THE PARIS EXPRESS
WHILE KARL LAGERFELD EXERCISED THE BREADTH OF HIS IMAGINATION AT CHANEL — FROM BIKER CHICKS TO GIRLY GIRLS — AND BALENCIAGA’S NICOLAS GHESQUIERE WENT OVER-THE-TOP PERFECTLY WITH PRINTS, JEAN PAUL GAULTIER MIXED HIS MEN’S WEAR INSPIRATIONS WITH SPORTIER FARE.

Chanel: Sobriety and restraint? Chez Chanel? Mais non! Karl Lagerfeld believes that fashion should go for the gusto, just like a good brewski. And that’s what he did on Thursday in a collection packed with high energy, countless ideas and a wealth of great clothes.
The set at the Carousel du Louvre gave the first clue — a stretch of clear, winding runway so long that fashion editors would typically get nervous. (Spoiled crowd; hates a long show.) But this is Lagerfeld we’re talking about. He lives in fast motion, and works the same way. He opened the show with a model in red leather biker gear posing beneath an illuminated red Chanel logo. As the stage lights went up, she hit that curvy path at lightning speed, followed by an army 56 strong, who bounded one right after the other in a rapid visual assault. They wore a little of this and a little of that, a soupcon of all the delights the house of Chanel has to offer. Amused by the opening biker-chick clique? Don’t follow them too long, or you’ll miss the hint of bad-girl luxe grunge. Long to linger in the tradition of Coco tweeds? Snap out of it! Here comes a military moment — officers, of course. Aye-aye, Erin! Love the leggy jacket-as-micro-coatdress motif? Bye-bye! Storybook ingenues, step right up.
Karl kept it all coming at a riotous pace, so much so that you wanted him to slow down a bit to let you catch your breath and take in the clothes. And, oddly enough, you wanted more, not ideas, but direction — what are your must-haves, Karl? Yet, there was a method to his mixture. As he did last season, Lagerfeld wanted to flaunt the breadth of the house of Chanel, while perhaps thumbing his nose at those designers who prefer the one-thought-per-show approach so widespread today. From performance sports gear to diaphanous evening frocks and from sneakers to chic spectators with gold chain-and-pearl ankle straps, a woman’s every need can be satiated from within the hallowed studios on Rue Cambon.
Still, despite the information overload, one could sense Lagerfeld’s passion for a few key points. Newly aware of the joys of looking svelte himself, he loves a long, tight jacket. He touted as well full-skirted leathers, the occasional skirt-over-pants look and, for evening, graceful, sheer flyaway cages over midriff tops and skirts. He also celebrated the classic Chanel play of black and white — a frothy skirt topped by a flyaway tank, for example, and pearls, pearls, pearls. They go with everything: chi-chi suits, girlish dresses, even what could pass for a car mechanic’s industrial duds.
With so democratic an instinct at play on the runway, the security staff at the Carousel du Louvre must have felt inspired. When the typical mad rush backstage occurred after the show, the men in red ties directed everyone off the runway, including the man who paid for the whole thing, Chanel chairman Alain Wertheimer. Liberte, fraternite, egalite du mode. We’ll always have Paris.

Balenciaga: Some designers strike a momentary nerve that fascinates their peers; a very few are able to wield the power of influence for extended periods. Whether Nicolas Ghesquiere can maintain his clout remains to be seen, but right now, he is the most-copied designer on the planet. The fabulous artsy-industrial collection he showed on Thursday will only strengthen the fascination, not to mention the in-house competitive stakes among the designers at Gucci Group’s newly acquired houses.
Ghesquiere pioneered the Grecian goddesses we’re still seeing after two seasons, along with all those ankle-clutching pants. (We’re not happy about that one, Nicky.) Just look at one of the biggest trends of the season, white, and think back to his Balenciaga collection of a year ago, with all of its pristine angel fluff.
Well, guess what? For spring, Ghesquiere has moved on, with a collection that fuses brilliantly the unlike attitudes of casual and dramatic. “I wanted to go away from something very plain,” he said before his show. “I wanted to experiment with prints, and push the idea very far. I wanted it to be Seventies hippie, L.A., but with an industrial side — the combination.” Koos Van Den Akker, meet Naf Naf. You’ll make a stunning couple. Ghesquiere worked elaborate cloud-like collages from an array of richly colored prints, some from Liberty, some custom silks, all with a distinct aura of exotica when put together. He used these for dresses and tops, almost all of which were cut like tanks. Some came flimsy, others slightly padded for greater structure. His other opposing element: washed, crinkled rayons in soft green and pale pink, sometimes embellished with same-color corduroy, which he cut into the most relaxed dresses, skirts and low-slung pants, recalling the dawn of relaxed streetwear in the Eighties. These looked utterly comfortable and undone, yet were far from simple, all kinds of extra strips and ties criss-crossing the shapes.
One pair of pants was inspired, Ghesquiere said, by “chaps du cowboy.” Together, the collage tops and rugged-soft pants took on the look of a chic post-industrial harem, proof that designers don’t have to do those darned dropped crotches when they start dreaming of genie.
One of Ghesquiere’s strengths is that he knows when to say when. He backed off of the collage motif — something has to cost less than a zillion — for the ease of those pale separates. And for his finale, he reworked the idea in black, adding in a touch of le smoking. Terrific, yes, but it’s those prints that will have his designing colleagues in a tizzy. Too bad for them, P.V. already happened.

Jean Paul Gaultier: In an astonishing display of unity, one after another, the world’s top designers have fallen for dropped-seat pants. Saggy, baggy and, some might say, ugly. We may never know why droopy drawers have become suddenly so universally appealing, but there they were on the runway — again — this time at Jean Paul Gaultier’s show. And who else is going to give you the three-piece pinstriped version of the season’s trendiest look? Out it came: a proper banker’s jacket and sharp trousers smothered by a drapey sling skirt that bunched and swung between the knees.
To begin, Gaultier sent out a slew of draped gowns and jumpsuits in orange and peach — that’s Hari Krishna peach — though his Indian adventure was hardly a literal rendering. He mixed the exotic with the sportif, pairing a peach parachute ballskirt with a sunny yellow sports jersey. While he may have brought Bollywood to the basketball court, his look can only describe the national costume of one nation — the Land of Gaultier.
Of course, besides his relentless cleverness, there are two things the designer’s loyal subjects can’t do without — those classic masculine-feminine plays and his stretchy, sexy dresses and tops. The men’s wear looks came in the form of morning coats worn with track pants, while, for fans of the body-hugging stuff, Gaultier sent out wrapped bikinis and a series of odder-than-ever dresses, with ruffles made from knee-high nylons. Yup, just like the kind Granny wore, and in a color palette that ran from electric yellow to, well, the icky orangy hue of Peds.