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Sportswear here? Oui

February 28, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

Paris — MODELS as spinning tops at Yohji Yamamoto. Models as coat hangers at Martin Margiela. Models with their own lighting rigs at Viktor & Rolf. The early runway shows here were all about those free spirits who are as creative with their presentations as with their clothes. But maybe the most surprising thing was, amid all the madness, there was so much wearable sportswear, a category that's usually considered an American export.

Nobody knows that power of performance like Viktor & Rolf. Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren built their brand on provocative runway shows, from last season's ballroom-themed collection with its all-male last dance to the Russian doll collection, featured in the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art's "Skin and Bones" exhibit, where the designers peeled successive layers of clothing off their models-as-matrioshka dolls. Judging from the near-sellout of their collection for H&M last year, and their climbing perfume sales, this image-making strategy is working.

On Monday night, the Dutch duo dazzled us again, sending each model out with her own autonomous lighting rig and soundtrack -- a self-sufficient fashion show. With two, four, even six spotlights mounted on their backs, illuminating a red coat with crystal snowflakes or a skirt pinned up like a stage curtain, the models made their way gingerly down the runway.

As for the clothes, well, the high-heeled clogs that made the balancing act all the more difficult were a clue. The designers returned to their roots with a folkloric floral day dress fanned out on the spotlighted apparatus, and softly tailored sportswear, such as a white jacket with contrast piping, low slung, cropped trousers, a beige coat with tucking around the shoulders and a short-sleeve tunic trimmed in silver beads. Their clothes can occasionally feel like costumes designed to support a show, but these were real pieces that could be easily integrated into a woman's wardrobe.

Then we could all be walking runway shows.

After his techno futuristic collection last season with robotic-looking metal plate leggings worthy of a sci-fi film, Nicolas Ghesquiere went in an entirely different direction on Tuesday at Balenciaga, the first of the week's high-power shows.

At the heart of the collection was color-soaked sportswear, British cricket club jackets with Chinese characters instead of crests on the breast pockets, one of which read "speed," and low-slung jodhpurs in khaki or black athletic pants with racing stripes on the sides.

Perhaps he was thinking about the light speed at which fashion is moving these days, or about China's emerging luxury market, but the clearest message was the importance of the jacket going forward. Ghesquiere's came in navy, pink, purple, even green velvet, were beautifully tailored and had intriguing details, such as metallic or enameled buttons, zipper tape around the hem, and contrasting color trim. They will look fabulous with jeans, as will the multicolored boucle versions dusted with clear sequins-much cooler than a Chanel jacket.

Shoes, always intense at Balenciaga, were all Lego-bright plastic buckles and straps. These sandals-cum-climbing boots hinted at the global trek Ghesquiere was about to take us on -- through the Himalayas, up Mt. Everest? Who knows where his mad explosion of Ikat, tie-dye and sari prints came from, but it was exhilarating. Draped sheath dresses came in a patchwork of prints, dangling silver fringe, one with a sporty racer back, another falling off the shoulders with slouchy pockets.

Ghesquiere's only curious move in this inspiring and thoroughly commercial collection was the waist cinching coats at the end. They were narrow at the top, nipped in severely at the midsection, then built out into a lampshade shape at the hips. No matter, it read like a progression of his experiments with volume that began more than a year ago with the short, flippy skirts we now see everywhere.

Martin Margiela's shows are always a hoot, with ushers in white lab coats serving red wine, no matter the time of day or night. But beyond that, he let the clothes do the talking, trying out a new, linebacker-sized proportion, with shoulders measuring 50 centimeters or more, and skinny trousers or leggings on the bottom. The triangular, outta-my-way silhouette on T-shirt dresses and elongated, man-tailored jackets spoke to the minimalism coming out of Milan, as well as the return of the 1980s. (Margiela sent out one model in a shoulder cage, to show what was going on underneath the clothes; special coat hangers commissioned come with each garment to hold the shape.) He also toyed with fluorescent color and circular shapes, veiling boots in neon pantyhose fabric, fixing looped fringe to the bottom of a tennis ball-yellow coat, and fashioning goat fur into a fuzzy hoop, as a kind of stole.

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