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From sublime to ridiculous

Times Staff Writer

The fashion crowd was at its outrageous, feathered and beaded best on Wednesday night for a party at the legendary Lido on the Champs-Elysees. The occasion was “Les Girls,” the new book from L.A.'s Greybull Press that celebrates the cabaret in photographs by Daniel Fransay. Lisa Eisner, a founder of the publishing house, wore Lanvin and a burgundy feather headdress, and Gwen Stefani was draped in white satin straight from the Dior runway. But even they couldn’t compete with “Les Girls” doing the cancan onstage with horses, acrobats and ice skaters.

The mood was decidedly different a few hours earlier at the Rochas show, where Olivier Theyskens presented a romantic vision of calm while a snowstorm raged outside. His new, elongated belle epoque silhouette was worlds away from the 1950s aesthetic that put the house back on the map, and from anything else on the runway this season. Long, creamy white or black wool skirts with graceful trains came with delicate ruffles of tufted mohair, worn with high-necked frilly blouses or Edwardian jackets and elbow-length gloves that guarded against even a hint of skin.

There were some short skirts too, as part of jewel-toned satin cocktail suits with Chinese embroidery. But the real statement was about length. Theyskens’ bias-cut gowns were resplendent -- one in emerald green silk with an oval opening in front that was edged in petal-like ruffles, and another in white with frilly tiers like the layers of mille-feuille. The collection was quintessentially French. And stepping out into the wet, white flakes, it wasn’t difficult to imagine Rochas’ women in one of the French Impressionists’ winterscapes.

There were a few snickers at the Viktor & Rolf show when the first model appeared, her hair fanned out on a white lace pillow protruding from the back of a black coat, with a sheet folded and neatly tucked inside the collar. Showmanship aside, the collection went over like a sweet lullaby, accompanied by pop singer Tori Amos accompanying herself on the piano.

Crisp white shirts were edged in eyelet or embroidered with red script love letters down the sleeves. The collars on downy soft parkas were puffed up like pillows, and cream satin wrap skirts were subtly quilted, or trimmed in blanket fringe. For evening, there were short silk kimonos in a pearl rope print and some great riffs on the tuxedo, with ruffled jackets, silk pajama pants and other surprises. Less impressive were draped and knotted white silk charmeuse gowns, which had little to offer other than making the models look as if they were sleepwalking.

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If spring’s re-created red carpet show was the high-glamour Chanel of Nicole Kidman, then this season was the accessible, cute Chanel of Mischa Barton, the “O.C.” star who has teens lusting after the CC logo tote she carries to school on the show. Pleated schoolgirl skirts in salt-and-pepper tweed or leather were worn with long, oversized boyfriend-style cardigans. On the feet were over-the-knee leather boots with contrasting cap toes, or stiletto sandals with glittery legwarmers worn on top, for the kind of silly winter weather fashion statement only magazine editors or schoolgirls would dare.

Short-sleeve knit mini-dresses were on track with fall’s sweater dressing trend, paired here with tweed messenger bags with single camellia flowers pinned to the fronts and long silver chain handles. But for evening, sleeveless short dresses in black and white, trimmed in ribbons and bows, were too bland to light up the dance floor, even at a high school prom in the O.C.

Stella McCartney stayed home with her new baby, but her collection managed to touch on many of fall’s trends -- volume, Far East styling, sweater dresses, bubble skirts -- with clothes that looked easy to wear, even for women who may not have shed their baby weight. Worn with leggings or over-the-knee boots, the strongest pieces were coats, including a black-and-white houndstooth wrap style with kimono sleeves and another in a mod 1960s shape, with a dropped waist and a kind of pouf skirt. Red or black jacquard dresses with bra tops and short, flouncy skirts were ill-fitting.

It had to be a difficult act to follow the banquet of color and print that Dries Van Noten served up last season, with a dinner at a long table that later became the runway. For fall, the Belgian designer has moved from his trademark understated elegance into the realm of dull and depressing, with full pants in menswear tweeds or chalk stripes rolled up over chunky-heeled platform shoes, and swingy coats in dark hues pinned with black flower corsages. The belated highlight was eveningwear, including a fuchsia satin skirt wrapped up in a bow on the hip, a gold lame coat with poet’s sleeves and the piece de resistance, an orange velvet peasant skirt, worn with a beaded black camisole and a bright pink sash tied around the waist.

Andrew Gn’s show was steeped in opulence, from a bronze quilted taffeta jacket with gold embroidery and fur cuffs to an autumnal tweed skirt with velvet butterfly appliques. Clearly Gn, a favorite among ladies who lunch, isn’t done with embellishment yet. But sometimes, as on a lilac wisteria-print dress with a peacock jewel at the decolletage and a band of sable around the skirt, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

One shouldn’t need to consult the program notes to remember which collection is on the runway, even after three weeks of back-to-back shows. Providing continuity, if not in style, then in flair, is a designer’s job. (And balancing that with showing something new every season is a designer’s greatest challenge.) The problem is that the house of Celine didn’t have much of an identity to begin with. Michael Kors was able to rely on his knowledge of the jet set when producing his collections. But Roberto Menichetti, who took over last season, doesn’t have a vision that is suitably grandiose. In a jarring combination of black, green, orange and purple, simple double-faced cashmere wrap coats and silk dot bubble skirts were more befitting of a moderate sportswear line than a luxury label.

There’s no mistaking Rick Owens’ dark aesthetic -- shearling and leather jackets cut on the bias with undulating hems, pilled cardigans with abnormally long sides, floor-sweeping Morticia skirts and models with pasty complexions. But one wonders what would happen if Owens, whose technique is impeccable, loosened up. He was a guest at Wednesday’s Lido party; maybe “Les Girls” will teach him how to kick up his heels.


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