PRETTY TOUGH, QUITE RACY OR EVEN APOCALYPTIC
THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO CREATE AN APPEALING OR INTRIGUING COLLECTION. AND THAT WAS AMPLY ILLUSTRATED AS THE PARIS COLLECTIONS MOVED INTO HIGH GEAR WITH JOHN GALLIANO’S FAB FORAY INTO TRAILER-PARK BAD TASTE FOR DIOR, VALENTINO’S STYLISHLY TAILORED BEAUTIES, AND OLIVIER THEYSKENS’ DISTINCTIVE LEATHERS.

Christian Dior: John Galliano — cultural historian turned social scientist? Once upon a time, Galliano studied the grand dames, contessas and divas of old, bringing them magically to life in his runway reveries. Recently, however, he’s taken on more au courant themes, often harder to take and a lot more controversial, even in the anything-goes world of fashion. Most notable, of course, is his infamous homeless couture collection, so volatile that it was condemned in print by no less a combatant than the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. (By comparison, reaction to his fall couture’s S&M family album seemed tame.)
Is Galliano fazed by such upheaval? Apparently not, although he has moved on from those stylish homeless outposts along the Seine to a new venue — the local trailer park. And he worked the stereotype overtime, populating the place with lots of girls in heat, pretty-tough types who wear bad highlights, bad makeup and 24-hour stilettos. They also wear some fabulous clothes, although you couldn’t always tell from their motley combinations. The undergarment of choice: the far-side-of-vulgar fishnet body stocking. “I like a little bit of bad taste,” Galliano said before the show. “It helps determine good taste, and gives you a little bit of an edge, maybe.”
Lately, Galliano has gone back to his deconstructionist London days, and here he went crazy, contorting, twisting, rearranging everything with that trailer-girl twist, which means very sexy. Her newest essential: the zipper, which allows her to diversify her wardrobe like a mogul’s portfolio. Shirts and jackets zipped into uneven skirts; assorted frills zipped onto and off of everything. Tired of ruffles? Try sequins. Galliano’s jackets were beautiful, some evolved from the elaborately ruched, asymmetric shapes of the couture, others cribbed from serious life preservers, an amusing take on survivor chic.
In his own way, Galliano also worked the marketing angle. He flaunted Dior’s sensational new swimwear line with a trailer-park beauty pageant, the losers with heavy painted tears streaking their faces, the winners, bright lipstick kisses. Sometimes these were belted by the ripped waistband of old jeans. He also sent out his new “car bag” over and over, its contrasting shiny-matte finishes inspired by the interior of a Cadillac. And he splashed the names of various Dior fragrances — Miss Dior, J’adore, Diorella, Diorissimo — running down the leg of extra-baggy pants. (Galliano took his bow in pants that read “Oh Sauvage.”)
As for all the fabulous evening dresses that everybody wants from Dior, they were there, in rich, gentle fabrics that should skim the body with sensual allure — but not if John has his way. He wants women to try something new for a little of that edge: Wear them over pants, flat, like high-priced, flouncy aprons, arms through the sleeves, the skirt held to the body by one of those jeans waistbands. (Only in your dreams, John.) But then dreams — even crazy, Galliano-style dreams — are what fashion is all about.

Valentino: Val’s gals like their chic on the flashy side, and that’s just fine with him. Valentino has always believed that flamboyance is the better part of fashion, and over the years he has tempered that natural tendency to suit the mood of the moment.
This season he did it with a savvy, cool hand, letting his sophisticated customer indulge her feminine side, not with excessive glitz, but with well-placed frills and flourishes of cut for the right dose of drama. And if at times he repeated himself, well, someone had to spur a poncho revival, right? Valentino’s the one, and for the woman who likes to be noticed, it will work like a charm, allowing her to relive the thrill of flirtation as her poncho falls ever so casually off the shoulder, in linen by day, and sultry sequined chiffon by night.
As always, the designer cut a mean, lean suit, and his coats looked great, especially those shaped at the waist with a bow. In fact, throughout the collection he worked through many of his signatures — gently ruffled blouses, smart pants, perfect little dresses in straight and soft, full variations. For big evenings, Valentino went dotty — in more ways than one — with a black and white sweater and full plisse skirt. But the chiffon gowns with nude embroidered waist insets looked elegantly sexy.

Olivier Theyskens: London may be home to the controversial “Apocalypse” art show, but it’s Paris that’s the epicenter of apocalyptic chic. At least that’s true at Olivier Theyskens, whose dramatic presentation — a dark room, smoke machines, smeared makeup, mud-soaked shoes — was a metaphor for post-nuclear living. Ironically, the Monday night show was held in the midst of a mini-tornado. It didn’t make for an easy entry, but nothing will deter those fashion groupies, who, wearing teetering stilettos and armed with umbrellas, stormed the entrance with such determination that many journalists never made it inside.
That’s too bad, because they missed an innovative collection that challenged the very idea of all the retro that’s hitting the runways. Was it Eighties? Sure, the reference was there, but the magic was in the designer’s subtlety in transmuting the familiar into something truly his own.
Leathers are Theyskens’s forte, and this time he reworked them into anorak vests and skinny pants that tapered into leggings. He choose a bright canary yellow to open, perhaps a sign of light after life, and delighted his audience with leather ponchos, cargo pants, flight suits and combat jackets. These same shapes were re-created in distressed brown leather, Amelia Earhart-style, and they looked equally fantastic. So did the clean, winter-white gowns, zip-front jackets and Grecian draped dresses. Survivor Chic? Absolutely, and you don’t even have to be Richard Hatch to enjoy it.

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