'Fashion Is a Game We Play'

TIMES FASHION WRITER

The super rich shop with a different sensibility. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Paris this week, where designers wooed those women among the 3,000 worldwide, who can afford their luxurious--and expensive--fall couture collections. Opulence and indulgence reigned on and off the runways.

The arcane world of haute couture, where garments are carefully, intricately and lovingly handcrafted, will be opened to the public again this year thanks to television.

The fall collections of 25 designers, including Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, shown this week in Paris, will be featured in ABC's special "Paris Fashion Collections," scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Thursday.

The program, hosted by actress Isabella Rossellini and Vogue magazine's editor at large, Andre Leon Talley, also will take viewers behind the scenes and through the evolution of couture and fashion over the last century.

"When you wear a haute couture gown it is perfect because it's the gown that has to fit you, you don't have to fit the gown," Rossellini says. She wore a couture gown once for the launch of Tresor, a fragrance she helped develop for Lancome when she was the cosmetics company's spokesmodel.

Rossellini hosted last year's ABC special "The World Fashion Premiere From Paris" with actress Anne Archer. She discussed fashion by phone from her home in New York.

Question: So you're back again this year.

Answer: I was very happy when the show's producers contacted me to host again. I always thought that this would be such a fantastic opportunity for a television show because it's so visual, like news. We'll be bringing haute couture to everybody.

Q: And you'll be doing it with Vogue's Andre Leon Talley.

A: He's a very colorful person and very knowledgeable about fashion. I remember Andre literally crying at a Yohji Yamamoto show in Paris. He was completely moved. Yohji's show was stunning, and the designer deserved being admired. But Andre was sobbing and I thought, "Well, this is passion." I respected Andre for showing that kind of emotion. I mean it amused me, too, but I thought, "You know, Andre sees the creativeness and the effort that goes into fashion."

Q: What will viewers see when they tune in to your show?

A: They'll see that fashion shows are not just a presentation of clothes; they're theatrical. It's an interesting kind of theater because it's abstract, almost avant-garde. There really is no story, no narration, just theater.

Q: Expensive theater. For many, the clothes that people see on the show will be out of their reach. Who can afford a $50,000 gown?

A: When you find out that such a garment costs thousands of dollars, the answer is no one can afford that. So that's the end of that, but I encourage people to look at the show as a performing art, as a visual art, as the art of fashion, as the old art of the artisans in the fashion world of haute couture. Haute couture is where fashion starts and then gets reinterpreted for the mainstream. Fashion is a game we play.

Q: What do you mean?

A: At home, fashion is individual theater. The way we dress up or the way women use makeup, that's our little theater on ourselves, a moment where we say, "I'm a star." We play the fashion game in the privacy of our bathroom. Even sometimes wearing lipstick or putting on high heels is like becoming someone else. It's a fun game to play, and it should be kept as a game. You don't have to play if you don't want to, but if you play, you'll learn that fashion is an expression of your tastes and a reflection of what you like for yourself. Everybody in fashion knows that it is a form of entertainment, like the circus. And that's part of the game.

Q: What have you learned from haute couture, the designers and their work?

A: Designers are artisans, and their work is a form of art that has been really threatened by our modern world. It's still very valuable what they've done, and they've done it for centuries, so I'm glad that the French have protected haute couture because protecting it doesn't mean to protect someone like Karl Lagerfeld, who will always find a job. It's about protecting the embroiderer and the art of embroidery to make a gown by hand and all that goes into it, from sequins to beads to feather work. I think it's fantastic that there is a sense of tradition that carries with it this kind of knowledge so that the embroiderer will not be forgotten.

Q: I visited Francois Lesage, probably the world's most famous embroiderer, in Paris a few months ago and saw the handiwork there. His place is a laboratory, a place for experimenting with creativity.

A: It's amazing, isn't it? At the beginning of this century, couture was--as it is today--for the likes of princesses. You know, as in the ball gown, the wedding gown, the coronation gown. Nowadays, nobody's willing to spend money that way. So haute couture is slowly changing into a lab of new ideas, and I think that is very interesting because there are very few labs and experiments that are done to just stimulate creativity. There are new techniques and new possibilities in haute couture--that's what haute couture is becoming, and that's why it's so interesting to have a glimpse of it with this show.

Q: What is the difference between style and fashion?

A: I think style is an expression of one's self. I think fashion designers express their own ideas about fashion, but since they are experts at it, they might stimulate your own ideas. But, you know, it's hard to develop your own style. So one way to develop style is to see what's out there, what you like and try to reach for that. And a lot of designers have less expensive lines. Just know that you can develop your own style and designers are there to stimulate that. Fashion also underlines a part of one's personality. It is really the beginning of acting, of presenting and showing and manifesting as one would do in the theater. Only this is your private theater.

Q: Have you ever completely embraced only one designer?

A: I have. There was a period in my life where I could only wear Giorgio Armani because he just was so exactly what I wanted. He opened up a whole new way of definition of elegance for me. And then again, it happened a few years later with Dolce & Gabbana where they took all that was considered wrong in Italian women--you know the Sicilian widow, the dark clothes--and they gave it a glamorous twist, made it beautiful. So, for a while I just only wore Dolce & Gabbana because that game was so great and those guys played the game better than anyone.

Q: What new designers do you like?

A: I really like the designers coming out of Antwerp, Belgium. I find them interesting. I'm intrigued that in a city like Antwerp, which is small and very proper, that there is such an avant-garde corps of fashion designers coming out of there. I'm fascinated with that group.

Q: What are you wearing this very moment?

A: I'm wearing Chinese clothes right now because they're comfortable. I'm in a tunic and pants, a beautiful, antique Chinese thing in beautiful colors. I'm always playing somebody. So today I'm playing Chinese.

Q: You're playing the fashion game.

A: Always.

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* Beginning Saturday, viewers can get a sneak preview of the collections, with 30-second video clips from Paris by logging onto http//: fashionevent.com. The Web site also will offer behind-the-scenes looks at the shows, a runway schedule and up-to-the-minute news.

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* Michael Quintanilla can be reached by e-mail at socalliving@latimes.com.

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