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Paris Fashion Week 2012: Sleek and chic

Asian details, clean lines and new designers bring a breath of fresh air to fashion's capital city.

By Booth Moore

Fashion Critic

September 30, 2012

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PARIS — This season of Paris Fashion Week, which runs through Wednesday, is shaping up to be about new beginnings as designers show their spring-summer 2013 collections.

In the first of two main events, Belgian designer Raf Simons blew the dust off the mantel of Paris high fashion on Friday morning when he presented his first women's ready-to-wear collection as creative director for Christian Dior, where he replaced the disgraced John Galliano after a lengthy search for a successor. (Galliano, a star of the design world, was caught on a camera phone in February 2011 making drunken, anti-Semitic remarks that cost him his job and landed him in trouble with the law.)

The photographers outside the show were 10 deep, snapping pix of guests who included Robert De Niro, Kanye West, Olivia Palermo and Diane von Furstenberg pushing their way through the throng.

Simons rewrote the codes of French design for a new generation with a collection that was all about color, movement, lightness and legs. It was sexy all right, beginning with Dior's famous Bar jackets reinterpeted as super-short coat dresses with surprising bursts of color or crystal embroidery peeking out from a godet, a pleat or a hem.

Minidresses with trailing hems sizzled with iridescent streaks of color in motion. Ball gowns were deflated, chopped off at mid-thigh and worn over black shorts. And floral ball skirts were treated as casually as jeans, paired with black crew-neck sweaters — a trick Simons honed during his time at Jil Sander. Glittery eye shadow, fishnet veils and cat-eye sunglasses completed the vision of Dior 2.0.

The second big moment will come Monday, when Hedi Slimane, whose slim-line aesthetic dominated men's fashion when he was the designer for Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007, debuts his first women's collection as the new creative director for the venerable house of Saint Laurent, which he is designing between studios in Paris and Los Angeles.

The week is also about newcomers like Damir Doma, who have built their businesses independently, outside of the luxury industry's brand-as-star system, rather than working in the shadow of long-dead designer names at old fashion houses like Dior and Saint Laurent. Doma's edgy, sophisticated collection showed he is one to watch.

As witnessed at the Dior show, even in Paris — the industry's directional compass and ground zero for serious fashion — celebrity swirl is part of the scene.

The most eagerly anticipated front-row guest was scorned starlet Kristen Stewart, who turned up to see the Balenciaga collection by Nicolas Ghesquière. There were more paparazzi waiting outside for a shot at her than guests inside waiting for the show.

It was a sure bet that Stewart would come because she is the face of the house's new fall fragrance, Florabotanica, a mix of a hybrid rose, wood and moss inspired by a fractured fairy tale. And it seems as though Ghesquière must have had that fairy-tale theme in mind while designing the blockbuster collection, which was both naughty and nice.

(Of course, Stewart's own life became a fractured fairy tale this summer when she was caught cheating on her boyfriend, "Twilight" costar Robert Pattinson, with director Rupert Sanders. But the fashion house has stuck by her throughout the torrent of negative publicity.)

Nicola Formichetti, Lady Gaga's stylist extraordinaire and creative director of the house of Thierry Mugler (now known simply as Mugler) showed his spring-summer 2013 collection at Paris architecture museum Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine on Wednesday night. Though Gaga was not in the house (she is on tour and was performing in Zurich), she did send along a gift — a new, unreleased single for the soundtrack. Titled "Cake," the track is Gaga's first rap song. The show closed with the hit "Esta Noche" courtesy of Azealia Banks, who was sitting front row.

Although most of the New York collections for spring, shown in early September, were dominated by color and print, many of the Paris collections have been moving in a different direction, emphasizing clean lines and surfaces. Here is a rundown of trends and themes that had emerged as the week hit its halfway mark.

1990s REDUX

Midriff-baring bustiers and cropped tops, grunge plaids and Morrissey on the soundtrack. The 1990s are back in fashion for better or worse. At Balmain, designer Olivier Rousteing was inspired by 1990s Miami to mix diamond checkerboard prints and stripes on high-rise trousers, cropped jackets and leather bralettes.

Belgian designer Dries Van Noten spun a grunge romance, mixing masculine and feminine elements, sheer plaids and soft florals.

The key piece — a sheer, plaid button-down shirt (Noten's softer take on the grunge flannel) — was paired with everything from a silvery plaid sleeveless jacket, nipped at the waist, to a slouchy camel-colored grandpa sweater and sheer floral pajama pants.

SHEER GENIUS

The sheer trend we've seen on the runways the last few seasons isn't going anywhere. Van Noten used layers of sheer washed florals and checks on breezy, free-flowing silhouettes to bring weightlessness to his collection. And Rick Owens showed his light hand by putting models in transparent plasticky dresses and otherworldly hairstyles set against a bubbling wall of sudsy foam.

LOOK TO THE EAST

Karate-style jackets, pajama pants, sharp cuts and lacquered leather. Designers borrowed all that and more from the Far East.

Lanvin' s Alber Elbaz brought Asian-inspired kimono sleeves, sash belts, origami-like folds and silk knot details to disco chic evening clothes, including tuxedos and jewel-toned cocktail dresses.

At Mugler, the look was sexy and sculptural. Scuba knit dresses came with full, parasol-shaped short skirts and plastified horizontal pleats. Crisp blouses with lantern sleeves were worn over slick leather pants or miniskirts.

Damir Doma took a more utilitarian approach, pairing sash-belted apron skirts and cropped windbreakers or silk tunics with palazzo pants in vibrant hues.

CLEAN IT UP

Several designers had the impulse to lighten up on digitized prints and surface doodads and make a clean sweep. Precise cuts and clean lines at Balenciaga were Nicolas Ghesquière's answer to fashion's current embellishment overload.

Sculptural black-and-white dresses with molded bustiers and stiff ruffles nodded to the house's Spanish heritage. (Wool crepe bonded onto technical, synthetic fabric gave the forms their stiff shape.) And crisp, covetable wool canvas pants were worn with midriff-baring tops under long-line jackets or cropped capelet blouses.

With a soundtrack of Beach Boys tunes conjuring images of simpler times — the halcyon days of summer in the early 1960s, perhaps — Rochas designer Marco Zanini went for a clean, retro sportif look. His country club debutantes wore polos and crew neck sweaters with quilted white shorts or miniskirts; full skirts paired with boxy, midriff-baring button-downs in icy pastels or bold floral print taffeta; knit bra tops and sheer knife pleat skirts.

GOOD GIRLS GONE BAD

Sex kittens and Hollywood vixens are having their moment this season. At Nina Ricci, the serene shower of white petals that opened the show ended with a jolt when models stomped onto the runway wearing wool blazers and pencil skirts trimmed with zippers, leather harnesses, fishnet tops and see-through trench coats.

At Balenciaga, tweedy miniskirts with front pleats or gold button fastenings worn with matching cropped jackets had a touch of the naughty-schoolgirl vibe, while laser-cut leather dresses with thorny vine-like embroidery and jagged hems were wickedly sweet.

booth.moore@latimes.com