PARIS (AP) -- Love was in the air at Paris' spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear shows on Friday, as Lanvin's sumptuous confections worked the world weary crowd of fashion insiders into a covetous lather.
The Paris-based fashion house has quietly built a cult following by deciphering women's desires and churning out collection after collection that's exactly what they want. Friday's lineup was no exception. Designer Alber Elbaz's parade of dresses -- fluttering kaftans, sheaths in liquid silk and second-skin columns -- had something for everyone.
"I'm one fat designer who spends all his time thinging about the body. ... I'm trying to understand the needs of women, but different women," the affable Elbaz told a scrum of journalists. "There are some women that are a size 34 (U.S. size 0) and that's OK, and there are other women who are a size 44 (U.S. size 10) and that's also OK."
The well-rounded show worked through lots of different ideas, churning out potential offerings for women of all shapes and sizes.
The same could not be said, however, for Maison Martin Margiela, the conceptual label whose mysterious Belgian founder decamped earlier this year. The label's design studio sent out a one-note collection that hammered its (single) point through with the subtly of a sledgehammer: It was all about two-dimensionality, with sweater dresses, trench coats and pantsuits that sprouted a flat, starched rectangle on the front side.
Luxury supernova Christian Dior raised that quintessentially tacky garment, the Hawaiian shirt, to the pinnacle of chic with a featherlight collection of sundresses in eye popping palm leaf prints.
Rising Brazilian talent Pedro Lourenco combined his signature material -- leather -- with transparent tulle to create bold, futuristic looks that appeared to defy gravity. His column dresses and slick pantsuits were a patchwork of lozenge-shaped leather appliques that seemed to be clinging directly to the models. (Closer inspection revealed they were in fact stitched to nude tulle bodysuits.)
Another rising star, France's Isabel Marant, showed why she's earned an A-list roster of fans in the U.S. with a collection steeped in easy, Paris chic. Japan's Issey Miyake delivered a solid lineup of wearable summer separates that showcased the house's expertise in technical fabrics.
Paris' nine-day-long ready-to-wear displays hit the halfway mark on Saturday with shows by homegrown talent Jean Paul Gaultier and Sonia Rykiel.
The king of kitsch, the Hawaiian shirt, got a classy upgrade, paired with featherweight chiffon in eye-popping orange, yellow and purple. The prints bubbled on the frothy layered skirts of drop-waisted minidresses or breezed lazily on the vaporous trains of see-through evening gowns.
Another Hawaiian touch -- the flower lei -- was worked into the collection, with fuchsia petals exploding off the hemlines of kicky sundresses and worked into the dresses' halter straps.
Dior designer John Galliano, decked out as a French sailor for his final strut, worked in masculine elements borrowed from the mariner's uniform, topping the sheer looks off with oversized parkas in white and navy. Silk halter tops were worn with button-front sailors' trousers, with jaunty white sailors' caps topping off the looks.
It was hardly a groundbreaking collection, but its easy, flirty prettiness was appealing. You could definitely see jet setters snapping up the flower print sundresses for their holidays on the French Riviera. One such jet-setter, Kate Moss -- who took the show in from a front-row perch -- appeared to be making a mental shopping list as the looks strutted by.
Normally hard-pressed to muster a decent round of applause even after strong shows, the normally blase fashion crown broke once and again into spontaneous cheers in the middle of the Lanvin show.
It was like they couldn't help themselves. The parade of dresses -- second-skin columns, fluttering kaftans, liquid silk sheathes -- was simply too ravishing, too desirable.
Asked to explain the effusive reaction, designer Alber Elbaz responded "love brings love."
People are responding to the "the fact that (they) see the emotion and the time and the work that I've been putting in this collection, in (trying to) understand women's lifestyles and lives and dreams and fantasy," Elbaz said after the obligatory photo-ops with A-list guests Janet Jackson and Lenny Kravitz. "I almost have no private life, I don't go out much, you don't see me in parties. I'm just working, doing things to make you all beautiful. That's my mission."
The women of the world -- at least those with deep enough pockets to handle the label's hefty price tags -- can only be grateful to Elbaz for his monastic work ethic.
Each look the Israeli designer turned out was more gorgeous than the last. There was a vaguely tribal feel about the collection, but the beauty of the clothes -- more than any particular "inspiration" -- was its decisive narrative. Sandy colored goddess gowns had long skirts that blew like desert dunes, and tank dresses clung to the body like liquid silver.
Never has a rugby shirt looked as sexy.
Marant mixed sportswear staples with ultra-feminine pieces in layers of frothy lace for easy, breezy Paris chic.
With their tousled hair and makeup-free faces, her models looked like they'd just rolled out of bed and thrown on whatever they found strewn across the floor -- cuffed shorts, a mesh tanktop, a lumberjack shirt or a multitiered miniskirt. And by some miracle of nature -- let's chalk it up to French genes -- their thrown-together looks just happen to work.
Pieces borrowed from boyfriends, like the rugby shirts or the mesh basketball tanks, were paired with lacy skirts or morphed into dresses, with a belt knotted saucily at the hips. Sequin-covered cropped vests added a touch of seventies glamour to some of the looks.
Not that they needed it.
MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA
When you say the Margiela collection was two-dimensional, it sounds like a value judgment, but it's not. With all the looks fitted out with a flat, starched rectangular flaps on the front, calling it two-dimensional was just to state a simple fact.
The show began with menswear looks that morphed into ladies' outfits, a button-down shirt worn as a sexy dress, with trompe l'oeil paneling that made it look as if the skeletal models had been sewn into garments that had once belonged to a corpulent man.
One idea led to another, as ideas tend to at this conceptual label, and next thing we knew, the design team fixated onto the notion of men's shirts folded up in the plastic envelopes they're sold in: The shirt-dresses then sprouted the flat flaps, which highlighted the contrast between the garment's cardbard-like front and its body-hugging backside.
A red sweaterdress with its obligatory flap on front conjured up the Queen of Hearts in a community theater production of "Alice in Wonderland." A minidress made of two squares of black vinyl with the model vacuum packed in between was reminiscent of fruit at a Japanese supermarket, where everything is sold in plastic.
Flatness is interesting idea, perhaps, but one that was plenty clear after the first few looks, making much of the show seem redundant.
The Tokyo-based label was spot on trend with this collection woven around pretty straw prints.
Featherlight sundresses in sunny yellow fabric printed with the woven straw seats of traditional wooden chairs from Provence had all the charm of a summer in the south of France. The prints, also served up in black-and-white, recalled the tree-print collection by California label Rodarte, which showed in New York last month to considerable praise.
Miyake, known for its innovative fabrics, also sent out less flashy summer basics in sober black and white prints and solids.
A white shift dress had the bumpy texture of a tortoise shell woven into the high-tech fabric, and a pair of harem pants was knit with cobweb cutouts.
A cropped pantsuit in tiny vertical pleats had the texture of a sheet of crisp white paper and crumpled at the hips as the model walked, while horizontally pleated A-line dress printed with black and white rings jiggled like Jell-O.
The collection didn't break any new ground for the label but was still light, lovely and appealing.
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