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There are two sides to every story, including, as it turns out, the fashion tale of the fall couture. John Galliano sent up Ancien Régime excess with a theatrical Christian Dior collection that mixed Madame Pompadour and Miss Universe. Ralph Rucci, however, in his fall looks for Chado, was working a more realistic side of the street, with opulent artistic looks aimed at his loyal clientele.

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Christian Dior: In an ABC News television interview preceding the July 4th holiday, Felix Grucci Jr. of New York’s first family of pyrotechnics explained his theory of a dazzling fireworks display. You open, he said, with a crescendo, all ablaze with glory, but then you take it down, allowing for the tension of anticipation. Of course, you finish big.

John Galliano, himself a master of a different kind of fireworks chez Christian Dior, begs to differ. Galliano believes that you start with a crescendo and then just keep amping up. That is how he approached the couture collection he showed for the house on Tuesday, a dazzling spectacle by any measure. But just like the celebratory night sky, every runway needs a little down time, those essential seconds that allow the psyche to process awe. Yet Galliano refuses to indulge his audience in even the most fleeting moments of calm, and it is sometimes impossible to take in the beauty of the clothes. As a result, the designer’s brilliance can get caught in a proverbial equation of diminishing returns.

Such was the case with the collection Galliano showed on Tuesday, a splendidly chic send-up of Ancien indulgence, as if Madame Pompadour had walked into her closet and out the other side into a gleeful asylum for crazed storybook illustrators, while at the same time future-channeling Marilyn Monroe, Vivienne Westwood and the Miss Universe Tiara Foundation.

Day clothes? Oh, you haute innocent. If this season marks the beginning of taps for the couture as the hiatus/exits of Versace and Ungaro might indicate, Galliano has no intention of letting the hallowed institution fade quietly into the night. No, his couture will either flourish or go guns, glitz and gems blazing into the oblivion in which its sourpuss critics have long thought it belongs. In that spirit, he sent out 28 of the grandest, most opulent and decorated fabric masterpieces imaginable. They were all sprung from a single motif, hyper-fitted through the hips and exploding into volume at some point thereafter. Each look boasted endless construction, all tucked, folded, pleated and turned, typically for stiffness rather than flou. On one, for example, sturdy folds created a huge ribbon candy effect across the hips. And Galliano piled on the embellishments to match, in lavish embroideries, beading, fur borders and some dreamy, museum-worthy hand-painting.

Wearable? As is, not a chance, with one or two exceptions. But each look held the promise of glorious distillation into divine red carpet or wedding regalia, which was surely not lost on Melania Knauss — Mrs. Donald Trump-to-be — in town for some haute trousseau shopping.

Still, for all of the collection’s opulence, here Galliano’s single-mindedness worked against him a bit. And, in the midst of his lavish, often breathtaking, fashion symphony, one couldn’t help but think that Felix Grucci had a point.

Chado Ralph Rucci: A more contemplative couture, for deep-thinking ladies with deep pockets, is what Ralph Rucci brings to the party. His is mature, ponderous fare crafted with impeccable flourish. And if it doesn’t deliver the rush of breathless inspiration that editors crave, so be it. Since the beginning, Rucci has resisted catering to the editorial set, focusing instead on providing his vociferous fans with a certain sort of artistically inclined, rich clothing not available on other runways.

This time around, Rucci’s Chado collection, based on the arching seams, geometry and Asian-fusion the designer loves, will surely offer a counterpoint to the frills and thrills elsewhere. It was not, however, one of his best. While individual looks worked well, such as a gray dress that positively fluttered with faint feathers, or a fawn brown coat with climbing vines of embroidery, somewhere along the line, things faltered. Too often proportions were achingly pretentious, from stiff alligator shifts to infanta eveningwear that ballooned toward tent territory. And, even for Rucci’s would-be-eccentric crew, that’s a certified no-woman’s land.