PARIS – After a week of shows dominated by the rail-thin teens who are ubiquitous on today's catwalks, Paris fall-winter ready-to-wear 2010-11 displays concluded Wednesday with a sensual celebration of women in all their curvaceous glory at Louis Vuitton.
Supermodels Elle Macpherson, Laetitia Casta and Holland's Lara Stone — a whopping size 4 — sizzled in 1940s New Look-inspired skirtsuits with nipped waists, full skirts and tight halter-tops that strained to contain their overflowing cleavage.
"I feel like a real woman who is glamorous, who's taking care of herself, who's not afraid of her body," one of the show's models, Karolina Kurkova told The Associated Press in a backstage interview, adding that Wednesday's was among her first shows since giving birth to a baby boy four months ago. She looked ravishing in a dusty blue wool skirtsuit.
Still, it was business as usual on other catwalks, where wispy adolescents with bizarre, leaning-back postures and jerky gaits were de rigeur.
At Vuitton's cross-town rival, storied saddle maker and luxury powerhouse Hermes, gender-bending English dandies strutted in leather trenches and crocodile blazers that underscored the label's traditional savoir faire, leatherwork.
Elie Saab, Hollywood's favorite Lebanese designer, continued to churn out red carpet fabulous for his preferred client base, actress, with a collection of asymmetrical column gowns in lace, ruched chiffon bands and glinting, jewel tone sequins.
For his first ready-to-wear collection with the label, Cerruti's new designer, British-born Richard Nicoll delivered a commercially oriented show of wearable layered looks in a pretty blue palette.
Prada second line Miu Miu sent out a ravishing collection of short cocktail dresses in thick wool felt that resembled nothing else seen all week. The show itself, too, was unique, with models that kept losing their way on the meandering catwalk. The wandering, panicked-struck models added an extra element of drama to an already dramatic collection.
Other outstanding shows this week included a kinky ski-meets-scuba collection at Givenchy, where designer Riccardo Tisci continued to refine his sophisticated, slightly S&M aesthetic, and at Lanvin, where modern-day Cleopatras sported exaggerated, sharp-shouldered jackets and slim, finely draped cocktail dresses and matching blunt, black, bobbed wigs.
Layering emerged as a major trend in Paris, where labels like quirky Kenzo piled on rich knit sweaters, jackets, coats, scarves and shawls. A bohemian, 1970s spirit infused many other Paris collections, from heritage French house Leonard to Yves Saint Laurent to Chloe — where designer Hannah MacGibbon hit her stride with a collection of high-waisted pants and cozy camel sweaters.
Fur, a major trend on fall-winter runways in New York and Milan, was largely absent from Paris' collections. Notable exceptions included Viktor & Rolf's performance art show, where the Dutch duo stripped a pup-tent-sized model stacked with fur coats like a Russian doll. Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld also updated the storied house's iconic skirtsuits with panels of scraggly fur that looked like it had been made from "Star Wars" Wookie Chewbacca — though the uber-designer assured it was all fake.
Paris' shows were tinged with sadness following the death by apparent suicide last month of Alexander McQueen. The wildly inventive British designer was meant to show this week, but the display was scrapped and pieces from his final collection were shown to an elite cadre of fashion insiders on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Following parties hosted by Valentino and emerging French designer Anne Valerie Hash, as well as the opening of a major retrospective of the work of Saint Laurent on Wednesday night, the fashion glitteratti will disperse, reconvening in the French capital in early summer for the menswear and rarified haute couture displays.
Let there be no doubt that at age 46, Australian top model Elle Macpherson still merits her nickname, "The Body." Macpherson was joined at the Vuitton show by a host of other former and current tops including Laetitia Casta and Kurkova, the new mother, as well as Lara Stone, the size 4 over whom rivers of ink have been spilled debating whether or not she's "too fat" to model.
The vintage models rocked the sober, ladylike skirtsuits supple wools and subtle prints. The collection borrowed heavily from Christian Dior's "New Look," the extravagant style that revolutionized women's fashion in the wake of the lean years of World War II.
The smash lineup of curvier models was a welcome change from the rail thin teenagers who dominate today's catwalks. The girls at Vuitton were the picture of refined elegance, strolling leisurely around a fountain in the middle of the set.
Light streamed in through the plastic sheeting of the roof of the venue — a tent set up in a courtyard of the Louvre Museum. After a week of unseasonably nippy weather in Paris, the crowd of fashion insiders finally thawed out in the hothouse-like tent.
Among the stronger collections of Paris' fashion week, Prada's second line's fall-winter offerings were utterly unique, strange and appealing. Still, they had to compete for the full attention of the audience, who was busy pointing the lost models in the right direction.
Blame it on fatigue. The Miu Miu show was, after all, the last display on the Paris calendar, which follows the fashion weeks in New York, London and Milan.
Held in a sprawling town house whose floors had been fitted out with mirrors, the catwalk snaked through the gilded salons. Models with ponytails that contrasted with their natural hair sported abbreviated, drop-waisted dresses with sculptural, scalloped peplums. The dresses, in black, lilac or tangerine overcoat-weight wool, were embellished with little bows around their high turtlenecks and cartoonish flowers with rhinestones.
Hard to picture? It was such a fresh silhouette that it was hard even to take in.
Designer Miuccia Prada declined to divulge her influences, saying only "it's the drawing that came out."
Considering that what came out was strange and beautiful, that seemed like more than enough.
Paris got its own Savile Row with Hermes' collection of gender-bending looks fit for a dapper English gentleman.
The Paris luxury house, which started off more than 160 years ago as a saddle maker, sent out leather-heavy looks that draw on their long history of technical savoir-faire with the material: trenchcoats in supple leather, croc-skin trousers and microfiber parkas with crocodile epaulettes.
Little leather skirts were worn with menswear blazers and peacoats with extra-wide crocodile belts. Bowler hats topped off all the looks, and the other accessories — monocle necklaces and extra-long umbrellas — looked as if they'd been swiped from wardrobe of an old-school London dandy. Some of the models also sported rolled-up copies of The Times of London in their Kelly bags — the iconic handbags that are a major cash cow for the label.
French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, the one-time enfant terrible who showed his signature line earlier this week, said the collection was "very English, inspired by The City, bankers clothes revamped for the women who work there" and by that timeless symbol of British elegance, James Bond.
"It's a kind of Mrs. Bond, a Bond-ette," Gaultier told reporters after the show.
The Lebanese red carpet king had his eyes on the prize with this collection of awards-ceremony looks in antique lace, sequins and ruched chiffon.
Saab, who dressed "Up in the Air" co-star Anna Kendrick for the Oscars last Sunday, gave his fans in Hollywood plenty to choose from: asymmetrical column gowns with flared trains in buff tulle and black lace; sheath dresses with geometrical cutouts in glinting jewel-tone sequins; and draped goddess gowns in bands of ruched silk that recalled Kendrick's blush-colored off-the-shoulder Academy Awards choice.
"For me, seeing my dresses at the Oscars is the best," Saab told The AP in a backstage interview. "I love to see my dresses on real women, and actresses are real women, wearing real sizes. This is my main goal, to see my dresses on these gorgeous women."
Still, Wednesday's nocturnal forest-themed collection broke little new ground for the designer, who has long been churning out heavily embellished red carpet wear.
The show opened with long-sleeved sheath dresses with plunging V-backs and sharp, square shoulders, but those clean-lined looks quickly gave way to a seemingly endless parade of elaborate evening wear.