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Has Karl Lagerfeld been visiting a few tony private schools or, say, catching some key episodes of “Gossip Girl”? Perhaps so, because on Tuesday, he went for the youth vote at Chanel with a spring couture collection of abbreviated looks featuring those fabled jackets. Here, one of his jeunes filles in a short, braid-trimmed gray suit.

There’s nothing quite like fashion in the round, as the curved shapes in Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel and Giorgio Armani’s Privé collections showed.

Chanel: Guests arriving at the Chanel couture show at the Grand Palais on Tuesday were hit with a very clear sign: The stage featured a soaring — as in 66 feet high — stone-colored classic jacket complete with double-C buttons and braid trim opened just enough at the bottom for the models to exit. Clearly, this would be a collection that centered on that most glorious of house standards. And indeed it did, as Karl Lagerfeld sent out a bounty.

There was another message, too, in the rotating circular stage, because curves and arcs were worked into the clothes in myriad ways. Yet the real news wasn’t about jackets, nor a particular cut to the clothes, but an unmistakable out-with-the-old vibe. Perhaps inspired by a flock of new, girlish clients — real ones, such as twentysomethings Jade Lau and Hind Hariri, who is said to be the world’s youngest billionaire [see Class of ’08, page 7] — the show beckoned unabashedly to the sweet bird of youth, her mom’s specs apparently already safely on file at the Rue Cambon. The most obvious bait: schoolgirl-short skirts, and ballerina flats with everything. The approach made sense, but it also made for mixed results. Certainly it provided some delightful viewing — who doesn’t love an ingenue in a pretty dress? — but too often at the expense of Chanel’s typical aura of haute chic.

Still, there were some beautiful clothes including — listen up — real day clothes: a pale tweed coat fastened with a brooch; a charming box-pleated salt-and-pepper halter dress with a matching jacket. Throughout, Lagerfeld worked in several side-draped skirts that made for some of his most womanly looks, if not always his most alluring. As for all of the circular motion, it turned up in seaming, puckering and a skirt crafted from giant white silk roses.

When it’s time to hang up her jacket, a girl can slip into any number of party dresses that came feathered, frilled and frothed-out, some utterly charming and others, downright unflattering: What hope is there for the civilian rich when a shape makes one of these tiny models look rotund? Thankfully, however, Lagerfeld still feels his older customers’ pain, and so he sent out a pair of dazzling allover embroidered gray gowns, perfect for lighting up the most sophisticated of nights.

Ode To Joie

Christian Lacroix: In a word, exquisite. Christian Lacroix redeemed a rather lackluster couture season on Tuesday with a collection that sparkled with haute joie de vivre expressed via stunningly beautiful clothes.

Lacroix was inspired by his Patou past (he recently spent endless hours in his archives preparing for his exhibit now at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs), in particular the stage costumes he did while at the house, as well as by his beloved la Parisienne. “It’s very French,” Lacroix said of his spring lineup, “but French seen through the American movies of the Fifties.” Perhaps so, but who knows to what films he referred? Edith Head never whipped up anything like this.

The show’s festive mood also took a page or two from the circus as Lacroix worked wonders with pastiches of silks, brocades, laces and embroideries. A recurring black ribbon motif lent folkloric charm and daring prints a tribal touch. Yet some time ago Lacroix made the decision to pare down, relatively speaking. Apparently — and happily — he has no intention of veering from that newfound sense of control. For spring, he exercised it masterfully, juxtaposing fluffy trapeze against saucy curves, pouf descendant against lanky goddess, textural montage against simple chiffon. It was captivating, and all that couture should be.


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