Gothic excess and understated, masterful simplicity were both on display on Day Five of the Paris fall 2009-winter 2010 ready-to-wear shows.
Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci sent out a lovely but lurid collection of gorgeously tailored pant and skirt suits with hard-core finishings. The show-stoppers were dresses that looked as if they'd been inspired by Cousin Itt: Like the Addams Family's resident furball, the ravishing little cocktail dresses were completely covered in hair.
The master of another kind of excess, Christian Lacroix, toned down his Baroque opulence, turning out a collection of (relatively) simple, perky cocktail dresses, cocoon coats and clean-lined, waspwaisted suits in gray tweed. It was an exercise in restraint for Lacroix, who's known for his exuberant more-is-more aesthetic, eye-popping palette and excessive accessorizing.
Restraint was also the key in Belgian designer Dries Van Noten's pared-down display, which was pure wearable elegance.
Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld's eponymous line was all about functional chic _ as epitomized by fur-covered motorcycle helmets _ while Emanuel Ungaro angled for a younger customer base with its rainbow of polkadot prints.
Sonia Rykiel was right at home with a display of classic Rykiel looks shown at the French label's chic Left Bank headquarters.
On Monday, the week moves into its sixth day with displays by Yves Saint Laurent, British designer Stella McCartney and the avant-garde duo Viktor & Rolf.
Designer Tisci, known as fashion's resident goth, stayed on the dark side with a display that was at once hauntingly beautiful and a tad repulsive.
Take, for example, the Cousin Itt dresses: Their mesh foundation was tailored for a perfect fit, and the locks of raven hair enveloped the dresses in a gorgeous swirl.
But still. It was hair.
The black locks also sprouted from blouses' necklines and strappy sandals, grew over shoulders like epaulettes and even covered the rump of a pencil skirt, like a horse's tail.
Fur, ostrich feathers and bouquets of undulating chiffon petals softened the razor-cut skirt and pant suits with stiff, armor-like vents at the hip and shoulder.
Electric blue rhinestone shoulder-pads added a subversive edge to two sweet cocktail dresses in ivory lace. A leather dress and jumpsuit were covered in metal dog collar studs.
The king of opulence reined in the bouffant, slashed the baubles and toned down the rainbow colors, sending out a show that was a veritable exercise in minimalism _ for him, at least.
It was still a rich and luxurious collection, built on a foundation of delicate black lace.
Sculpted strapless cocktail dresses enveloped in gold lace were worn over black lace turtlenecks and lace-patterned tights.
Opaque chiffon cascaded over the lace bodice of dress with a taffeta skirt, leaving the model's back bare but for its lacy sheath. Other lace-bodiced dresses had only a solid strip over the bust-line.
Gone was the ingenious piling-on of fabrics; banished, the saturated jewel tones Lacroix is known for.
The designer said he had to "fight with (him)self" to keep it simple.
"I wanted to succeed in stopping with just the ink before the color," he said, comparing the collection to an unadorned sketch.
But what a sketch it was.
A gray tweed suit with a nipped waist, full hips and flared, cuffed trousers was the fashionista's ideal officewear. And the cocoon-shaped coats were of a clean elegance that would have undoubtedly made purists like Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy swoon.
DRIES VAN NOTEN
As other designers pulled out the stops in sometimes desperate-seeming attempts to call attention to themselves, Van Noten delivered a self-assured, sober collection.
Belted woolen coats were stripped so bare that they looked like luxurious bath robes. Sunpleating gave silken sheath dresses an elegant touch, while supple trousers were plain but wearably chic.
Even a sequin-covered silver jacket somehow managed to exude a quiet confidence.
Still, Antwerp-based Van Noten, a darling of the critics, took a risk with the palette, sending out unsung color combinations like toffee brown with aqua or royal purple and dollops of pumpkin.
"I wanted to make very beautiful colors but with a kind of strange color palette, something which you don't know if it's very beautiful or just strange," Van Noten told The Associated Press Television News in a backstage interview.
As part of its ongoing effort to shed its stodgy image of old, the venerable French label sent out a rainbow of high-hemmed polka dots aimed at the "perpetual 30-year-old."
Short pleated bubble skirts in electric blue, orange, purple and the label's hallmark fuchsia bounced enticingly, and a web of silver chains woven into the mohair of snugly sweaters winked as the models careened down the runway.
Celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe said the collection "has Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz written all over."
"Skintight electric minidresses, banding, those chunky knits and the little hippy skirts ... I cannot wait to use it on all the ladies," Zoe told The Associated Press.
That's music to the ears of Ungaro CEO Mounir Moufarrige, a Lebanese-born businessman who has made a specialty out of reviving semi-dormant brands and took the helm of the ailing label in 2006.
Moufarrige and his team, which includes young Colombian-born designer Esteban Cortazar, have attempted to appeal to a younger demographic.
The label is "trying to dress a perpetual 30-year-old .... That's what fashion's all about these days," Moufarrige said. "I loved it."
Lagerfeld gave fur _ the staple of stoles and coats _ a new raison d'etre, with his fully functional mink-covered motorcycle helmets.
Fur epaulettes added a quirky touch to military jackets and dressed up long, lean and clean-lined evening gowns.
"Now everyone is on scooters, even chic women, so we had to do the helmet," said Lagerfeld, who has reached uber-celebrity status as the designer for Chanel and Fendi. The helmets, made by French brand Ruby, are road ready and outfitted with an iPod connection that pumps in music directly, he said.
The mostly black collection also included short dresses with sharp, square shoulders and built-in caplets worn over skinny pants with a vertical red stripe down the back.
Lagerfeld said the powerful shoulder was the starting point for the collection.
"Unlike the shoulder pads of the 1980s, these shoulders don't jet out horizontally, but rather wrap around the shoulder like a bridge," he told reporters backstage. "It gives the attitude for the whole look without looking like an old truck driver from the 1980s."
With the animated chatter of models replacing the usual thundering soundtrack, the show felt more like an intimate gathering than a traditional runway display.
Wearing Rykiel staples like jaunty berets and knitwear in shimmering Lurex studded with rhinestones the size, shape and color of hard candies, a gaggle of models sauntered through the label's rambling headquarters, on the Left Bank's chic Boulevard Saint Germain.
The models giggled as they rattled off vapid little remarks about themselves, ("My name is Sylvie and I'm completely naked under my sweater,") or their look, ("I am the red fox," said a model sporting a rust red fur coat.)
The collection _ under the artistic director of Sonia Rykiel's daughter Natalie _ was a blast from the label's past, particularly the heady, excessive 1980s.
Lurex cardigans embellished with big velvet ruffles were paired with slouchy pants in plum-hued colorblock. Black rhinestones bejeweled a gray coat. A black and white knit proclaimed "I am a very expensive sweater."
After the show, 78-year-old Sonia Rykiel bestowed her highest praise on the collection.
"I thought it was funny, amusing, youthful and truly scandalous," said the redheaded iconoclast, who celebrated her 40 years in the fashion industry last year.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.