PARIS – On day two of Paris' haute couture week, Giorgio Armani took fashion on a midnight romance, Stephane Rolland channeled Supergirl-style capes and Chanel got nostalgic for past vintage styles.
It was certainly a diverse collection of creations from A-lines to dropped waists, palettes that were muted or bright, and styles spanning decades.
But Tuesday's shows had one key thing in common: imagination.
"Haute couture will exist as long as people want to dream," Didier Grumbach told The Associated Press.
The French fashion president, one of the most discreet yet powerful figures in the world of fashion thus answers detractors who predict the demise of the age-old tradition.
Grumbach believes that couture — an artisanal clothes-making method that exists only in Paris — has many healthy years ahead.
Haute couture exists against all the odds: creations which range in price from $19,000 to $125,000 being bought by women thought to number no more than 100 in the world.
"But Armani's coming here to Paris, it shows that fashion needs haute couture. ... It's not just about selling clothes: it's an advert, an ideas factory," added Grumbach.
Strong showings both from Armani Prive and Chanel prove that couture — 150 years since its birth — still has a lot to say.
What do a supermodel and a 79-year-old former French first lady have in common? Chanel haute couture.
The unlikely pairing of Laetitita Casta and Bernadette Chirac was seen at Karl Lagerfeld's aptly titled "New Vintage" show.
Their presence showed the unique and enduring allure of 100-year-old Chanel. Down the catwalk, adorned with vintage sketches of Coco Chanel's lavish house interior, went shimmering silk tweed skirt suits, ensembles from the '50s and '60s, and a '30s bolero jacket. Other outfits sparkled with a contemporary metallic sheen.
In some instances, Lagerfeld resurrected the 1980s. A series of ensembles in big, bold textured checks in black, gray and white channeled the decade's strong shoulders and narrow hemline. In other looks, pink tulle fringing recreated a dropped waist effect from the 1920s.
Elsewhere, double-breasted A-lines, a Peter Pan collar and ensembles in pale pink and white might have come straight out of Jacqueline's Kennedy early '60s wardrobe.
The boldest looks came toward the end: Lagerfeld let his pony-tailed hair down in a shimmering electric blue dress that could have been Coco's answer to 1970s glam rock.
"Ravishing," said Chirac.
"It's French perfectionism," said Casta.
"It's hard for the seamstresses," said Lagerfeld. "They toil over the clothes. The tulle with pearl took 3,000 hours. Couture is for a world of privilege."
"New Vintage" was a typical contradiction in a constantly moving fashion world. But is there ever time for looking back? Not really, according to Lagerfeld.
"In fashion now, vintage means six months," he said.
GIORGIO ARMANI PRIVE
Giorgio Armani found romance in the midnight sky in a sumptuous haute couture collection that followed the changing hues of the sun.
His accomplished fall-winter collection 2012 on Tuesday began with a daybreak of sorts, in lighter shades of mauve and lavender in organzas and double crepe.
Shoulders were emphasized, some with upward scooped tailoring. Others had upper bodices in graduated shades of pink — dawn's first rays of sunshine.
Then as the sun set, the couture got to work.
Embroidered veils appeared, signaling the dimness of dusk. Geometric embroidery accompanied black tulle tops with Swarovski crystals.
Spectators gasped as the show climaxed at midnight (in blue, naturally) with some of the most sumptuous dresses seen this season.
A blue silk bustier dress — the program notes say, made of triple organza — rippled with its generous overlaid skirt and a gentle tulle shoulder shrug.
The subtlety proves one thing: Armani lives up to his reputation for versatility.
Only last month, in Beijing he staged a show with bright va-va voom, mermaid silhouettes.
Here, things were more restrained and the looks, mirroring the cycle of time, oozed elegant sensuality.
And what better advertisement for elegance across time is Sophia Loren? The beautiful 77-year old film star sat in the front row.
"It was magnificent," she said.
Haute couture shows are often celebrity circuses.
But rarely does the front row presence upstage a show, as reality TV star Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, musician Kanye West, did during Stephane Rolland's rather predictable fall-winter 2012 offering.
The couple's entrance and exit triggered a crowd that spilled out into the street.
The media scrum caused a mother and her young daughter to be shoved to the side.
But the celebrity presence here is no great surprise.
The French designer — responsible for singer Cheryl Cole's red and white mermaid dress at Cannes — has been courting stars for several seasons now.
Last season, Yasmin Le Bon was Rolland's muse.
In this show, he went East and chose Chinese actress Fan Bing-Bing.
With the celebrity hullabaloo, fashion insiders momentarily forgot the reason they came: the clothes.
The trains and long capes in many of the ensembles, like last season, floated past giving the model a Supergirl silhouette.
But the lack of new ideas, made the show feel more like a diluted superhero sequel.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP