Paris fashion... all draped in fun

One collection. One model. Two designers. Fashion editor Susannah Frankel sees Viktor & Rolf

It was the turn of the Dutch-born designers, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren to take to the Paris catwalk yesterday, with all the dramatics that have become a hallmark of their shows.

Perhaps best known in Britain for having installed the world's largest and most glamorous doll's house, peopled by Viktor & Rolf-clad dolls, at the Barbican Centre in 2008, this pairing will go down in fashion history for taking high-concept presentations and clothing to explore a signature style rooted in the staples of classic French fashion. They have variously deconstructed, reconstructed or scaled up to cartoonishly overblown proportions, often to spectacular effect.

Viktor & Rolf have, in the past, treated their audience to a spot of ballroom dancing, tap-danced their way across their own catwalk and shown their clothes to live accompaniments courtesy of Rufus Wainwright and, last season, a heavily pregnant Roisin Murphy. Theirs is a decidedly upbeat – and at best – uplifting viewpoint, designed to bring a smile to the lips.

For autumn/winter 2010, the designers dressed the Nineties supermodel Kristen McMenamy in what might not unreasonably be described as an entire wardrobe of clothing, only to peel off each layer and adapt its proportions to fit other models on a rotating platform.

This is not the first time the designers have undertaken such a ruse. In the winter of 1999 their Russian Doll collection was shown in its entirety on the diminutive model Maggie Rizer. The difference this time around, however, was that garments were reversed: skirts became capes, jackets morphed into gilets and more as McMenamy's clothing was removed and an entire new wardrobe given back to her by the two identically clad designers.

With all the excitement surrounding a performance that few will soon forget, it would be all too easy to overlook the reason designers choose to show in the first place – the clothes. With this in mind, the Chanel bouclé wool suit and little black dress, the Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking tuxedo and chubby fur were all given a Viktor & Rolf makeover, principally in black and embellished with the utilitarian details – zips, buckles, D-rings, metal eyelets and so forth – that are of the moment.

Earlier in the day, the Japanese designer Junya Watanabe offered up an extraordinarily sensitive and loving interpretation of military dress which went to prove that, in the right hands, this particular reference can be hugely poignant.

Displaying both technical virtuosity and a sartorial purity that is second to none, Watanabe's intricately worked flight jackets and parkas, edged with proudly fake fur as white and fluffy as cotton wool, were worn with narrow white shirts, buttoned up to the throat, and softer pleated, draped jersey dresses and skirts that were as quintessentially feminine as they were lovely to behold.

Watanabe has long been preoccupied with US heritage clothing, treating denim, in particular, with just as much respect as a traditional couturier might the finest silks. This was an elaboration on that particular theme. There were no art-directed catwalk follies, pyrotechnic lighting nor thumping soundtracks. Instead, models were accompanied by nothing more overtly attention seeking than a gospel choir. "Amazing Grace", they sang as proceedings drew to a close. And this was amazingly graceful indeed.

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