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The naked and the dead at Paris couture

Wed, 07/07/2010 - 4:16pm
JENNY BARCHFIELD - Associated Press Writer - Associated Press

Haute couture is all about dressing up — dressing way, way, up, in fact, in made-to-measure garmants that cost as much as a new car. But Jean Paul Gaultier reversed the equation Wednesday, sending out burlesque star Dita Von Teese, who peeled off layer after wildly expensive layer till she was stripped literally to the bone.

The campy strip show — which ended with Von Teese in a buff-colored bustier with sequin-covered applique bones mapping out her skelaton — was a fit finale to a fall-winter 2010-11 collection largely about transparency and anatomy, with a dash of morbidness thrown in for good measure.

At Valentino, the garmant's anatomy — the bonework that give the gowns their shape — took center stage, with translucent hoopskirts and an oblong birdcage made of tulle fitted over the bum-skimming minidresses.

Earlier in the week, Riccardo Tisci showed off the skill of the seamstresses at the house of Givenchy, delivering Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired lace and tulle bodysuits and gowns with appliques that mapped out the bones of the human body. In glimmering gold rhinestones and the finest Chantilly lace, his museum-quality concoctions were the world's most expensive Haloween skelaton costumes. Emerging French designer Julien Fournie's night of the living dead collection was also spot on the morbid, x-ray chic trend.

Other shows on Wednesday, the last day of Paris' ever-dwindling three-day-long couture calender included emerging Lebanese talent Rabih Kayrouz, who marched to his own relaxed drum with a collection of cool summer staples that blended the line between couture and ready-to-wear.

On Aura Tout Vu's fish-themed collection was meant for the thin slice on the Venn diagram where the very wealthy and very funny demographics overlap. After all, it takes a pretty good sense of humor to pull off an impeccable beige sheath dress with sleeves ending in stuffed fish-face hand puppets.

French veteran Franck Sorbier's uplifting collection underscored the core values of couture — which is meant to be a celebration of creativity and technical savoir faire but has increasingly become a media blitz used by luxury conglomerates for promoting aspirational secondary products like cosmetics, perfumes and sunglasses. Coming after big-budget mega-productions like Tuesday's Chanel show, where models paraded beneath an enormous golden lion — in an homage to the founder's astrological sign — Sorbier's sincere and funny collection was a much-needed reminder of what couture should be about.

Paris' couture calender officially concludes on Thursday, with fine jewelry presentations at Place Vendome jewelry houses like Boucheron, Chaumet and Van Cleef & Arpels.

JEAN PAUL GAULTIER

The man who gave the world Madonna's pointy bra went deeper in his exploration of the concept of innerwear-as-outerwear with his anatomical collection of lean skirt suits and bustiers covered with rhinestone-encrusted femurs, tibias and ribs.

The porcelaine-skinned burlesque star Dita Von Teese drove the audience wild with her mid-show strip tease, peeling off layer after layers of her black gown till she was wearing nothing but a bustier emblaxoned with a twinkling applique skeleton.

"It was all about structure, about bringing the bones, the very foundation of what makes a garment, to the surface," Gaultier told reporters in a post-show interview. "It's about bones, but not in a ghost kind of way — unless we're talking about the ghost of couture," he joked.

Models in jewel-toned turbans with a stiff sculpted loop of fabric standing at attention atop their heads sported long, kite-shaped gowns with pointy square shoulders or leather trench coats whose fine pleats fanned out into full skirts.

Even the bride, who traditionally closes Paris' made-to-measure couture collections, was wearing a trench coat — a Gaultier staple — in bone white mircofiber with a long tulle veil. And because this was Gaultier show — where a stiff dose of theatricality is de rigeur — the bride was playing her own wedding march — on a matching white violin.

VALENTINO

Valentino's new design duo, who've been charged with the difficult task of rejuvenating the label's aging customer base, had something for everyone — or, depending on how you look at it, for nothing for anyone — with a collection that paired matronly chiffon blouses with the miniest of minidresses.

Designers Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, who were promoted out of Valentino's lucrative accessories division after the designer who briefly replaced founder Valentino Garavani was dismissed, have demonstrated their predilection for creeping hemlines in seasons past — to mixed reviews.

They gave it another shot, sending out pretty little bustier dresses that grazed the tops of the models' gazelle thighs. Sometimes the dresses, in black, beige, sea green and baby pink, were worn alone, sometimes layered over long-sleeved chiffon blouses that felt like they were channeling a 1970s schoolmarm.

With its beige petticoat-like structures layered on top of some of the looks, the collection was spot-on the innerwear-as-outerwear trend. One model sported what looked like birdcage, in translucent silk with visible bone-work, that trapped her arms inside.

Bows, one of the hallmarks of the ultra-feminine brand, were everywhere, adorning one sleeve of a leather skirt suit in powder pink, the beaded, kitten-heel mules worn by all the girls and the back of low-cut leather gloves.

It was a pretty collection, overall, but one that might prove a hard sell to the over-17 set, whose thighs no longer resemble those of a deer.

RABIH KAYROUZ

Kayrouz flouted both convention and season, sending out barefoot models who, instead of careening down the runway in vertiginous heels, ambled barefoot over a catwalk covered in real grass wearing pleated silk tankdresses for what was in theory a fall-winter show.

The audience of fashion editors, stylists and journalists — baking under the summer sun in courtyard — eyed Kayrouz's fan-pleated silk dresses and airy, wide-legged trousers with undisguised envy. A knit tankdress in chartreuse and a shirtdress in bold teal looked particularly appealing to the melting crowd of fashion insiders.

Little green feathers, like a nascent layer of moss, emerged from the creases of the pleats that covered a putty-colored silk dress. Belts in gold metal gave a hard edge to the gauzy knits and silks.

While other designers sent out more season-appropriate looks in leather with a sprinkling of fur, Kayrouz explained he was seeking a middle route between couture's ultra-exclusive looks made-to-measure for a handful of fabulously wealthy women and the off-the-rack designs most of us morals are condemned to wearing.

"Haute couture as we know it is almost something passe," he told The AP. "There's no time for that. Now clients are very demanding and they want those well-designed, well-cut pieces in great materials, but they want them off the rack."

"We want to take the savoir faire of France's haute couture ateliers and give it the rigor and the pace of high-end ready-to-wear," he said.

FRANCK SORBIER

Held in a tiny hall lent to him by Sotheby's auction house, Sorbier's show was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the big-budget megaproductions. But his collection didn't suffer for it — au contraire.

Sorbier has gone through hard financial times of late, and Wednesday's collection — full of his trademark inventive, almost surrealist, looks in a rainbow of buoyant colors — represented a return to happier times.

A bustier in papier mache from old newspaper clippings had faux nipples made from wine corks. A baroque mirror with an ornate gilded frame was strapped to the model's chest, like a bustier. Woven raffia in saturated jewel tones became a ravishing, African-themed sheath dress. A Plane Indian coat in leather hung with dangling fringe was paired with a ballerina's skirt worn low around the model's ankles.

An off-the-shoulder dress vibrated in bubblegum pink, while a long, lean, lacy evening gown smoldered in fiery red lace.

As the haute couture collections wound down, Sorbier's show was a much-needed reminder that couture need not be smothered in sequins or dripping with rhinestones to be desirable.

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