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Multiple Choice

Jean Paul Gaultier went wild and woolly, while Christian Lacroix created some structured looks and Emanuel Ungaro's Esteban Cortazar kept things calm.

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Jean Paul Gaultier went wild and woolly, while Christian Lacroix created some structured looks and Emanuel Ungaro’s Esteban Cortazar kept things calm.

Jean Paul Gaultier: Jean Paul Gaultier is a master of the obvious introductory sound cue. Remember last season’s swashbuckling yo-ho-ho opener for his all-out pirate romp? This time he launched with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” complete with howling, growling wolves. Which would explain the brief disconnect when the first model stormed out in a perfectly tame, downright conservative blouse-and-pencil skirt combo with a parka thrown over it. But once you got a look at her from behind, it all clicked into place — a giant real zebra hide was splayed on the back of the parka with head, tail and limbs stretched out like an animal rug.

Thus the show began with a nimble dance between animal-kingdom costumery and straight-up sportswear. But restraint, chez Gaultier, can only last so long. After a few snappy suitings, a bell-sleeve, knit-and-leather jacket and belted trenches, things turned indulgently au sauvage. Heavy doses of animal prints were joined by heavier doses of the real stuff in mammoth coats, stoles, fluffy messenger bags and fur-trapper hats with beady little eyes. There were tongue-in-cheek gimmicks, too, like the collar-cum-neck pillow shaped like a stuffed tiger or the puffed-up jacket in an animal print manipulated to look like a wolf’s head. But when Gaultier turned more femme than feral, the results were quite pretty, as in the lady-fied, pearl-studded Twenties ensembles and gentle avian-print dresses and pants. Unfortunately, these were lost in Gaultier’s overcrowded menagerie. A truly hairy experience.

Christian Lacroix: As his splendid spring couture collection demonstrated, Christian Lacroix is well versed in the power of romance. But perhaps he overdosed on all the amour, because, for fall, he seemed to be feeling more powerful than romantic, a mood he expressed off the bat with two stiff, textured white wool coats, one bold with structured curves, the other severe in its slim cut and strong shoulders. More variations came in fuchsia and black, some paired with duchesse satin bubble skirts and turtlenecks. The color play was forceful and striking, and the silhouettes were pared down by Lacroix’s standards. Together, they made for an aggressive vision.

That’s not to say that he cast aside the girlier fanfare — hardly. From lavish embellishments to dramatic origami-style dresses to exquisite color schemes, all of his signature grand gestures were there. But here they came off as darker, thanks in part to the knee-high glossy black leather boots and severe cabaret-style hair that accompanied each look. Lacroix fringed skirts, blouses and bulky sweaters in black feathers, which also appeared on long gloves and embroidered collars. He splashed abstract brush-stroke prints on drop-waist velvet dresses and skirts, one topped with a gleaming gold suede jacket. He combined glimmer and Art Nouveau on moody, multicolored printed silk lamé cocktail dresses, some flouncy, others structured. And the color works continued in the finale of jewel-tone duchesse satin dresses that were artfully poufed, puffed and ruched into dramatic ruffles and bows. The list of dramatic, eye-catching finery goes on, but somehow all that extravagance didn’t quite add up or dazzle the way a Lacroix collection can.

Emanuel Ungaro: As the latest designer to take the reins at Emanuel Ungaro, Esteban Cortazar has been charged with the not-so-easy task of lifting the legendary house out of limbo. Higher-ups hope the 23-year-old will fare better at luring a younger audience — “chicks,” as chief executive officer Mounir Moufarrige recently said — which they consider the key to revival. In other words, they want a wake-up call, but what Cortazar delivered was more of a whisper.

Almost everything was based in draping, one of Emanuel Ungaro’s specialities, though Cortazar’s versions lacked Ungaro’s sensual force. Cortazar proceeded delicately at first, gently draping slinky silk pants, lots of one-shoulder dresses and filmy blouses, many of them accented with cord or rope details. Then he went out on a limb and got carried away with a wayward string motif and jumbo-size twisted knots that edged tight sweater dresses and knit cocoon jackets. Some things, including the Grecian goddess gowns that appeared throughout, were pretty, but they were also predictable. Also tame was the palette of icy pastels, like powder blue, yellow, pink and silvery gray. And while the occasional blast of magenta on pants or a blazer livened things up a bit, all the languid draping and ultracalm colors are not likely to get the attention of the bright young things the people upstairs have in mind. That said, Ungaro’s recent revolving door and the need for resuscitation would weigh heavily on any designer. Certainly young Cortazar deserves a little time to adjust.

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