Christian Lacroix, Gianni Versace and Valentino proved something in Paris this week: haute couture can be modern. They each kept an eye on couture's traditions and on their customers, but managed not to be caught in a time-warp.

First Versace, in his strongest haute couture collection to date, showed flirty suits, fluid metallic evening gowns for latter-day goddesses and - surely a couture first - rhinestone-studded dungarees. And, in another couture first for Versace, the collection was high-voltage gutsy glamour rather than his habitual pot pourri of vulgarity. Gone were the 97 animal prints all competing for space on the same tiny bustier. In their place, neat sugar pink suits worn with short, but not too short skirts.

Best was Gianni's evening wear - short togas and fluid gowns poured on top of the body like liquid mercury. Back in the late Seventies, when fashion folk first learnt that Versace's name does not rhyme with face, Gianni made his mark with metallic siren sheaths which were even better more than a decade on.

We weren't expecting great things of Christian Lacroix, particularly after a muddled ready-to-wear collection. But the great thing about fashion is that you never know who is going to surprise you. The Lacroix couture collection was a delight. It ended with his first-ever Persil white bridal dress, modelled by that bald punk, Eve Salvail, leader of the current jolie laide rearguard action. But Eve looked both herself and exquisitely pretty, giggling in a confection of damask redingote jacket, huge sweeping skirt and a 15ft net train attached to a perky white baseball hat, topped with ivory roses and a gilded feather.

Lacroix appeared for his applause and was showered with carnations. These are always supplied on the gilt chairs at his shows, but at his few lacklustre collections people have just tucked them in their button holes. This time, he walked forth on a carpet of flowers.

Lacroix's show-stoppers were the rippling ball skirts of the finale, which are likely to be ordered as alternatives to his wedding dress. But there were plenty of other good ideas; MACRAME and metallic knitwear in skimpy mini cardigans and body suits: a short spring dress in a vibrant poppy print, a corsage on the shoulder and a swoop of fabric down over naked shoulder blades was fresh and lovely.

Of course, few of Lacroix's customers are teenagers prepared to spend a fortune to reveal their belly buttons. Lacroix had fun, but he didn't forget the grown-ups who like his clothes. One evening dress, a draped white CREPE sheath with a giant print of parrot tulips was an elegant adult spectacle.

Valentino's couture customers are mostly not young. But neither do they want to look quite their age. Valentino, who is always one carefully measured step away from the precipice that separates the current from the shock of the new, never, ever forgets his customer. She is rich (of course) so she never wants to look cheap. She never wants to show her knickers, but a hint of a luxurious lacy camisole, worn beneath filmy, frothy layers of chiffon thin as onion peel, is exactly what she fancies.

Valentino had thought about modern couture and had decided that what his women would want was weightlessness. He claimed that his whole collection could be packed in one suitcase, not that the couture customer has to carry her own. He was spot on with colour as well, with a suitably soft Nineties palette of muted beige -- they call it champagne -- gently shading from dark to light from the shoes, to multi-layered skirts and delicate pale bodices. The result was the elongating of the silhouette that designers are striving for without proposing the vulgarity of a micro skirt to women old enough to know better.

But the best shows stuck to one old tradition: that haute couture clothes should be revealed in the gilded salons and opulent, baroque hotels of fin de SIECLE Paris. Other designers opted for the brand new Carrousel du Louvre, purpose built for French fashion at the epicentre of the capital, right under the Tuileries gardens. The new venue proved efficient, slick, light, spacious, as speedy to get in and out of as a state-of-the-art supermarket -- and with about as much atmosphere. For the ready-to-wear shows in March it will be perfect. But for haute couture, which is mainly about dreams, it had all the romance of the frozen fish counter at Sainsbury's.