FASHION: Around the world in 7 days

The Paris autumn/winter collections leapt barriers in space and time to plunder the riches of the Orient, the Thirties, 16th-century Scotland and the red-light district of the French capital itself. By Tamsin Blanchard. Pictures by Ben Elwes
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Those fashion designers sure do like an exotic holiday. Take John Galliano. One minute, he's living it up in pre-war Shanghai, then he's off to Fifties Hollywood. A few days on, he's packing his Dior bags again, ready for a trip on his time machine down the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. Round the World in Fashion Week has become a familiar theme: plundering other cultures for fashion details is always a good idea when you're short of a few of your own.

What emerged in Paris last week was not a particular look or trend (although hem-lines tended to be on the shorter side of micro; fur and leather turned up as often as wool or silk, and shoulder pads are on the rise into power points again), but a general feeling of eclectic exoticism. The Far East is the place to be if you want to be truly fashionable, and it seemed as though some of the fashion pack had beaten the designers to it, turning up for shows in mandarin collars, velvet geisha shoes, embroidered silks, kimono sleeves and cheongsam dresses. When a look is adopted minutes after being shown on the catwalk, it is a sure sign that it will be all over the chain stores before you can say "chop suey".

For Dior, John Galliano took Thirties Shanghai as his inspiration, and mixed up Chinese dresses, pearl jewellery, lacquered lips and nails and delicate parasols with Fifties Hollywood pin-up glamour, bobby socks and perilously high heels. The mix was strong on image but short on wearable clothes. There were tight-fitting basket-weave wool jackets in pastel pink and lemon, to be worn with just a hint of a skirt. For evening, there were Galliano's usual bias-cut creations, this time with silk orchids trapped between the layers. But a good percentage of the collection was trimmed with mink, fox or rabbit, and mink stoles were dyed the colours of sugared almonds, making furs appear to be the height of fashion when, in fact, they will not be a temptation for the new, young customer Galliano is trying to attract.

Valentino also took up the dragon trail with kimono jackets in brocade, and slip dresses in sumptuous baby pink and jade green satin. For Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel fashion trip, Russian peasant dressing was the key, with embroidered headscarves and Slavonic felt and wool cut-outs giving a folksy feel to a label normally associated with city slickers. To keep the status queens happy, Lagerfeld tuned into the Eighties revival, and made suits with wide-load, oversized shoulders.

Likewise, Jean Paul Gaultier gave power shoulders a second chance on suits with monumental proportions in his vision of Harlem. Trousers were wide and baggy and jackets looked as if they'd been made for a woman 20 sizes bigger. The collection was shown on a square platform like a boxing ring on 99 per cent black models, including Naomi Campbell and, the star of the week, the Dinka tribesgirl Alek Wek. Boxing robes were worn on top of hooded sports tops, with heavy gold hip-hop jewellery and intricate hairweaves. For evening, Gaultier took a trip to the Thirties world of the Cotton Club, with velvet coats and jazz-age shimmer dresses. It was a tribute to black urban America, which is after all, the breeding-ground for many of the ideas that eventually hit MTV and then, seasons later, the catwalks.

Vivienne Westwood's time capsule took her back to the England and Scotland of the 16th century with her usual mix of knickerbockers, corsetry, bondage, curtain drapes and brocade wraps. McWestwood's take on historical Scotland featured ruffles at the neck, tartan ball gowns, sinister leather masks and feather-plumed headdresses. Meanwhile, Alexander McQueen's collection for Givenchy stayed put firmly in Paris (albeit the red-light district of Pigalle) with seriously grown-up clothes, strict tailoring, power shoulders, spike heels and hard, glossy, Eighties make-up.

Back on the Orient Express, it's time to travel towards the Gulf for the collection of the week, by the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten. Gold leaf paisley patterns were printed on to hand-knits, rich red and finely printed tunics; trousers and dresses are designed to be worn layered on top of each other, with quilted, tailored jackets over the whole lot.

Van Noten has been working away at his own cultural mixes of clothes for seasons, taking his gaze from India to Morocco and everywhere in between. For the autumn/

winter collection, he developed 80 different prints, giving his clothes a richness that transcends seasons and time. Give most women a choice of one designer to provide them with an entire wardrobe, and chances are that Dries would be the one to provide solutions to the most problems. Unlike John Galliano, whose Egyptian collection has Hollywood Cleopatra dresses and mummified hands - all taken a little too literally to be sophisticated - Dries Van Noten makes clothes that have all the magic of the Arabian Nights, done with a subtle touch and a modern eyen

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