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Chanel: Competition among couturiers — one of the delightful amusements of the milieu. Perhaps prodded by Valentino’s upcoming Roman festivities, those staying in Paris have certainly gone the extra kilometer this season venue-wise: first, John Galliano, who took Dior to Versailles, and on Monday, Karl Lagerfeld, who showed his Chanel collection at the beautiful Parc de Saint Cloud (ironically named, as it turns out, as it poured rain). Another amusement of couture is that it doesn’t really have to make sense, at least in an obvious way. Neither Lagerfeld’s chosen locale nor the bucolic Fragonard painting that inspired it seemed to have anything to do with his clothes — that is, at first glance. But wait, that clever Karl. In printing an image of the painting for his invitation, he nixed the original vivid colors in favor of a slightly toughened-up black and white. A mini hint? Of course.

This story first appeared in the July 5, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Whether or not Lagerfeld deliberately plotted a dramatic antidote to what was sure to be ample retro romance elsewhere, that was the effect of his stunning collection. It featured a wealth of day clothes — remember those? — infused with a racy attitude and a hint of Eighties futurism delivered in linear shapes exaggerated by crusader-like helmets and more of the boot leggings with which Lagerfeld seems to be obsessed. The clothes were beautiful sans gentleness, save for a few delicate evening gems. Rather, Lagerfeld opted for the allure of power, strong clothes for strong, unquestionably modern women.

As he so often does, Lagerfeld took a single motif and coutured the daylights out of it. This season’s angle: High Profile. That’s profile as in side view, where he focused nearly all of his decoration. By day that meant side panels or stripes running the full length of a look from shoulder to hem or even to ankle. These embellishments ranged from a basic tuxedo stripe and precision rows of studs to the tightly packed feather panels that decked a sturdy brown tweed coat. He paid considerable attention to the suit, sculpting a new jacket via little half-belts at the sides of the waist. He also offered a faux suit, in which what looked from the front like a jacket dissolved into a dress in back.

Lagerfeld brought his High Profile routine into evening with similar variety — a banded cocktail dress with bows running down the sides; a dramatic crystal-embroidered column with feathered panels that extended into a cape effect at back. Of course, Lagerfeld is no slave to rules — not even his own. Thus, near the end he offered another antidote, this time to his own bravado: a breathtaking pink whisper gown under a frothy feather wrap. Sort of a side show to his sideshow, and it worked like a charm.

Christian Lacroix: Christian Lacroix is perhaps fashion’s most genuine romantic. He finds no better vehicle through which to express that innate aesthetic than haute couture, and after 20 years finds boundless ways to do so.

For fall, Lacroix showed an exquisite collection with an air of lyric melancholia. He achieved this mood in part through his models’ demonstrative kohl-smeared eyes and frenetically disheveled, high-piled hair under oversized brimmed hats tilted just so, looking as if they were at a casting for charmingly turned-out goth girls. But there was more to it than the beauty look, since Lacroix worked from a surprisingly brooding palette, starting with an extensive black-based Spanish passage that featured jacket looks and dresses that managed a bit of sobriety despite generous frills. There were also iridescent brown and deepest navy, while an evening turn in gray with black lace was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Which is not to say Lacroix has sworn off serious color. He opened the show with grand, elaborate coats, each a unique jewel of cut and adornment — a gigantic avian brocade; a mélange of rugged fabrics cut as if to suit Marie Antoinette. At the end of the runway, each girl slipped her coat off to reveal the striking contrast of a vibrant-toned yet utterly simple dress. Similarly, as foils for his darker evening fare, he offered a wealth of painterly masterpieces, some high-waisted with girlish puffed sleeves, others, the epitome of sophisticated drama, as in the long draped dress in ombréd plum chiffon with violet fur sleeves. In a word, ravishing.

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