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Paris, When It Fizzles

Elbaz has created a beautiful aesthetic at Lanvin, one that is based on ease, elegance and femininity. He has developed signatures such as grosgrain ribbons that are used as belts on coats or in lieu of buttons on a blouse. Elbaz leaves the edges rough and unfinished on his suits. They give his ladylike silhouettes a bit of a louche attitude. While his palette typically has bursts of color -- for spring he chooses violet and marigold -- it is dominated by austere shades of ecru, taupe, chocolate brown, charcoal gray and navy. His subdued colors prevent his gentle shapes and charming ribbon details from turning too sugary. And just as one begins to believe that Elbaz is nothing more than a sweet-faced optimist -- uncomplicated and without nuance -- he sends out a sleeveless tunic seemingly studded with brass nailheads or a metallic gold suit that is brash and loud.

Elbaz is quietly and methodically giving new life to Lanvin. He's pleasing the starlets who will help put the house in the populist pages of People, Us and InStyle as well as the aspirational pages of fashion magazines. But he's also making day clothes that fit easily into the lives of women who may never have a red carpet moment.

For his first show for Yves Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati revived the house's signature waist-defining belts. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

_____From Robin Givhan_____
Clothes Ready For Takeoff On the Paris Runways (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Spring Flings You'll Regret The Season After (The Washington Post, Oct 3, 2004)
Gucci, Not Giddy (The Washington Post, Oct 1, 2004)
Paper Rocks Hipsters: 20 Years of Cool Hunting (The Washington Post, Sep 24, 2004)
Sugar Overload (The Washington Post, Sep 16, 2004)
_____Arts & Living_____
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Chloe, Rochas, Hermes

At Chloe, Phoebe Philo used to stand in the shadow of designer Stella McCartney. McCartney left the label and now struggles with her own brand. Philo has stepped forward and transformed Chloe into a line that offers femininity mixed with a cool nonchalance.

"Cool" suggests a certain dispassion but without being aloof. It is trendy but not obsessively so. It evokes informality but not sloppiness. Philo creates a collection of over-the-hip camisoles, loose-fitting jackets, generous trousers, full skirts and swingy sundresses that barely skim the body. Each piece is perfectly calibrated in proportion and sensibility. They achieve the magic that allows a woman to be effortlessly cool.

At Rochas, Olivier Theyskens's wonderful suits, with their slim skirts and ruffle-hemmed jackets, have entered the fashion vernacular. He is one of the few younger designers focused on formal daywear reminiscent of a time of kid gloves and cocktail hours instead of happy hours.

He still is looking for ways to blend more sexiness into his feminine silhouettes, but he did not find the answer in the open-back dresses he offered for spring. They look as though they are unzipped to reveal the hooks and eyes of a brassiere and the top of a pair of panties. While there is something suggestive about glimpsing the top edges of a beautiful lace bra, there is nothing particularly attractive about the back of a bra or the top of a pair of panties.

Jean Paul Gaultier showed his second ready-to-wear collection for Hermes. It was more restrained than the exuberant line he showed for fall. And although there were beautiful woven leather jackets and shirt dresses that shouted luxury from across the room, it was a collection that was lost within the deluge of frocks here.

Hermes is sponsoring a museum exhibition here about the history of the handbag. It presents a variety of carrying sacks used by country doctors, a Cameroon healer, a shaman's bag and modern bags from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Christian Dior and, of course, Hermes.

One wonders why the company doesn't take a lesson from its own fine exhibition. It makes a persuasive argument that creating an enduring handbag is, in itself, artful and a reflection of cultural needs and beliefs. Hermes should spend more time training artisans to construct its ever-in-demand Birkin bags, instead of bothering with ready-to-wear.

Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Alexander McQueen

And if Louis Vuitton is not going to make Marc Jacobs's fine ready-to-wear collections for the house available more broadly -- they aren't even carried in most Vuitton boutiques -- the company should stop pretending the shows are about the clothes and just send out naked models holding handbags. Jacobs created a spring collection of colorful glamour: cherry red skirts sprinkled with sequins, polka-dot skirts paired with shiny raspberry blazers and a kaleidoscopic mix of prints.

Chanel presented a pretty collection of pleated skirts, glittery Capris, filmy eveningwear and smart variations on the traditional tweed jacket. But chaos ensued when actress Nicole Kidman, who had been seated in the audience, stepped onto the runway to congratulate designer Karl Lagerfeld. Kidman is starring in a television advertisement for Chanel that is being filmed by director Baz Luhrmann. Photographers crowded around Kidman and created pandemonium, much of it orchestrated by Chanel, which was recording the entire scene. It would be fair to say that the Chanel spring 2005 collection will be remembered more for the scrum of paparazzi that nearly fell off the runway than for any of the garments on it.

Alexander McQueen is prone to similar theatrics, but he never plays the clown or the ringmaster. He is more thoughtful and uses extravagant gestures to bring his clothes to life. McQueen's spring collection was inspired by the 1975 film "Picnic at Hanging Rock," about the disappearance of a group of students in Victoria, Australia, on Valentine's Day 1900. The clothes had an Edwardian sensibility with full skirts, fitted jackets and the sort of embroidery and piping that reflected the period.

The presentation ended with an elaborate chess game with models playing all the parts. What the chess game had to do with missing children or Edwardian style is anyone's guess, but it was amusing to see models dressed as knights and bishops pretending to gore each other on a life-size game board.

Valentino continues to make pretty evening dresses that flow with elegance. One of his best was a strapless silk gown in chartreuse with a spray of pleated chiffon streaming into a train. Hussein Chalayan still believes in the power of fashion to make philosophical statements that are indecipherable to all except him. No matter. His hooded gray blazers and galaxy print sundresses still had the power to please even if one had no idea what they were supposed to mean.

Lars Nilsson applies his terrific color sense to Nina Ricci, mixing orange and raspberry, for example, in startling but beautiful ways. His lace overlays tend to be too fussy and his skirt silhouettes -- tight at the hip with a burst of fullness at the hem -- are flattering on about five people. Still, one keeps watching, sensing that he is on the verge of some truly splendid ideas.

Celine, Rick Owens, John Galliano

Roberto Menichetti, who took over the Celine collection from Michael Kors, did not have an auspicious debut. His collection of fussy tops and blouses that buttoned at the shoulders left loops of fabric fluttering about in the distracting manner of gnats hovering around a fruit bowl.

Rick Owens added more vivid color to his collection of draped jersey skirts and stretched out tops. But it was impossible to focus on his lovely shades of tangerine and pink when many of the women appeared to be wearing bloomers with a skirt attached to the front. There were jackets with puffy, fabric horns poking from the shoulders. And in what could only be described as a study in humiliation, Owens sent out men wearing high-heeled platform boots and shorts. Their naked torsos were draped in feather boas. If there is any justice in the world, the maribou boys will one day corner Owens in a dark alley and make him walk a mile in his own ridiculous clothes.

One could suggest that designer John Galliano be forced to suffer the same fate, but when he takes his runway bows in a gnawed frock coat, torn T-shirt and Pilgrim hat, would anything embarrass him?

Galliano's Saturday night runway presentation was a more extensive collection of clothes -- rather than costumes -- than he has shown in years. It is tempting to applaud him for that alone.

But that would be setting the bar far too low. In fact, the bar would just be lying on the floor. In his cacophonous display of garments, there were some intriguing pieces: a pop art print dress doused with sequins, long patchwork denim skirts and a return of his yellowed newsprint patterns.

But Galliano makes clothes that are full of hyperbole when fashion has turned toward garments that speak calmly. He is the shrill jester when everyone else is engaged in wry repartee.

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