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Paris Fashion Shows Do Performance Art, Exotic Locales
Dutch fashion designers Viktor Horstin, left, and Rolf Snoeren, right, give the final touch to one of their creations worn by a model as part of his Fall-Winter 2010-2011 Ready to Wear fashion collection, presented in Paris, Saturday, March. 6, 2010. AP Photo/Jacques Brinon.

By: Jenny Barchfield, Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP).- Performance art — which saw Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf strip a pup tent-shaped former supermodel down to the size of a Playboy bunny in front of an audience of thousands — rang in Saturday day four of the City of Light's eight-daylong ready-to-wear week.

Besides the odd-but-comeplling display, other highlights of the day included the world-beat vibe at Jean Paul Gaultier, where a band made up of such disparate elements as a Russian balalaika and an accordion provided the sound track for a globe-trotting show, that drew on patterns, designs and aesthetics from as far afield as Mongolia, Finnish Lapland and Mexico.

Azzaro delivered a sober and appealing collection of black, white and rhinestone Parisienne chic, with looks that seemed to be channeling the timeless appeal of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel. Cacharel, on the other hand, disappointed with a collection of middle-market looks that showed about as much flair for design as The Gap.

Spanish leather maestros Loewe delivered a lovely-but-unadvernturesome collection of Forties-inspired skirt suits paired with veiled toques and bizarre fur-adorned stilettos.

Dozens of vocal anti-fur activists amassed outside of Gaultier's central Paris headquarters, where the one-time enfant terrible of French fashion holds his runway shows, although the fur on his runway was kept to a minimum. Fur took center stage at Viktor & Rolf, where the designers undressed and then dressed supermodel Kristen McNameny like a Russian stacking doll, zipping the garments piled onto her down to size zero with a complex system of zippers and drawstrings as they dressed a rotating cast of other models. On stage. In front of an audience of thousands.

In the end, the bespeckled pair's experiment with performance art was worth it. Their 15 minutes onstage won them among the day's heartiest applause.

The French capital's ready-to-wear displays move into day five on Sunday with shows by storied-and-hot French houses Givenchy and Celine, the queen of knits, Sonia Rykiel, Dior designer John Galliano's signature line, and Chanel and Fendi uber-designer Karl Lagerfeld's eponymous line.

Jean Paul Gaultier
It was a whirlwind world tour, with stops in such far-flung locales as Mongolia, Myanmar, Mexico, Ukraine and China.

Each of the looks, which worked ethnic touches and motifs onto streetwear, was a journey unto its own: A slim Chinese dress was paired with an oversized hoodie sweatshirt, curly toed Turkish slippers, stacking neckrings from the Kayan people of Myanmar and an oversized turban in African wax print cotton.

The final look paired a long-sleeved leotard knit with Tibetan motifs — or were they Sami patterns from Lapland? — with masses of chunky silver jewelry from the Persian Gulf, a gold lame turban and an oversized backpack in fur.

A live band with components as diverse as the outfits — and included both an accordionist, an Afro-Caribbean drummer and a balalaika, accompanied the show — which opened to strains of France's national anthem, "La Marseillaise."

"I am influenced by life, by travels, by people's roots, whether they happen to be my roots or not," Gaultier, France's one-time enfant terrible, told journalists after the show. "Everything is about mixture."

The strongest pieces in the collection were the ones that pushed that mixture to the maximum, mashing all the diverse influences into a sort of puree in which none was distinguishable: Hybrid hats that started with a Tibetan base and were crowned with something like a Tunisian chechia or a Turkish fez; a red knit vest in Mongolian fur with in a pattern that was either from Eastern Europe or East Asia.

The collection drew heavily on the mind-blowing Mexican-themed haute couture show Gaultier fielded last January, but sadly fell slightly short of that level of brilliance.

Still, it was a great trip.

Viktor & Rolf
As the soundtrack of industrial racket clanked overhead, the model, Kristen McNameny, appeared in her tent-like incarnation at the top of the runway. She waddled over to a rotating platform, set into the middle of the catwalk, and Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren started stripping off layer after layer, like the skin of an onion or Russian stacking dolls.

Wearing their trademark plastic-framed nerd eyeglasses, the designers transferred each removed layer — first maxi-greatcoats and oversized fox fur coats; then lighter parkas hung with swinging drawstrings — onto another model, who then walked the catwalk.

After McNameny was pared down to a strapless bustier, the pair repeated the process in reverse: stripping the other models and piling the layers back on to the formerly eyebrow-less top model. The crowning look was an oversized bustle in stiff tulle that was stripped off an evening look and hung round McNameny's neck, like an oversized collar on her industrial refrigerator-sized greatcoat.

It was a novel exercise, and the crowd of fashion insiders — many of whom had sat through more than 100 conventional shows in New York, London and Milan over the past month — hooted enthusiastically.

But the spectacle itself distracted attention away from the clothes, which were basically big, bulky and black. (Though it must be said, they were remarkably engineered: Enormous when they were peeled off McNameny, Snoeren and Horsting transformed them into a model-tiny size through a system of zippers and drawstrings.)

Still, perhaps keeping the clothing in the background was exactly the point of the exercise.

After an inventive offer of suede-heavy garments for last season, the Spanish label's new designer Stuart Vevers went the safe and easy route with a collection of 1940s-inspired skirt suits with veiled toques that were so glamorous, their only place was on a catwalk.

The seating — little Parisian cafe tables around which the audience was seated, over tapas — and the soundtrack — Frank Sinatra's greatest hits — set the stage for a show that was pretty but utterly uninspired. The suits, in leather, ostrich or with mink panels, were sublime, and the shoes, many of which were adorned with a tuft of fur at the ankle or sprouting from the vertiginous heel, were ridiculous.

But the main question remains: Who, exactly, wants to shell out for a suit whose expiration date already passed something like 60 years ago?

The house's designer, Vanessa Seward, looked to the quintessentially classy piece — the tuxedo — serving up sensual, ladylike variations on it that included a silk bustier jumpsuit and a short cocktail dress with a plunging V-neckline.

The dresses, in smart and sober cuts, were spruced up with just the right dose of rhinestone accents and oversized satin bows.

A long-sleeved black silk dress with white cuffs and a neat white collar seemed to be channeling Coco Chanel, while a series of abbreviated cocktail numbers with pleated skirts and rhinestone buttons down the back looked like it was plucked off a bourgeois housewife from the tony Paris neighborhood of Saint Germain-de-Pres, circa 1975.

It was a most convincing effort from Seward.

Following a series of revolving appointments at the French heritage label, the fashion world had high hopes for Cedric Charlier, the designer who showed his first collection for the house last season. That show garnered positive reviews, but Saturday's display — a hodgepodge of Mod-influenced looks and trompe l'oeil prints — left many in the audience disappointed.

Besides a few unique dresses, including a cocktail number with covered in a layer of black fabric with cutouts like a paper snowflake or a long black dress that got progressively more transparent, the closer the hemline — it was unclear why much of it was on the catwalk in the first place.

How the black A-line skirt paired with the ribbed long-sleeve crewneck sweater, for example, got there was perfectly confounding.

One of the highlights of the display, which was held in a cavernous former bank on Paris' tony Place Vendome, actually happened before the start of the show, when an audience member dressed in head-to-toe leopard print lay down catwalk, confounding the security guards who tried — unsuccessfully — to get him to choose a more conventional spot. Another unforgettable moment was at the end, when the glass-covered catwalk filled with dry ice and overflowed in a cloud of thick white mist onto the pit of photographers.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Paris | Viktor & Rolf | Jean Paul Gaultier |

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