Every fashion season should start out like this: two strong, vastly different collections, each by a designer of rock-star status with a vision as clear and iron-clad as his resolve.  And each delivering a wealth of fashion.

On Monday, haute’s premier neophyte, Giorgio Armani, and its renegade laureate, Dior’s John Galliano, presented the kind of dichotomy that fashion lovers find divine. Armani worked the glorified-reality angle, and Galliano, the Warhol Factory-where-pregnant-girls-channel-the-Empress Josephine angle. Armani showed in a discreetly set loft; Galliano, in a send-up of one of the most notorious hangouts of the Mod era. And their efforts were powerful enough to stifle, at least for now, those boring musings about the haute genre’s viability.

Far from being an indulgent anachronism, the couture, despite its dwindling ranks, has found a new lease on life, one signed and sealed in Hollywood. Witness Valentino’s Carlos Souza boasting to a visitor during a couture preview, “Did you see the Golden Globes [a Val coup]?” And giving an honest response to the comment that the new gowns visible in the atelier had Oscars written all over them: “You got it, baby.”

In truth, awards dressing, the most obvious manifestation of the fashion-celebrity union, is a two-sided coin. On one hand, it pushes fashion beyond the soooo fabulous insider realm and onto a platform more understandable — and more interesting — to the mass public. Glam goddesses though they are, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the wives of Wisteria Lane radiate reality more genuinely than teenaged models paid to push perfection. On the down side (at least for those who like their fashion pure and provocative), like other real women the world over, actresses dress merely to look great, the latest, edgiest fashion trends be darned. And especially for big events, they dress to look thin. As a result, the bloom of pure fashion often gets ignored come awards time. When an actress does dare to try, the camera can be nasty. At the recent Golden Globes, on television Natalie Portman looked like an age-appropriate angel in her floaty chiffon Chloé; but, in those paparazzi photos, loose looked less heavenly.

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