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PARIS FASHION WEEK

Stella McCartney's greatest hits show

Lanvin's Alber Elbaz charms; Dior's John Galliano ignores recessionary trends

March 10, 2009|BOOTH MOORE | FASHION CRITIC

PARIS — Kanye West and his new girlfriend, Amber Rose; Salma Hayek and her new hubbie, Francois-Henri Pinault; Beth Ditto and, of course, Paul McCartney were all up early for Stella McCartney's show, taking the edge off the chilly morning with the heart-shaped hand warmers the designer so thoughtfully provided.

The collection was a remix of everything McCartney does best -- tailored boyfriend jackets and cropped pants, clean coats with elongated, masculine lapels, go-to silk charmeuse cocktail dresses, bugle-beaded or with lace insets.

The greatest-hits approach is a common one this season, as designers play it safe in these tough economic times. With a few exceptions (Balmain's studded shoulders, Givenchy's disturbing hirsute dresses and Jean Paul Gaultier's ill-advised brothel chic), the Paris collections have been more gentle and accessible than those in Milan. And it does seem to be the right time for fashion to be friendly. The world is depressing enough; what you wear shouldn't be.

Seductive charm

With Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, it has always been about romancing the customer, starting with how he presents his collections. He knows how to stage a runway show better than almost anyone. When the curtain went up, the backdrop was an empty warehouse as far as the eye could see. Then "whoosh!" A cool gust blew in, and you could feel it -- the power of a woman.

Strong, purposeful and serious, but not afraid to crack a smile, that is the Lanvin woman for fall. She appeared as if in a dream, striding confidently through a red rose archway onto the wet, paved runway.

Elbaz concentrated on bias-cut tailoring, which meant the clothes skimmed the body like a gentle caress. There was a 1940s feel to wool suits in black, red or gray, with jackets draped and belted over slim skirts. Some were worn with fur stoles, which Elbaz brilliantly mounted on knit so they could be pulled over the shoulders.

His sculptural dresses, effortlessly trained into a single flounce on one shoulder or molded into a bow at the waist, have never looked more timeless. Nor have his coats, raw-edged and trimmed in black and gold crystals.

A lot of the shapes were familiar, and yet there was something more low key about this collection than his others. Those gobstopper-sized crystal pendants were replaced by tubular, geometric neck pieces and cuff bracelets, which are supplanting statement necklaces as the next big accessory trend. Black feather headbands, worn with sleek ponytails, and bold red lipstick completed the look.

While this show had a sobriety befitting the times, it was joyful too. When the models came out all smiles to take their bows, it was contagious. Elbaz had charmed us all once again.

What recession?

By comparison, John Galliano's new New Look at Christian Dior was almost defiantly luxe, a call to those who still have money to dress up and spend. And to those who don't, well too bad.

Dior Chief Executive Sidney Toledano told Women's Wear Daily recently that the brand is amping up its luxury quotient in the face of the recession while phasing out logo-laden entry-level products, and seeing growth because of it.

Galliano has been courting more conservative customers by revisiting the house's design signatures. For fall, the iconic T-bar jacket was the starting point. The T-bar jacket, which emphasizes a woman's hourglass shape with hip padding, was a key component of Dior's 1947 New Look. That collection celebrated the end of World War II shortages with exuberant full skirts and jackets requiring lots of yardage. Not sure what this collection was celebrating.

In gray, red or black, with lace or fur-edged collars and cuffs, or all-out astrakhan, Galliano's versions topped skirts that were full over the hips and nipped in at the knees.

There was an Orientalist spirit to ikat jacquard coats with silk knot closures, harem pants and diaphanous dresses in paisley prints. For evening, great-looking chiffon gowns with Empire waists or smocked details and Indian-inspired embroideries struck a 1920s note, especially on models with hair coaxed into bobs using dozens of bobby pins.

Galliano wasn't in new territory either. But there was plenty for his star client, that other first lady fashion icon, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And like Michelle Obama, she's as good a pitchwoman as a fashion house can hope for right now.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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