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Rock Stars, Royals and Reality

Giorgio Armani's fall Prive couture collection was inspired by David Bowie, while Jean Paul Gaultier's had a princes-and-maharajas theme. Both, however, showed plenty of looks that could fit seamlessly into real women's wardrobes.

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Giorgio Armani Privé: Once again, Giorgio Armani scored the season’s biggest star wattage as the dazzling Cate Blanchett graced his front row, a knockout vision of black and blonde. She took in the designer’s best Privé collection yet, a controlled, savvy ode to wearable chic of the tony sort.

Though Armani cited David Bowie as his inspiration, he kept the references so well in check that, save for the occasional spangled fedora, big holographic buckle closures and some glam-rocky colors, one could easily have missed the connection. And that was wise indeed, as Armani thus avoided the silliness such a theme might trigger. The lone caveat: his finale, a trio of gowns with bizarre molded elliptical skirts. If he was aiming for Space Oddity, well, he hit the mark. Still, Armani should be excused that bit of overwrought theatricality. After all, this is couture. And no disrespect to Bowie, the actual inspirations here were real women — Blanchett and those who would resemble her — who covet chic, flattering clothes. Armani packed his lineup with plenty.

He opened with short, trim jackets in men’s wear fabrics over fanciful full skirts, giving the masculine/feminine schtick a fresh buoyancy. Conversely, he sometimes reined in the silhouette with tulip skirts and a little banded red cocktail dress. As for major evening, these days Armani seldom bothers with anything not geared toward standard notions of red-carpet suitability, and this collection was no exception (that finale and some feisty over-the-top feathering aside). Thus, he offered a siren serenade of curvy black va-va-voom gowns, each one embroidered, jeweled or otherwise done up for distinction. One stunner was aquiver with countless miniature crystal-edged fans. Because, for a big night, there’s no such thing as fanning the flames of glamour too much.

Jean Paul Gaultier: Jean Paul Gaultier has a remarkable knack for staging elaborate, exotic costume dramas while featuring real clothes that can and will be ordered and worn elsewhere, as in real life. He did exactly that again on Wednesday, in an impressive romp titled “Princes et Maharajas,” a men’s wear-inspired tale with all the East-West dichotomy its name implies.

Gaultier’s Occidental royalty hailed from the storybook military genre. Done up in trim waistcoats over skintight breeches tucked into boots, the models might have stepped out of a cross-dressed Cinderella. The maharajahs were more elaborately turned — and turbaned — out. Either way, Gaultier displayed just how much can be derived from a single motif, or even a single garment.

To wit, he worked the admiral’s jacket brilliantly, nipping, fringing, braiding, cutting away into swashbuckling tails. The Oriental counterpoint allowed him to soften the precision tailoring and ratchet up the embellishment as he brocaded, swathed, draped and bejeweled in a manner that would appeal to the Aga Khan as well as Mrs. Big Bucks.

Mixed in were new takes on the designer’s signature pieces — le smoking, the trench, beautifully draped dresses, the last tweaked toward the theme with the addition of demonstrative epaulets (a major motif) — as well as some showstoppers, such as a velvet coat embroidered in floral needlepoint and a lace cheongsam-cum-mermaid gown.

Unfortunately, two such looks made the list for their chill factor: a princely getup accessorized with a full-carcass, nose-to-tail white fox slung shoulder-bag style on each arm and another with endless sleeves made from two gigantic fox skins (this time headless) ombréd from white to blue. Fur is perhaps the most volatile issue in fashion today. Though one can argue that at least Gaultier isn’t afraid to show it for what it is, these looks seemed intended to deliberately goad the PETA set and unsettle everyone else. They certainly made at least some fur fans rethink their stance.

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