Vive la mode! Balenciaga glams up for Paris

Seriously luxe, undeniably cool, Nicolas Ghesquière manages it season after season for Balenciaga. The label's autumn/winter collection, which opened Paris Fashion Week yesterday, combined decadent fabrics with the kind of modern, sexy shapes pursued by Ghesquière's hip devotees.

The gilt-embellished interior of the Crillon hotel provided a sophisticated backdrop for an overtly glamorous collection. Gone was the retro futurism of last season's intergalactic ingénue look featuring skinny jersey trousers and sci-fi tunics. Instead, the new Balenciaga woman is a glamazon, swinging her hips in draped satin, emphasising her waist with ruching, and striking a pose with structured shoulders.

Draping provided the main motif of the show, folds of fabric falling away from the front of dresses, skirts and trousers. Short, slightly tulip-shaped skirts came in swagged and draped silk satin with waists made from horizontally crimped silk. These were combined with high-necked tops flecked with silver, while a satin dress which invoked 1980's and 1940's silhouettes came in cream, pale blue and pink.

Trousers, halfway between jodphurs and harem pants, came in chocolate and sage green satin with gleaming rippled drapery around the waist, while there were also more mannish, tailored 1940's-style trousers in pinstripe. Velvet devore blouses with defined shoulders, plunging necklines and nipped waists came with beaded cuffs, and in Fifties and Sixties prints – some from its archives – which also appeared on dresses.

After Ghesquière became the creative director in 1997, the label, founded as a couture house by Cristobal Balenciaga in 1937, has turned into a favourite of the fashion world once again, combining prestige and the cool factor. Wearing Balenciaga to a party or premiere implies that you are a connoisseur rather than a passive clotheshorse. It also suggests that you have money to spend; Balenciaga's prices are hardly recession friendly.

However, the label did recently introduce more affordable capsule lines for denim and black dresses, part of a plan for growth under its French parent company PPR. Last month PPR said that in 2008, fourth-quarter sales for a group of their brands (including Balenciaga) grew by 11.8 per cent.

Even consumers who can't fork out for Balenciaga's catwalk clothes are still likely to be affected by the latest collection. The high street has a penchant for Ghesquière's designs. However, the level of detail and the technical skill of Ghesquière's tailoring means that this collection will be hard to replicate well, so cheap chains may do their best at imitating the shoes: high platform heels with a woven leather mesh at the front and a knotted suede sash at the back.

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