Byline: S.F-W.

The windy city was the last stop on a whirlwind U.S. tour for Christian Lacroix. The French designer blew into town to show Chicagoans his spring collection and accept the Chicago Historical Society’s second annual award for excellence in design.

The fashion show, which took place in a tent built for the occasion in the courtyard of the Historical Society, included several of Lacroix’s favorite Parisian models. The production got a standing ovation from the crowd.

The award was particularly appropriate because at one time Lacroix wanted to become a fashion curator himself. “Without the history of costume, I wouldn’t have become a designer,” he said.

Lacroix complimented Chicago on its elegant architecture and on the style of its women.

“They are conservative, but with a personal touch,” he said. In Marshall Field’s, which sponsored the show and carries his line, both the classics and the crazy stuff do well, he said.

Lacroix himself illustrated both sides of the style coin during his visit. Dressed for our interview in red corduroy pants, a blue denim shirt and a riotous patchwork tweed jacket, he wore a conservative black tuxedo for the party.

And the party guests? If they couldn’t get their hands on a Lacroix original, many paid tribute to the designer’s love of lavish colors by leaving their usual understated black dresses on the hanger and pulling something brighter out of the closet.

Lacroix, who made his name as a designer of high-priced haute couture, also donated two couture gowns for the museum’s collection. He laments the fact that couture has become less acceptable — at least in public — in the austere Nineties.

“Wearing genuine fashion is an uplifting and optimistic approach…minimalism and black and white doesn’t make the fashion world work,” he said.

He noted the important role couture has played in helping French craftsmen, for example weavers and embroiderers, to survive. “Couture customers are like patrons,” he said.

However, he recognizes that even his ready-to-wear line, where jackets exceed $2,000, is out of the range of the average woman and said he is working on a third, more affordable line. He relishes the challenge of “providing the same fantasy and wit at a lower price.”