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The Latest From Paris

These three designers will launch collections — two on their own and one for a venerable French house — during Paris Fashion Week. Here’s a preview.<BR><BR><STRONG>Patrick Robinson for Paco Rabanne</STRONG><BR><BR>Patrick Robinson is...

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These three designers will launch collections — two on their own and one for a venerable French house — during Paris Fashion Week. Here’s a preview.

Patrick Robinson for Paco Rabanne

Patrick Robinson is no metal worker. He’s a man of the cloth, so to speak. So don’t expect any clothes that could stick to a magnet when he shows his first collection for Paco Rabanne on March 5.

Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

“The brand has had a strong message with metal dresses. Those dresses [Rabanne] did in the Sixties are incredibly sexy and provocative. The customer has seen it and has taken it as a given, but it hasn’t stayed relevant,” the 38-year-old designer said. “The real soul of the brand is bigger than one dress. Why [Rabanne] showed that is more important. The question is, ‘How does that woman dress today?’ ”

Robinson’s answer? “Seductive, glamorous, sleek clothing, no matter what time of the day.”

Most recently the designer at Perry Ellis, where his Pretty Baby designs earned raves, Robinson nevertheless had a falling out with management and left after three seasons. That was the latest bump in a topsy-turvy fashion career. After training under Giorgio Armani in Milan, Robinson was thrust into the spotlight when he was plucked to head Anne Klein in 1995. Three seasons later, he was unceremoniously fired, which inspired him to launch a signature collection.

When Mario Grauso, head of Puig Group’s fashion division, invited Robinson to dinner and suggested the Rabanne slot, Robinson didn’t hesitate.

“There’s something more personal about this collection than anything I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s closest to my heart.”

Robinson succeeds Rosemary Rodriguez, who had quietly built a wholesale following. But she worked in the shadow of Rabanne himself, who only relinquished his consulting role at the house last October.

In Robinson’s view, the brand harbors major potential, and he plans to use its heritage as a “cocktail, evening brand” to great advantage and expand that essence to all occasions. Ultimately, he also hopes to put his hands on Rabanne’s successful array of fragrances, noting that women’s scents are not as well developed as those for men.

“The clothes will set the tone for everything,” he said, noting that an advertising campaign won’t be done until “the following season.”

The Memphis-born designer must be one of Paris’ most enthusiastic new expats.

Despite separation anxiety — from his wife, Virginia Smith, Vogue’s market director, and their 17-month-old son, Wyeth — Robinson has been soaking up the French capital’s stunning architecture and stylish people with gusto.

“Just look at that,” he said, gesturing at a stunning view of the Louvre courtyard through a window at Café Marly.

But he’ll be tearing himself away from the inspiring capital shortly after the show. “I’ll be traveling around the world to our top retailers to introduce the collection,” he said. “If you don’t sell clothes, you’re not in business.” — Miles Socha

Giambattista Valli

In his years at Emanuel Ungaro, designer Giambattista Valli cultivated a style synonymous with prints, colors and revealing, floaty chiffon dresses.

But now that he’s flying on his own, with a debut signature collection in a runway show here March 4, he’s honing a style closer to his heart.

“Ungaro was about decoration,” explained the designer in his studio in the Marais. “My line is purer. I wanted to create a clearly recognizable line. I want a woman to feel the cut of the scissors in the clothes.”

But that doesn’t mean Valli will forsake the celebrity and social set, which he appealed to at Ungaro with his cool, sexed-up styles.

“My clothes are for the international jet set,” he said. “They are very much for the red carpet.”

To wit: Much of the collection revolves around dramatic evening gowns, largely in black, some with lace and others decorated with ribbons and bows. They are highly detailed, with cuts that speak to a couture sensibility.

“The couture influence is my French side,” said the Italian-born Valli, who started at Ungaro in 1997 and was elevated to creative director a year later. “My aesthetic is part French, part Italian. There’s an austerity in my Italian side. The French don’t have that. They have the cocotte. I identify with both.”

Valli is not only concentrating on gowns. He said there would be plenty of tailoring, mostly in black. A crisp “Proustian” redingote with a high fur collar and military details is an example. Black is his color of choice, but there are vibrant shades as well as a couple of girly prints.

Cashmere T-shirts and jeans are also part of his arsenal. “But not just any jeans — jeans that have been treated in a very different way. I don’t want to do something that can be found [cheaper] elsewhere.”

Valli’s line will be produced and distributed by Gilmar, the Italian clothing manufacturer that makes Iceberg. (Last fall, Valli also took on a role as co-creative director of the Italian label.)

“This is a collection of items,” he said “It’s a very important part of the philosophy behind the line. They are pieces that a woman can make her own, pieces that can enhance her personality, that she can integrate into her wardrobe, and that she can interpret in her own way.” — Robert Murphy

Cate of the Hill

After designing Montana and working at Plein Sud, Catherine Brickhill, who was also Alexander McQueen’s assistant for five years, is throwing caution to the wind and launching her first signature collection. The striking 33-year-old blonde will present to press and buyers in the MC2 showroom in the Marais. Eskimos were her primary inspiration. “That means winter whites and layering, fur and patchwork jackets,” said Brickhill, who also whipped up several denim looks among her dramatic evening skirts and fur-trimmed vests. “I like couture details,” she added. “I think of my style as sophisticated and feminine.” — R.M.

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