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It may be an insecure moment for the metier itself, but, nevertheless, the fall couture shows were full of intriguing life. Christian Lacroix, for instance, chose this season to blend wonder and restraint in a beautiful collection, while Jean Paul Gaultier used the superlative workmanship of his house to create stylish musketeers.

This story first appeared in the July 9, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Christian Lacroix: Christian Lacroix’s models wore their hair in huge silvery fluffs that, according to hairdresser Odile Gilbert, were supposed to look as if they had their heads in the clouds. Perhaps so, but the girls, and the designer who dressed them, experienced their fall couture reverie with feet firmly, if delicately, on their ground. That deft weaving of wonder and restraint made for an exquisite collection.

It is interesting that in this moment of insecurity for the couture, one of its most fanciful participants has chosen to walk the real side of haute. The richness of Lacroix’s clothes — apart from his remarkable mastery of his craft — lies in acute romanticism, usually expressed with boundless passion seemingly blind to such pragmatic considerations as who will wear these clothes, where and when. Not so with this collection, in which the designer tempers his innate emotion with subtle restraint. So much so that, sans cumulous coiffure, almost every look he showed could drift right into a real-life event. True, Lacroix’s reality is not one of suited discretion, but neither is it of the in-your-face, billion-dollar flourish. Rather, it works the ethereal side of luxe, here sexed-up just so when appropriate.

But first, Lacroix showed some remarkable clothes for day, working fancy to deft advantage. Thus, an unexpected butterfly fastened a green wool coat, a leopard-print fur and flame jersey number strode the chic side of Jessica Rabbit and despite the froth of felted flower corsage and Pavlova-esque tulle, a white jacket and skirt combo avoided sugar shock.

Evening, however, is when Lacroix’s fancy typically unleashes in brilliant compilations fit most obviously for storybook princesses and rich 18-year-old brides. Not this time. Perhaps appearances of his clothes on the likes of Uma Thurman and Kirsten Dunst, not to mention his costume work for Madonna, got him thinking, because his spectacular gowns could find a happy home in Hollywood, while busting up the red carpet’s same-old-same-old redundancy with glorious distinction. Why not an emerald silk Josephine frock for Scarlett, flapper-esque jeweled tulle for Nicole and hot pink bustier diva gown for Catherine Zeta-Jones? At the same time, real real women, or at least those with unreal coffers, could find the dresses of their dreams, as well. Which is what couture is supposed to be all about.

Jean Paul Gaultier: Rushing to the defense of the couture, Jean Paul Gaultier sent out a swashbuckling collection to a soundtrack of clattering swordplay. But even more to the point, Gaultier’s workmanship, which is simply breathtaking, showed just why the couture is worth fighting for. This despite the fact that his atelier has undergone a major move, only recently having been reinstalled in the designer’s hôtel particulier after extensive renovations.

His pack of elegant musketeers, most of them caped, sporting broad, plumed hats and thigh-high boots to match the mood, perfectly played off the smart equestriennes Gaultier introduced at his first Hermès ready-to-wear show last March. And here, the focus on this branch of the horsey family was resolute. A shirred black fur cape trimmed with a glistening feather collar topped satin boots embroidered with climbing roses. There was a kilt-like tartan cape, a trench cape, a shearling cape, a gold sequined cape and plenty of cowled necklines to match. Suits usually get a big play at Gaultier, but this season there were surprisingly few, and those that did make it to the runway had jackets cut with — you guessed it — caped backs.

Meanwhile, Gaultier’s evening looks delivered a high polish to the affair. There were capes at night, too — one a play on the tailcoat, another taking its cue from Zorro’s gear. But the rigor of all that swashbuckling finally melted into something less severe, as a glorious harlequin cape bordered with fur was pulled around a draped satin stunner and another one, of the luxe, hand-painted variety, topped an electric pink cowled gown.

The delicate workmanship shone throughout. But for all its galloping glamour, where Gaultier’s collection fell short was in the endless repetition of the caped-cowled-and-booted theme, a gimmick that turned too costumey at times. And if you’re not a caped-crusader type — well, this may be the season to look elsewhere. As the Three Musketeers used to say, “All for one and one for all,” and here that battle cry certainly rang true.