By  on July 13, 2006

PARIS — Christian Lacroix bounded into his couture salon here on Tuesday wearing a pink zip-front Comme des Garçons polo shirt and eye-popping vintage madras Ralph Lauren pants.

These are the clothes of a happy man, and Lacroix is certainly that after a triumphant couture collection last week that exhilarated his audience and cemented his stature as one of high fashion's most gifted practitioners. The collection not only displayed almost two decades of couture finesse and savoir faire, but what Lacroix described as a "lighter hand and heart."

"I love this collection. It was very smooth," said the designer, who admits that he has sometimes been guilty of excesses. "Perhaps in the past we were too minimal, too maximal, too Baroque, even too Lacroix! Now, I don't feel we need to be too loud." Instead, Lacroix said he was driven to create "quintessential couture" and express what he called "freedom without extravagance." He even extended the look into a plainer runway set and simpler hair and makeup.

Lacroix had recently completed costumes for a production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Comedie Française here, and said he drew inspiration from the 17th-century Swedish and Danish costumes he researched for it. But he blended such references with the allure of the Sixties, which he considers the most modern of latter 20th-century decades, producing legendary style icons such as Babe Paley. While his impulse in the past might have been to complicate a grand faille dress with heavy brooches, he instead sketched a simple detail, wrapping a dark green ribbon around the bodice. And his favorite looks in the collection include some of the plainest draped columns — even if they are intricate marvels of construction.

Lacroix attributed part of his mood to what he considers the positive energy that has been brought to his house by new ownership. "I feel lighter and confident in the future," he said, praising the Florida-based Falic family, which last year bought the firm from LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and is now spearheading a U.S.-led expansion. "It's because of them we are looking forward again. They are so supportive, really." To wit: All the couture workers were invited on Wednesday for a congratulatory lunch in the picturesque gardens off the Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré salons, which have been welcoming a steady stream of devoted clients.

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