Paris embraced Mother Russia, as designers in the French capital on Wednesday sent out fall 2009-winter 2010 ready-to-wear collections inspired by Russian peasant blouses, embroidered skirts and military uniforms.
Although springtime made its first tentative appearance outside, it was snowing on the catwalk at the John Galliano show. The British designer delivered an outrageous collection of hip-waisted coats, sculpted felt skirt suits and diaphanous Russian bridal gowns _ all heavy with embroidery, chains, medallions and tinkling coins.
Model-actress Milla Jovovich, who was born in Kiev, hailed the show as "amazing."
"It was like some opening into a doorway of dreams in Russian-Ukrainian fairy tale fantasy dreams," the first-row guest told reporters backstage.
Kenzo sent out oversized felt coats and voluminous striped knits that were fit for a Siberian winter. The label's Italian designer Antonio Marras said he had imagined a Russian woman packing her trunk for a train trip to Paris. The look represented "the marriage between Russian culture and French allure," he added.
French labels Hermes and Chloe didn't stray so far from home. Both sent out collections that were deeply rooted in their heritage, with leather outwear taking center stage at Hermes and at Chloe, flirty casuals.
Red-carpet favorite Elie Saab got serious about daywear, delivering an edgy collection of formfitting asymmetrical sheath dresses that exuded a slightly kinky feel.
Paris' nine-day-long pret-a-porter week wraps up on Thursday with displays by Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu, Prada's second line.
Flurries of foam fell like thick Siberian snow onto garments inspired by the traditional fineries of Mother Russia and her far-flung provinces.
Each look was more elaborate than the next.
An ultra-voluminous vest in embroidered gray felt was paired with an equally voluminous skirt which was layered over churidars that gathered a riot of voluptuous folds at the ankle. Add a coin-covered headdress and towering platform shoes with an ingenious cutout base and you begin to get the idea.
Other skirts, made what appeared to from boiled wool were sculpted through their extra-wide hips. Kicky short skits in rich Russian red were worn with white balloon sleeved peasant shirts, cropped suspender vests and lace-up platform sandals punctuated by oversized pompoms that climbed to the knee.
Brides in rose crowns with layers of trailing chiffon veils wore diaphanous gowns with Galliano's hallmark long lean bias cut. Their coin-covered panties glinted from beneath the radiant silver silk.
Galliano appeared at the end of the show wearing riding boots, a swashbuckler coat and a tri-corner hat. Puffing his chest, he took a deep bow as the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
"It was fantastic, theatrical, brilliant," gushed studio exec Harvey Weinstein, a front-row guest.
With its oversized felt coats and voluminous striped knits, the Kenzo collection was one of few the shown in Paris _ which was dominated by a parade of short cocktail dresses, some in diaphanous chiffons _ that actually looked warm.
Marras said he had tried to imagine what a chic Russian woman would pack for a train trip to Paris.
"It's a very, very cold winter in Russia," Marras told Associated Press Television News. "She packs (her trunk) with a military jacket, an embroidered dress, platform boots, scarves, gloves ... In Paris, you have the marriage between Russian culture and French allure."
Models wearing peasant skirts in knit stripes or dusty flower prints with cowl-neck blouses and cocoon-shaped coats traipsed down a catwalk made of weathered wooden planks. Bulky scarves and knit caps or earflap hats topped off the looks, in dusky purples, peacock blues, grays and jade green.
One knockout piece was an A-line ivory sweater dress with embroidered branches that dripped with little red berries.
A dozen prop-plane rotors began to spin, a deafening roar of take off filled the hall, and Amelia Earhart look-alikes in luxurious bomber jackets and aviator goggles strode down the catwalk.
French saddlemaker Hermes played to its strength, sending out a collection centered around leather bomber jackets and trenches with oversized, fur-lined hoods.
"I was inspired by a woman, I forgot her name, an American pilot with very short, wavy hair who was wearing an aviator jacket _ which I love _ and a little scarf that was so Hermes," designer Jean Paul Gaultier said. "That's when I said, 'ah ha, that's it.'"
He paired the outerwear _ in buttery black, gray and caramel leathers, crocodile and astrakhan _ with leggings or pleated pants that tapered from the full thigh to a pegged ankle.
Besides the strong, flight-ready looks, Gaultier also served up Earhart's saucier side with ankle-length silk dresses in shiny satin prints.
Accessories _ a major cash cow at the storied label _ were spotlighted in the show, which was held at a former warehouse in eastern Paris.
Models carried crocodile clutches and a new version of the best-selling Birkin bag, which is famed for its price-tag in the thousands of euros (dollars) and its years-long wait list.
Asked if the modified Birkin _ which Gaultier described as a "trompe l'oeil Birkin, a simpler Birkin" that does away with famous bag's the flap opening _ was less expensive than the classic version, Gaultier burst into laughter.
"I don't know that it is," he guffawed.
A single sleeve and sharp shoulders lent many of the body-skimming sheath dresses a kinky businesswoman feel and marked a radical departure from the Lebanese designer's usual fare of flattering goddess gowns.
Neiman Marcus buyer Ken Downing hailed the shift to daywear.
"Customers are really responding to dresses that are cut close to the body but have a specialness," he said, adding, "I'm really excited to go back to the showroom and see the prices on the daywear."
Saab, who dressed Angelina Jolie for the Oscars last month, said the focus on daywear was a deliberate response to the financial crisis.
"I think women now are going to be more careful about buying very costly things," he told the AP in a backstage interview. "So I've tried to make things that are easy to wear, with less embroidery."
Indeed, apart from a series of evening looks covered in oversized black rhinestones, the collection was remarkably clean. The only ornamentation on the sheath dresses that opened the show was the network of visible seams that crisscrossed the razor-cut garments.
Structured, peaked shoulders _ virtually omnipresent on Paris catwalks during Fashion Week _ and plunging V backs gave the looks just the right sexy edge.
Rustic pieces borrowed from the closet of a manly man were given a feminine twist at the flirty French house.
Oversized, boxy coats in shades of camel and apricot were belted high on the waist to create an hourglass silhouette, while pronounced shoulder-pads lent a roomy blouse a ladylike touch.
Designer Hannah MacGibbon paid homage to the French label's 1970s heyday, delivering a smattering of feather-light dresses with lacy collars and low, drawstring waists. But the collection was mostly made up of pant looks.
Gathered, paper-bag waisted trousers in washed silks were cinched with belts and cuffed above the ankle for a distinctly postdiluvian look.
Chloe chairman and CEO Ralph Toledano praised the collection, saying it had attained the label's goal of making women beautiful.
MacGibbon captured "the DNA of the brand, the femininity, the elegance, the sensuality, the attitude," Toledano told the AP in a backstage interview.
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