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Alexander McQueen: Talent or savvy — which dominates? In the high-stakes, high-chic chess game of fashion, competitors need both as they try to manipulate their way into the most favorable position possible. Alexander McQueen is unquestionably one of the most talented, and multitalented, designers alive, possessor of at least a trifold genius: designer, craftsman, showman. Yet to date he has managed to translate his creative bounty into only a tiny business. Exactly how he will maneuver that reality within the altered state of Gucci Group, which seems focused on growth sooner rather than later, remains to be seen.

For the moment, however, the collection McQueen presented on Friday night gave zero indication of an imminent clipping of the wings. And sagely so, since the show was nothing short of a tour de force during which he dazzled the industry with yet another exhibition of his superlative gifts. As he did a year ago with his dance marathon masterpiece, McQueen went to the movies for inspiration, cross-pollinating “Picnic at Hanging Rock” with “Harry Potter.” From the former, he took the notion of spit-and-polish Edwardian attire, and from the latter, a game of human chess in which the castles wore motocross jumpsuits; the knights, American football gear, and the queens, mini party frocks in states of stationary swirl, mile-high headdresses their proof of office.

But make no mistake: This was no costume parade, but a checkerboard of McQueen’s favorite themes expressed gloriously in exquisite real clothes. Thus, his pawns went eye-to-eye — on one side, yellow-frocked maidens, and on the other, the well turned-out students of “Hanging Rock.” They wore some of the smartest, most unassuming jackets of the season over snap-to-attention crisp skirts and shorts or sensible skirts. Conversely, what girl wouldn’t love to frolic in gentle buttercup ruffles, or a full-skirted patchwork of flowers and paisleys? McQueen also revisited the 18th century for corsets and brocade jackets over full, padded skirts.

Throughout, he lavished the collection with cross-cultural elements, particularly Japanese kimono shapes and embroideries. While most such embellishments require up-close inspection for the fullness of awe to set in, the runway gave ample hints, as in a stunner of a gown in beige silk, its skirt a playground for prancing carousel horses.

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The game played itself out as a serious affair, each human chess piece remaining poker-faced and clearly suspicious of her counterpart. Which may be why McQueen took his bow to Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.” Or perhaps he was merely engaging in a provocative game of a different sort. Time will tell.

Valentino: Valentino, that champion of glamorous women everywhere, designs in a range that spans rich to richer. This season, while his was an opulent collection, he toned down the overt steam, with more relaxed A-line and box-pleated skirts, and pondered sportiness in the form of parkas.

No matter if he’s in high-glamour mode or low, however, Valentino is the ultimate in classic femininity. In a subdued palette of ivory, khaki and bronze, his clothes were rife with feminine charm. A cream beaded lace shirt topped tailored khaki pants, while an abbreviated iridescent pink silk parka was paired with a silver sequined skirt.

Using a little trick that has worked so well in the past, Valentino decorated dresses and skirts with portholes woven with ribbons, pearls or chains from day into evening. A pink silk dress with a ribbon running through its rings was shown with a matching angora cardigan, while a frosty white gown was belted with strands of pearls.

And, because there are always scores of soirees on his gals’ agendas, Valentino sent out graceful glittering options to suit every occasion, from a mother-of-pearl and tulle top to full-flou gowns and those of the tiered ruffle variety.

One uncharacteristic misstep: printing otherwise pretty clothes with the Valentino name writ large all over, which just seemed silly. After all, the refined glamour of Valentino’s clothes speaks for itself.

John Galliano: Maybe life in Neverland isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, because it seems as if fashion’s favorite Peter Pan, John Galliano, is spending a lot more time on the outside these days. At his Saturday night show, the house lights went down on the shockingly early side — a mere 39 minutes late — and Galliano followed his Dior wearable-clothes extravaganza with a yet another twistedly original group of wearable clothes. Sure, the collection had a haute grunge aura that conjured up some groovy granny in San Francisco who’d blown her mind back in the heyday of the Haight. That’s what happens when you strap an inflatable beach toy to a model’s head like a hat, give her thick brown socks to wear with her fluttering rosy gown or tie a tiger balloon to the wrist of the girl wearing a flotilla of pink chiffon. But, for the most part, Galliano’s folly followed function.

At its core, Galliano worked up an intricate patchwork of peppy tweeds collaged with denim galore, classic ruffled chiffon dresses and skirts as well as modestly swagged T-shirt dresses. Meanwhile, doubled daisies built into the shoulder and waist jazzed up jackets and a shimmering kaleidoscopic coat and bell-bottoms amped up the psychedelia — and the luxe factor. And suddenly, the collection was framed in a different light, as the prospect of women actually wearing Galliano’s runway clothes became more likely.

But what would a Galliano show be without a few extravagant dresses done solely in the name of eye-popping eccentricity? He couldn’t resist a giddy fleet of hot pink gowns blooming at the neckline with plastic flowers like built-in leis. It was having your luau and eating it, too.

Rochas: The Rochas house identity is established — ladylike with a cool-girl edge. Now Olivier Theyskens must broaden his range while taking care not to assume that his own Parisian hip image will transfer indefinitely to his clothes.

The collection Theyskens showed on Sunday morning felt too familiar for someone who has so recently broken into the mainstream consciousness. To his credit, Theyskens resuscitated Rochas from a state of nothingness on the strength of his different-drummer, anti-eclectic approach to feminine dressing delivered in a handful of key motifs — corsetry, ruffle-bordered jacket, the big-time diva ballgown. He continued all of the above for spring in a manner that recalled Janet Leigh in Hitchcock mode, the models wide-eyed, their hair twisted up primly into place. And they wore some lovely clothes, mostly reed-thin in antithesis to the volume elsewhere. An icy blue plissé was newest and infused his tailoring with buoyancy, while a pretty floral with black lace overlay countered the mostly monotone pairings. Theyskens also showed more of his prettily constructed corset and bra dresses, although a pair with sloppy falling hems were a mistake, intentional or otherwise.

As for the Rochas hip factor, at their core, many of these clothes looked anything but. Rather, they had about them a bourgeois aura as suited to certain-age grande dames as to the young fashion celebrants for whom propriety of dress is a trend rather than a way of life.