C'est fantastique

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Between Dior's Chinese circus and milliner Philip Treacy's strip tease, haute couture has never been more fantastical. The spring 2003 shows, which ended Thursday, were among the best in years.

American designer Ralph Rucci's second-ever couture show was beautifully executed, with silhouettes based on the female body but not brashly so. Elegant women of any age could wear these clothes, including an alabaster satin shirt with a long satin and organza skirt, its tiers pleated like a Chinese lantern.

At Dior, John Galliano looked East, putting models in exaggerated kimonos, hooped crinoline skirts and Chinese embroidered coats.

The mood was light at Chanel, where models with tousled beehives wore jackets and knee-length skirts in fragile-looking tweeds and whisper-thin tulles, in shades of pink, peach and blue. Evening wear featured pastel sequins in geometric patterns.

Valentino offered entrance-making gowns in his signature red, but also in pink and lavender with ribbon binding the torso. Christian Lacroix proved he is a master of romance with a boudoir-inspired collection of chiffon, silk and lace. Tiny jackets with flirty peplums and lace sleeves were worn with bell-shaped skirts and feather headresses.

Amid rumors that designer Julien Macdonald's days at Givenchy are numbered, he eschewed the garish, and recalled the house's muse Audrey Hepburn with cocktail looks that included a midnight blue stretch wool sheath with a bow at the hip and a backless indigo knee-length dress of duchesse satin.

Emanuel Ungaro played with pop. Jackets were appliqued with rhinestones in the shape of lips dangling cigarettes; draped silk gowns were flecked with pastel flowers. At the Pink, a Paris strip club, Treacy's show was an ode to Andy Warhol's wit. His models took turns at pole dancing while balancing under stacks of Brillo boxes and cutouts of Elvis, Liza Minelli and Marilyn Monroe. Naomi Campbell wore a hat in the shape of a can of Campbell's soup. What's fashion without a little pun?

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