Christian Dior: It’s possible that John Galliano’s theatrical proclivities at Christian Dior have reached a critical point of diminishing returns. Or perhaps he just didn’t give his fall collection for the house the attention it needed. Whatever the reason, the show Galliano staged on Wednesday presented a peculiar example of way too much being not quite enough.

This rockabilly-themed costume parade mocked the glories of the designer’s past extravaganzas, because, for all its oversized, overstated humor, in one significant respect it was lean, lean, lean. Where was the typical bounty of ideas, as this collection offered only a few? On the up side, evening dresses that fell gently on the body offered a divine alternative to the skintight siren fare now standard on the red carpet. Each one was a knockout of the gentle sort. A big, embroidered bouquet graced a white silk chemise; multiple circular appliqués gave a hot pink silk a post-modern Deco feel. And Galliano’s bold handbags, each dangling a giant pair of dice, flaunted the notion of fashion gambles. On the down side, gigantic coats in garish colors and prints, often decked with boatloads of fur, just look too cartoonish.

Unfortunately, the downside dominated, doing little to reflect the fabulous array of round-the-clock clothes that now happily grace all of those Dior boutiques. Galliano showed not a single item of real daywear or anything that might be translated into something most women could possibly wear by day if their last name isn’t Barnum or Bailey. At times in the past, Galliano has worked ample real-world possibilities into his fantastical runway reveries. Other shows may have been all theater, but he made them so beautiful you didn’t care.

This time, while the dresses dazzled, the rest looked uncharacteristically unbeautiful. As a result, the show clarified what we’ve all longed for for some time: Please, John, just once, knock us out with the real stuff!

Balenciaga: Real fashion doesn’t play it safe. At least not the way Nicolas Ghesquière sees it. To him, serious experimentation is as essential to fashion as cloth and thread, a stance that has earned him a reputation for being “noncommercial” — some would say difficult. Justified or not, that handle has defined his role within the Ford-De Sole Gucci Group, and apparently will continue to do so, for the moment at least.The collection Ghesquière showed Wednesday morning was filled with beautiful, complicated clothes, some of which are not destined to fly off the racks anytime soon. But the designer makes no apologies. “I am quite radical in my choice, what I like and don’t like,” he said the day before his show. “I am not willing to quit the experimentation and research. That’s where the excitement comes from.”

Still, he rejects the notion that he doesn’t think in a manner consistent with commercial viability, citing his handbags and the relatively straightforward nature of his pre-collections as Exhibits A and B. He concedes that a one-season fit problem (his scuba collection for spring 2003) resulted in difficulty at retail, and that, though long since corrected, a rap for bad fit can be tough to shake. He also acknowledges that in general, his clothes are not the easiest to bring to the selling floor. “What we needed to do was build a bridge between developing something in an atelier in Paris and producing it in a factory,” he said. To that end, he explained, Domenico De Sole installed a product development team whose role was not to modify runway looks for production — “Never!” — but to figure out ways to facilitate their production, a conversion processthat Ghesquière feels is now well under way.

Those experts will be putting in some serious time this season, and Ghesquière’s strong, intriguing clothes will make it well worth the effort. After a company campaign to organize the Balenciaga archives, Ghesquière was able to delve more intensely into the house “patrimony” than ever. From there, he took the hyper-construction he loves and has worked in the past, melding it with a new, outsdoorsy element. Which is not to say this is a leisure-time collection. Looking for an urbane parka? Ghesquière’s Mongolian lamb-lined, multizipped, sometimes cutaway versions might just be the ultimate. They came big and veering toward butch worn with baggy trousers in swirled combos of men’s wear gray and black, but turned ultra chi-chi when pared to tiny proportions, worn over black gazar balloon skirts.

Now about those bottoms — neither has much of a future in real life. But when Ghesquière cropped the pants, or morphed them into a jumpsuit — that’s right, jumpsuit — sexed-up with a halter bodice, voila! Runway to reality with high chic. Similarly, the balloon motif clunked along in gazar, but turned fabulous in dresses cut from the unlikeliest of fabrics, industrial-looking optic white nylon. The designer also turned his construction fetish loose — well, tight, actually — on spectacular sculpted coatdresses.Evening was a mélange of dark, moody fabrics manipulated into beautiful, body-revealing shapes. In this season of endless embellishment, Ghesquière eschewed beads, sequins and embroideries for thick chains, potentially ominous but for their bright, playful colors. And if some of his twist-and-slash experiments are better left in the lab, he proved that yes, Virginia, there is a new way to dress up at night.

Comme des Garçons: It sounded like some kind of kinky fashion joke: a Comme des Garçons show at the lusty Lido. Would Rei Kawakubo throw her lot in with all the lurid razzmatazz that legendary name implies? Not on your life. Kawakubo played hard against the grain, instantly dousing any NC-17 fantasies with her evocative, soulful look — and much of it looked beautiful.

Parting the Lido’s racy red beaded curtains came some of the most prettily elaborated mourning jackets seen since the Victorians invented moody chic, all enfolding models in flattened taffeta ruffles, black rosettes, bleak bows and glorious grief. The mourning didn’t end there, however. Kawakubo made up skirts to match her jackets, literally, cutting these with an extra sleeve sprouting out in front and another hanging behind like a tail. And, unfortunately, these were tearjerkers of another sort. No matter. Before long, Kawakubo had moved along to further melodramas, sending out smock dresses à la Olive Oyl, each decorated with dorky sweet bows at the bodice.

The gloomy palette may have run from black to gray and back again, but Kawakubo’s clothes were nothing if not decorated. An iridescent ridge of feathers crested the back of a black trenchcoat, while tulle tops came with clots of ruffles, taffeta and trimmings trickling down the front.

Instead of T&A, Kawakubo delivered another sort of gender play to the cabaret’s stage. Every model sported a lipstick smooch planted next to her own kisser and many strutted the stage in men’s pants, worn back to front or under boxy matching skirts. Other designers this season have toyed with the masculine-feminine dynamic, but Kawakubo’s approach was knowing and a trifle tender. Just like those ladies of the Lido.

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