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Paris Couture: Slavic Style and a Victorian Vision

<STRONG>Jean Paul Gaultier</STRONG>: Jean Paul Gaultier has rejoined the lofty ranks of couture splendor. The collection he showed on Friday positively dazzled, a Parisienne-cum-Ukranian jewel in which he struck an impossibly deft balance between...

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Jean Paul Gaultier: Jean Paul Gaultier has rejoined the lofty ranks of couture splendor. The collection he showed on Friday positively dazzled, a Parisienne-cum-Ukranian jewel in which he struck an impossibly deft balance between storybook romance and high chic.

It’s no secret that, recently, life has been somewhat tumultuous chez Gaultier. But after a strong spring ready-to-wear at retail and this spectacular couture showing, things are only looking up. Unlike last season, when his wanderlust turned flat, here Gaultier spun a trip to the Ukraine into a glorious visual feast. And for all its lavish decoration, he kept it on the right side of costumery, unless you count Miss Cosmopolitan Ukraine, the flower-bonneted beauty queen who trolled the audience flashing the Nemiroff vodka label from her streamers. (At least she brought along sidekicks who served vodka and caviar.) Save for her amusing but tacky presence, Gaultier’s judgment proved flawless.

With variations on Slavic style all over fashion, Gaultier turned the ordinary — fur-trimmed romanticism — extraordinary. And though it all oozed opulence, since he often made his case with the extras — fringes, fur trimmings, the models’ hair worked into miles of intricately sculpted braids — he skirted both cliché and excess.

In a big coat season, his are stunning — dark beauties sure to take the bleakness out of the harshest winter. First out: a black cashmere redingote with ample mink collar and trim. Then came full fur skirts cut to the knee and bodices kept small for real wearability. Gaultier went on to nod toward the Cossack set, exploring lavish color and decoration, and worked in his beloved standards — the perfect trench, the nonchalant shirt.

Evening went folkloric, the decoration literally reaching full flower in a tapestry-appliquéd tulle skirt with a blouse of tiny multicolored ruffles, or noble-worthy, with rich spills of velvet in Lady Guinevere mode. And for the ultimate event dress, tiers of mixed fabrics made for a ruched, ruffled masterpiece.

Givenchy: You might not have realized it was a couture event, considering the hordes crushing through Givenchy’s Avenue George V atelier, and the rough and rude security detail that kept everyone stumbling right along. Nevertheless, Riccardo Tisci’s debut collection, shown in a series of tableaux vivants, was full of dark promise. The 30-year-old gave a nod to tradition but demonstrated a Gothic edge all his own. Snug jackets, one with its lapels cut in sharp fan pleats, and long, tailored skirts were Victorian-inspired. A woolly gown in black looked like it had been spun from luxe spiderweb, while a black trenchcoat was finished off with a flurry of ostrich plumes.

Whether Tisci’s clothes meet the haute standards of true couture, and whether he’ll prove able to shoulder those demands, remains to be seen. But while he initially seemed like a wild card choice, his apparent skills as a ready-to-wear designer — though not as an event planner — put a hopeful spin on the future for Givenchy.

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