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Designing Dangerously

TIMES FASHION EDITOR

“The ladies will get bored if you make clothes that are right for them. They want a safe touch of danger.” With that, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld shipped his controversial fall collection from New York to the 20th Century Fox studios for a show hosted by the Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, the fund-raising group laced with society ladies.

Biker boots and belts, black leather jackets over evening skirts and uncounted yards of Gap-inspired, Chanel-labeled blue denim minis streamed across the runway. The accessories were every bit as stirring: quilted gold baseball caps and platform heels, leather “handcuff” bracelets joined at the wrists by Chanel chains, black fishnet hose with quirky seams that streaked up the models’ inner thighs. The audience got the jokes and giggled.

More than giggled. After the show, Chanel boutique director Catherine Kiek said she had a waiting list for the biker belt at her store, despite the $870 price tag. Same for a $1,010 hip belt with the gold chains that dangle beneath the hem of a jacket. The engineer boots were sold out before they were even delivered to I. Magnin.

“If it’s exciting, they’ll buy it,” Lagerfeld reasoned.

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He did not attend the show, claiming he couldn’t make the trip and finish his next collection before its October premiere in Paris. But he and Coco Chanel did make an appearance of sorts, in a slide show with intense shots of him, languid portraits of her, and vintage photos of the costumes she designed for ‘30s Hollywood movies--"Tonight or Never,” with Gloria Swanson, and “The Greeks Had a Name for It,” with Joan Blondell and Ina Claire.

One story about Coco’s visit to Hollywood tells us all we need to know about how she was treated. Samuel Goldwyn sent a private white train to New York to pick her up.

The new Chanel couture collection opened Monday night’s event. Street-smart but less aggressive than the Gap-biker ready-to-wear, these clothes seemed inspired by sweet dizzy dames.

Clear plastic boots, patent leather opera-length gloves and corset-like bodices on short, pouffy dresses were the kicks of the collection. Smoky-colored tweedy suits, sleek fitted jackets and short flared or pleated skirts were the soul of it.

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For evening, the quilted tulle dresses were crafted with so many layers they seemed cut from puff pastry. Some had matching quilted tulle backpacks. Everything--evening dresses, daytime jackets--was fitted from shoulders to hips and flared at the hemline.

“For myself right now I’d buy more shirts, or fresh, pressed pajamas,” Lagerfeld said. “But for a woman, I’d buy a tight, fitted jacket in a nice color.”

The audience was a Chanel show of its own. But it was the most feminine styles from recent collections that the Blue Ribbon members modeled. Ivory silk dresses with long pleated skirts, short, perky carwash skirts made from strips of fabric to give the effect of pleats, and even a smoke-gray tulle dress with matching stole, hot off the couture collection, dotted the room.

After Chanel, Los Angles artist and jewelry designer Faith Porter may have been best represented. She counted 12 women wearing her colored crystal earrings, necklaces and brooches and heard reports of others.

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