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Quelle Follie

PARIS — Real life — it isn’t all Yohji serenity and Chanel chic. Sometimes it just stinks, which may be why, when couture season rolls around, some designers like to indulge in a little fantasy and haute diversion for themselves and...

PARIS — Real life — it isn’t all Yohji serenity and Chanel chic. Sometimes it just stinks, which may be why, when couture season rolls around, some designers like to indulge in a little fantasy and haute diversion for themselves and their clients. Of course, even the haute costume shop has its share of misses along with the hits, and often they turn up on the same runway. On Wednesday, Emanuel Ungaro let rip with his most extreme reveries on exotica, and at Givenchy, Julien Macdonald prepped his girls to cover for the chorines at whips-and-chains night at the Bellagio.

But the fantasy train stopped first at Christian Lacroix. While other designers fall in and out of love with whimsy, it goes to the core of Lacroix’s essence. He loves the haute concept of indulgence not only for its sky’s-the-limit resources, but for its inherent possibilities. A genuine optimist, Lacroix seizes the moment — not to mention the silks, laces, tassles, feathers and frills — to share with his audience and clientele.

The question going into any Lacroix show is not will it be elaborate, but how much so. And in his collection for fall, he held back just a bit, which may be why one did not feel the giddy pleasure triggered by his best shows. Still, there were marvels enough. Of course, like most moods in fashion, restraint is relative, and Lacroix spun a fanciful tale to a Latin beat, featuring a bevy of masked beauties, their hair piled high under vibrant frills and bright feathered hats. Despite their veiled faces, the models were more playful than mysterious, sashaying the shiny red runway done up in concoctions that spanned centuries and continents. The clothes are more involved than a lovers’ triangle, and sometimes as messy. But more often, the look is alluring, a girl’s every move revealing a little secret of construction.

What shouldn’t be a secret by now is that, in the midst of all of the stuff, Lacroix makes some very wearable clothes; though not for minimalists, his coats and jackets look offbeat chic, and his eveningwear, divine. Ditto his range of fabrics. This season he worked in some rough elements among the refined silks, laces and sparkles. He put a raw wool coat over a red chiffon dress, and a gently distressed white negligee over a black lace slip that flew open to reveal glittering red panties — perfect for boudoir babes.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Emanuel Ungaro, too, revels in the glories of couture — the possibilities, the extravagance, the art — and he loves to push it to its limits and beyond. Often the result is sensational. But it can leave one with the feeling that Ungaro is the John Nash of fashion, his work just too complicated for the merely literate. The collection he showed on Tuesday, a tirade of color, pattern, texture, layers and influences — had some such moments. After so dazzling a show last spring, in which he reined in his wilder tendencies without really taming them, the aggressive abandon on display here felt all the more startling.

The collection seemed dedicated to rival muses, Salome and Alexis Carrington, because, for all its abundant exotica, that good old Eighties RB was in there somewhere, clawing to get out, which may explain those demonstrative animal prints. Ungaro opened with a parade of girls in big jackets, lavishly embroidered micromini skirts and brazen over-the-knee boots. A tough look in more ways than one, although alone, the racy little skirts would suit the Hilton sisterhood perfectly.

Most of the clothes, however, are aimed at more mature types, women who love to dress for drama. Still, a few seemed too much for even the most extroverted fashion sensibilities: When’s the last time you saw them queueing up for fur coats with animal-spotted leg ‘o’ mutton sleeves?

Yet what woman doesn’t love that singular spectacular piece? Ungaro showed plenty, his love for couture and utter comfort with its nuances evident from every turn. His coats are bold and beautiful: short, voluminous cocoons; an Indian-motif bathrobe, a rich kaleidoscope print. As usual, he fused mystery and delicacy in intricate evening dresses that came embroidered, laced and fringed, and fell offhandedly across the body. As for the Viva Las Paris much-ruffled hourglass motif — oops! But Ungaro offered a moment’s calm amidst the frenzy in a group of lovely black dresses with patterned borders.

There were no borders for Givenchy’s Macdonald. On one hand, he deserves a great deal of credit for trying to put his definitive stamp on the house after two seasons of testing the waters. On the other hand, well, you have to throw that hand up in the air and ask, Why? His collection strapped Las Vegas glitz into an S&M harness. There were big headdresses, a flurry of feathers, tighter-than-tight leathers, a mirrored warrior corset and those harnesses constricting everything from a pantsuit to a wedding dress. Yes, there were some fine clothes — a cutout leather skirt, a pantsuit with embroidered cutaway jacket, a flamboyant graffitied trenchcoat — but that’s not the point. Givenchy is a house sorely in need of an identity. Alexander McQueen’s tumultuous stint there was fueled in part by his aggressive, tough chic sensibility. It didn’t work then, and history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.