Vive Paris! In rough financial times, the question always arises: Should designers play it safe, addressing their customers’ most obvious needs, or should they throw caution to the fashion winds and work the indulgence angle? During the spring collections the answer was just about unanimous, as designers there weighed in overwhelmingly not to play to the bleak historical moment with dour clothes, but to offer a wealth of gleeful antidotes.

The results were spectacular as the Paris collections radiated with imagination, wit and genuine joy, at the heart of which lay a very real sense of daring. Everyone loved it and came away hoping that such bravura will inspire consumers in much the same way it did the industry audience. "We’re going through a time when french Fashion is the trend," Bergdorf Goodman’s Robert Burke said. "They can do it unlike anybody." Bloomingdale’s Kal Ruttenstein called the Paris season "one of the most exciting I’ve seen in 30 years of fashion."

Ruttenstein had a point. The generally strong showings in New York and Milan paled next to the wonders found in the City of Light. One of the week’s greatest moments came when Alexander McQueen staged a glorious shipwreck that featured forlorn maidens, romantic pirates, a John Maybury film about a fashion girl overboard and clothes so exquisite they approached couture. Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren threw a fashion party extraordinaire at Viktor & Rolf, pulsing with dance fever and a flurry of color, pattern and froth. Jean Paul Gaultier went racy romantic with eccentric nymphs in various states of undress fluttering atop swings and trapezes, as if in a sexually charged dream sequence. Junya Watanabe thrilled with his inventive garden party-gone-wrong with a coy twist on bondage, and Christian Lacroix showed a collection that looked like a dazzling gypsy outpost, right after he was decorated as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Bernard Arnault.

Yet the richness of Paris lay in its diversity, and not every show was over-the-top. While at his own house, John Galliano offered one of his wildest, most wonderful extravaganzas ever, with nary a nod to commercial viability, at Christian Dior, he delivered the thrill not in high theater or excess, but in a lineup of fabulous clothes that looked runway-to-retail ready — relatively speaking. Other designers played to an athletic aura. "It’s all about sportif, no?" Karl Lagerfeld mused before a Chanel show in which he dressed down the house signatures and finished with a parade of swimsuited models hoisting logoed leisure accoutrement — kites, a surfboard, even a dinghy. Yohji Yamamoto got in touch with his inner athlete by launching his new Y-3 collection for Adidas. At Balenciaga, Nicolas Ghesquière infused the chic surfer with a bit of whimsy, and in his return to the runway, Helmut Lang worked athletic references into beautiful clothes for mean city streets.Always, the sense of joy in fashion prevailed, nowhere more obviously than at Louis Vuitton, where Marc Jacobs delivered a delightful collection filled with charming clothes and those already-famous handbags with the logo reworked by Takashi Murakami, whose giant happy-monster balloons decorated the plaza outside the show. Jacobs explained it all simply: "People should feel good when they see these things." Amen!

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