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In Paris, Wearable Beats Out Whimsical

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His models preened and emoted as they wandered down the runway dressed in glorious color. They wore raspberry swing jackets and purple dhoti-style trousers. (The pants looked palatable in this Xanadu set, but we remain convinced that they would appear ridiculous on any street not lined with palm trees and covered in sand.) A turquoise cocoon coat was held closed with a giant glittering brooch. A knit cardigan embroidered with flowers tumbled off a model's shoulders. Looking past the gilded hairdos, the Dr. Seuss hats and the Kabuki makeup that has become a cliched feature of any Galliano show, one could revel in the unabashedly romantic clothes.

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Galliano and McQueen bank on those moments when a woman is in the mood to stand before her mirror and make an effort. Not just go through a 10-minute beauty routine but to really go all the way. Because a woman has to be willing to work hard to wear these clothes. The effort will be worth it because these are extraordinary garments.

But do modern women -- not the ones sitting in a fashion show audience or the ones with stylists or chauffeurs, but regular well-to-do women -- have the patience for all this? In the Galliano collection, several dresses had a row of 20 or more tiny fabric-covered buttons running up the back. First thought? Who would want to bother? And if buttons are too much of a hassle, how does one deal with crinolines?

So many of the women who sit in judgment at these fashion shows live extraordinary lives. It's not just that some of them think nothing of a $500 T-shirt, it's that they don't have to pay that much for it because they get a discount or they get it free. Or they have prioritized their lives such that they are willing to pay retail and opt out of a retirement account.

One recalls seeing a 40-something editor in a Miu Miu dress from the spring collection with a hemline that fell approximately three inches below the final curve of the derriere. In some households, it would be called a blouse. Another editor spent much of her time in Paris in a pair of block platform shoes that looked like something Herman Munster would have worn. Or how about the male editor in the blouse and contouring makeup who favors a cigarette holder -- the better to stand and pose with an unlit cigarette?

These are the people in fashion's feedback loop. They stoke the creative fires. So it's no wonder that designer Miuccia Prada presented a Miu Miu collection Sunday that was a fascinating blend of scuba suit fabric, Crayola colors, mod silhouettes and vintage shop eccentricities. Her dresses had rounded shoulders and were layered over cropped color-blocked leggings. Dresses with diamond-shaped latticework allowed for a clear view of the bodysuit-sheathed torsos beneath it.

The collection mixed past and present with references to performance sportswear. One couldn't help but admire the creativity. But one also wondered: Who but a fashion editor will wear these clothes?

Because of the nature of the industry, designers preach to a choir studded with individuals who are just fine traveling with five suitcases for a two-week trip or who don't care if their feet hurt at the end of the day from walking around in four-inch heels. It's a small price for fabulousness! Fashion thrives because these women enjoy dolling up.

Stella McCartney, Nina Ricci, Louis Vuitton

But who besides Lanvin will dress the others? Who will make fashion easy -- but no less glorious? Stella McCartney tries to. Her collection of diaphanous printed dresses and cozy, shield-printed throws speaks to the idea of easy, smart style. But the collection lacked fervor and passion. It didn't make a statement.

Olivier Theyskens at Nina Ricci charmed the eye with his spice-colored collection of indulgent leather jackets, blouses and dresses in an abstract butterfly print, and swallowtail coats. But his trousers with their jodhpur-inspired silhouette and his gowns with their iron-lung bodice and flowing trains were off-putting indulgences.

At the Louis Vuitton show on Sunday, designer Marc Jacobs emphasized tailoring and volume, which worked best when applied to dresses. For example, there was an elegant dress in black tulle with a pale peach underskirt, and a black sheath had a tulle bustle that barely hid the wire frame below, for a futuristic effect.

But his boucle skirts were gathered, giving them cumbersome bulk. Other skirts had coils of fabric along the hips that seemed to serve no purpose other than to make the models look as if they were hauling saddlebags. Jacobs exaggerated a pair of taupe trousers until they looked like they'd been stolen from Pierrot. And he paired an oversize seafoam satin swing coat with a pair of matching silk pantaloons. Accessorized with a black hat that swirled upward from atop the model's head like a dollop of dark chocolate mousse, the effect was wholly comical.

It made a model look like a clown, and it would most certainly leave a civilian -- someone living outside the fashion loop -- feeling ridiculous.

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