The girls from the pearl at Chanel

A monumental lion, teeth bared and one front paw resting proprietorially on a giant pearl, held centre stage, its golden coat caught in the setting sun under the glass dome of the Grand Palais.

Karl Lagerfeld is a past master at dreaming up attention-grabbing scenarios for his Chanel shows, and Tuesday night's was no exception.

It looked like an allusion to Jean Cocteau's Surreal masterpiece "Beauty and the Beast" when the traditional bride at the end was accompanied by a groom wearing a lion's head over his wedding suit. However Lagerfeld told AFP it had been inspired by a small bronze lion found in Coco Chanel's apartment.

But the symbolism of Coco's fetish pearls was clear enough. It was a witty touch to have the models disgorged onto the runway from the pearl which opened like an oyster.

While his ready-to-wear lines for next autumn-winter were all shaggy fake fur, shown against genuine melting ice floes, Lagerfeld's couture collection was very much in keeping with the house's traditions.

His new season's take on the Chanel suit was a neat bolero jacket, with sleeves cropped above or around the elbow, worn over clingy skirts or body-hugging dresses, even incorporated into them.

He showed them in the hallmark handcrafted tweeds in oatmeal, hazelnut, chestnut and plum, with a noticeable absence of black.

To add luxury, knobbly tweeds were threaded with lurex and collars, cuffs and hemlines were even double-edged in fur.

Some jackets had double breasted jewel buttons in front, which then continued down the dress underneath, others were buttoned demurely down the back.

More glamorous variations on the same theme were offered for after dusk, spangled with thousands of minuscule two millimetre pearls.

Among the stand-out pieces were a tailcoat embroidered with pink and green flowers, ending in a natty bow, and a sparkly tapestry top in muted shades of pink, blue and green, set against an autumnal brown.

A geometric shiny satin print glittered with lines of rhinestones and a frock in lacquered red sequins had flower appliques strewn from the hip.

At their wrists the models dangled extraordinary bracelets, a confusion of chains and precious stones, and they were shod in boots which looked like the golden curls of a lion's mane.

Givenchy has decided from now on to present its couture collection to customers in the intimate surroundings of a salon, far away from the hullabaloo of the catwalk show.

Earlier Tuesday the house's chief stylist, Italian Riccardo Tisci, unveiled 10 outfits in private rooms in the ritzy Place Vendome. In white, powder pink and gold, one dress alone took nearly 1,200 hours work, while another, mingling gold chains and lace in a tulle ensemble with a silk satin corset, kept 40 people busy for two weeks.

The click of the models' heels on the parquet echoed as they showed the clothes in movement. A black lace dress with laser-cut leather appliques across the bosom, worn with a skirt worked in ostrich feathers in graduated shades of grey mounted on tulle, was a perfect example of the dizzying level of workmanship demanded by couture.

This manner of presentation gives it back its feeling of exclusivity and "does proper justice to couture" because it enables you to see all the details, the house's press service explained.

French designer Stephane Rolland's collection, also shown Tuesday, had a Gothic feel, full of floor-sweeping billowing capes, elbow-length gauntlets and second-skin leathers with zippers down the front, in black and murky greys and browns.

Silhouettes were exaggerated with giant cowl necklines, or pointed collars like wind cones, and leg'o'mutton sleeves. Crystal brooches and belt buckles were huge and clunky.

Except for their hair, worn loose, models looked cocooned in their puffy gowns, with a top layer of sheer silk chiffon adding to the padded effect.

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