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Rebels with imaginations

Times Staff Writer

Every season, there comes a time during the fashion show circuit when people get cranky -- cranky about having to watch another collection of clothes made only to market the designer’s perfume and handbags; cranky about another broadtail fur coat that costs more than most people’s annual salary, not to mention what it costs the poor sheep; cranky about public relations assistants who, amazingly, exclude some journalists from shows, turning down what amounts to free publicity for their designer clients; and cranky about having to watch air-kissers with hair combed into styles resembling horns of plenty or ship masts, being endlessly fascinated by their own fabulousness.

I know, I know. Boohoo.

But fashion shows are supposed to be fun! And so, just when it all seems too much, along comes Paris, where it becomes possible to tune out the din and listen to the lyricism of the clothes.

Yohji Yamamoto turned fall’s trend toward minimalism on its head, opening the week Monday with a shocking pink maxi coat with a lolling collar and bow-shaped bustles cascading down one side. With models’ hair in styles somewhere between bird’s nest up-do’s and rockabilly bouffants, Yamamoto played the gender-bending tune. He certainly wasn’t the first to do so this season, but his vision was more sculptural than anything we’ve seen. No fur necessary here, just cloth, molded like dough.

Aside from some swirl prints later in the show, the collection was dominated by black. Military-style greatcoats and tailored jackets were given the feminine touch with sheer scalloped collars or concentric arches of chiffon draped in front. A corseted lady coat was in the process of coming unbound, chiffon laces trailing. And a pouch sewn onto the collar of a sheer shirt coat was filled with pink chiffon, for when a woman needs to pull out her feminine wiles.

Then, like a rebel yell, Yamamoto let loose ice cube-sized crystals on the turned-up cuffs of a “Matrix” coat and around the shoulders of a punk rock motorcycle jacket with a frill at the waist. Out of a dark, sparkle-free season, Yamamoto’s voice rang loud and clear: “You want bling, I’ll give you bling. But it won’t be any kind of bling you’ve seen before.”

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Nicolas Ghesquiere’s collection for Balenciaga was full of imagination too, but not at the expense of laser-sharp tailoring and commercial appeal. The coat was the foundation, with riffs on the classic duffel style in celery or mint green wool, with a ramrod silhouette, multiple belts, plackets, epaulets and even the occasional ribbon-like curl at the neck. In line with the military trend, a cream pea coat fastened with turn-lock closures, and a black maxi style with wide leather cuffs had double rows of silver buttons.

Dresses came both soft and structured. A petal pink sheath with a deep black V-neck, draped in undulating chiffon, was fresh and pretty. But a style inspired by Andre Courreges’ days as an assistant at the house, with a stiff, flying saucer hem and a frothy feathered top, looked as if it belonged in “Mars Attacks.”

That’s OK, Ghesquiere came down to earth with cuffed, flared denim trousers with silver ball buttons and tabs at the waist and sleek denim blazers. Also in the wearable camp were a black wool skirt with chiffon pleats, and an angular top with a stand-away collar that would be a perfect stand-in for a jacket. Delving into sportswear like never before, Ghesquiere should be on track to make Balenciaga profitable soon, a priority with parent company Gucci Group.

At Christian Dior, it’s the second season of toned-down John Galliano -- minus the wigs, kabuki makeup and platform shoes. (One senses a profit motive here, too.) This season, the references were nuanced and the clothes infinitely wearable. Set against the lounge-like backdrop of silver streamers, with two pianists tickling the ivories at twin grands, the show unfolded like a cocktail-induced dream, picking up where the couture show left off.

Galliano began by channeling Edie Sedgwick with black-and-white striped mohair mini-dresses, with a pulled stitch here and there, worn with 1960s caps and pointy, flat crocodile boots. Then he added Jean Harlow from “Hell’s Angels” to the mix, with brown shearling jumpers, coats belted high, and stylized aviator jackets with oversized collars. Marie Antoinette joined the party (she’s the subject of Sofia Coppola’s next film, currently in production here), with draped empire gowns in russet, red or blue velvet. Worn over the gowns, casual sheepskin aviator jackets or black floral embossed car coats brought things up to date.

Behind the scene-stealing Ziggy Stardust hair and glam rock sequin leggings at Jean Paul Gaultier were the designer’s famously tailored pieces. Ever the voyeur, he does like to play with a trench, turning it inside out, or incorporating a pleated skirt in the back to create a sensual coatdress. Blazers came with razor-sharp shoulders, some with monkey fur epaulets, and others with more feminine ivory chiffon collars. Officers’ jackets were boxy, trimmed in gold braid and velvet.

Issey Miyake’s Naoki Takizawa started with the ubiquitous trench coat in cream, with a toga-like drape emanating from the epaulet, then showed the same style in black, inspired by the shadowy black-and-white style of film director Yasujiro Ozu. But the highlight came at the end, when cloudlike gowns were lighted only by the bulbs sewn into their bodices.

Jun Takahashi’s riveting show for the up-and-coming line Undercover began with innocent blouses with trompe l’oeil bowties and Dickensian houndstooth jackets pieced together from scraps as if a child had made them. But a soundtrack of playground sounds hinted at something more sinister, which came in the form of a black wool coat embellished with razor blades and a jacket with felt skull-shaped cutouts creating ruffles around the collar.

In a possible commentary on war, the finale was a kind of military march, with models lining up in formation in officers’ jackets and pants. Or, perhaps, it was really a commentary on the war waging in fashion -- and most other industries -- between mega-brands and independent innovators. This show’s ironic statement T-shirt read, “We make noise, not clothes.”


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