polish will be a yet unnamed metallic silver shade.

The Hermes collection designed by Jean Paul Gaultier has always been a showcase for accessories, and more so this season. Watching all the gold-studded cuffs and dog-collar necklaces come down the runway, worn by models who were instructed to act like they were strolling along a boardwalk instead of a runway, one had to wonder where the clothes were. There were a few jersey sarongs in black and brown and a sleeveless suit or two. But they barely registered compared to the new collapsible Birkin bag (for when you need to pack an extra $7,000 travel tote). Scarf-like daisy and poppy print dresses worn with suede wrap jackets were nice if a bit boring. And by the time the layered lace gowns came out, in cocoa, plum and navy, one of which seemed to depict a circus scene, it was too late.

Never mind staring at the shoes, it says even more when you spend your time staring at the front row. Stella McCartney's pantsuits are always spot on, for spring in lightweight khaki cotton, although her childlike cotton shorts rompers and voluminous green, black and cream harlequin print dresses didn't make much of an impression. But Kanye West did. He kept a low profile this week in Paris, thoughin the presence of Stella's rock star dad, Paul McCartney, he just couldn't help himself. West stole the show in a sweat shirt painted to look like a red skeleton, with a hood that came down over his face like a mask. So what if it was a little early for Halloween?

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