From Paris, with love

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Lace, pearls and chaste chiffon gave the spring collections a girlish lightness of touch, says Susannah Frankel

Romance was in the air at the Paris collections, where that sentiment was widespread almost to the point of ubiquity.

The most exquisitely hand-worked chiffon dresses and equally fine silk veils were the lightest pieces in Sarah Burton's collection for Alexander McQueen, the first since she designed the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, and her most accomplished for the label to date. At Louis Vuitton, a custom-made fairytale merry-go-round with couture-clad princesses on board was an adept showcase of things most likely to come courtesy of Marc Jacobs should he move to Christian Dior. Chanel's underwater playground – think crystalline white sand and twinkling marine sculptures – was peopled by models in optic white powder-puff dresses and pearl-encrusted bouclé wool jackets that ensured creative director Karl Lagerfeld lifted the spirits.

Not every designer's viewpoint was quite so sweet. The headpieces at Balenciaga were a reference to the superbly architectural veil that couturier, Cristobal, designed for the last bridal gown he ever made. The prints on oversized dresses, the volumes and proportions of which were impressive even by this designer's standards, were also reworkings of those from the world's most revered archive. There was a rigour here that was second to none but still the overall effect was that love is in the air.

For Dries Van Noten, there's tenderness to fine muslin dresses printed with 17th-century etchings and finished with delicately woven silk ribbon at the neckline. The softness of Rick Owens' empire line white tunic embraced the female form but never restricted it, and for that was lovely to see. Haider Ackermann's liquid silk propositions made for fine contemporary eveningwear that was majestically beautiful in effect. Hussein Chalayan's narrow, floral print dress, trimmed with white and worn with matching sun hat, the wide brim of which fluttered prettily around the face, was as easy and evocative of balmy summer evenings by the sea as it was refined.

It should come as no surprise that for Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci's take on an over-arching gentle theme was more hard-edged. The short, panelled tunics which have become a signature at this house were softened, however, both by sheer panelling and trails of ivory satin at the hem.

Stella McCartney's collection sprang, she said, primarily from the masculine wardrobe. Silks that brought a Victorian gentleman's dressing gown to mind were patchworked with more hi-tech fabrics, and came with embroidered scalloped edges that were, conversely, quintessentially feminine.

A plumped-up silhouette that was evident in more than a few of this season's collections looked particularly desirable at Yves Saint Laurent, where a certain restraint ensured that clothes, however infused with whimsy they might be, were aimed squarely at women as opposed to just girls. Leave it to Junya Watanabe, meanwhile, to rethink lace – the most traditionally romantic of all the fabrics. The peacock-feather and flower-embroidered dresses shown by this designer for spring/summer 2012 and created especially for him in Japan were busy enough to belie the complexity of cut and drape. They looked best worn with cropped vinyl biker jackets with overblown, layered, organza ruffles on the sleeves.

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