French haute couture roundup

Elaborate spring haute couture clothes went from outrageous nightmares to dreams of beauty with plenty of reality thrown in by old masters like Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld.

These couturiers showed skirts just below the knee or a bit shorter, a few pants, and suits. Others emphasized wasp waists, many decolletes and much skin. Luxury fabrics and top techniques set the tone everywhere.

At Givenchy, designer Alexander McQueen shut out the press and showed for a small clientele, pleading production difficulties as the reason. Others saw his next move to Gucci as a better reason. Givenchy is thus without a design guru – though names like Belgian Olivier Theyskens and Stella McCartney from Chloe are bandied about.

The nightmare-cartoon element was laid on thickly by John Galliano, Dior’s mischievous cut-up. From jet-beaded garter-belt babes with wispy tulle tops to headdressed American Indian looks, passing by some suggestive secretaries in glasses and not much else, it was a show that scoffed at fashion. Under all the folderol were a couple of cool draped dresses proving that Galliano is actually a couturier.

A sexy, hard-edge costume look came up at Versace, where Donatella, the sister of the late couturier, took his tack with a touch based on artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The look was vaguely based on waspwaisted, whaleboned decollete clothes worn by the likes of La Goulue, the dancer lusted after by Toulouse-Lautrec. Legs and bosoms were much on show, as well as bared backs. Luxury silks and waving ostrich feathers added the festive touch.

Jean-Paul Gaultier produced a creative mix of wearable and eccentric show-off clothes. His famous draped pink satin corselet dress made star Sophie Dahl look like Miss Piggy. But some of his ideas and execution were great – such as laser-cut fingernail incisions up and down sleeves, skirts, and even around trench coats that turned into boleros and dresses.

Ungaro turned out riotously colorful dream clothes at a pink-green setting that could have been in Dubai, or maybe Rathastan, India. The lightly decorated, draped clothes with silky head wraps showed plenty of flesh in legs, perhaps bare midriffs and decolletes, and came in vivid hues from shocking pink to gold, bright green, deep purple.

Several younger couturiers showed off this season. Dominique Sirop’s small show brought a welcome touch of sophistication: wearable satin, organza, tulle evening wear. Franck Sorbier went in for a cinematic show featuring a dress like a bodice of lacy, woven horsehair and skirt of ruffled gray tulle. Korean Ji Haye loved the appeal of multicolored silks and folded them origami-style into artistic gowns.

flecked silk-tweed suits with eased, slightly flared or stitch-pleated skirts to the knee, jacket-tops tucked into skirts, to feather-light and soft evening gowns, all was feminine and pretty.

Especially appealing was the white dance dress – a lace blouse topping a swirly, silver-spangled skirt.

Saint Laurent featured mainly classics with new twists.

Saint Laurent trouser suits may look mannish and retro, but they distill a great daytime style, whether in shades of beige or taupe or with light gray or off-white jackets over darker pants.

The fun of the collection was in the feather-light organdy blouses, puffy sleeves and eyelet details, plus some luscious fruit embroidery by the house of Lesage. This blouse-skirt look creates a stimulating new challenge to jackets and skirts. The skirts are shown a couple of inches below the knee.

The lovely, airy spotted organza dinner gowns in colors from blue and turquoise to tomato reds were another modern and easy solution to late-day dressing.

The week’s shows offered a lot of inspiration: feminine silhouettes, shades in white, black and beige for daytime, plus a touch of pink or light green, and sparkling evenings of black, white and some loud color from the big couture palette. Lace, chiffon and organza – usually embroidered with sequins and crystals – win out for festive evenings on the Riviera, Los Angeles glamour parties or the Persian Gulf.

And killer stiletto heels look great with these clothes, but are tempered by pretty flat sandals at Ungaro or tiny-heeled strapped Mary Janes with rounded toes at Chanel.