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McQueen banishes models from the catwalk

IN A WORLD where models are the new superstars, Alexander McQueen made the bold move of doing away with them altogether in Paris yesterday.

His haute couture collection for the house of Givenchy was shown on showroom mannequins with gleaming Plexiglass heads, which emerged from holes in the floor on rotating turntables.

It was a bold move given the modern enthusiasm for models, when the likes of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell to Gisele, the Brazilian It Girl, and Lisa Radcliffe, the new face of Calvin Klein, have their every move catalogued by the media.

The atmosphere resembled nothing more than a cool and serene museum exhibit: a marvellous romp through fashion history all stamped with the forward-looking signature that has made the designer famous. This could not, of course, have been more timely. This was the last Givenchy haute couture collection of the millennium, taking from the past while looking forward to the future.

McQueen's inspiration was Paul Delaroche's painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey. "I first saw this painting 15 years ago," he said. "Being a hopeless romantic, the emotion evoked that day has never left me." It is no coincidence that Grey's nine-day reign stretched from 10-19 July 1553 - she was beheaded some seven months later - and that this was therefore an anniversary.

The clothes made ample reference to the period: there were Tudor-inspired pie-crust collars, leg-o'-mutton sleeves and pouffed, quilted capes that would suit a modern-day queen of couture down to the ground. McQueen being McQueen also couldn't resist throwing in 1930s vampish Hollywood bias- cut gowns, 18th-century frock coats and oriental touches - kimono sleeves and wide obi-style belts.

Now in his fifth couture season for Givenchy, the designer knows how to showcase the workmanship of the couture atelier to the full: re-embroidered and beaded lace; slashed leather and a tartan cape constructed out of feathers were all exquisite, rightly applauded by the international fashion press and couture clientele.

Earlier in the day, executives from Hermes were very much in evidence at Jean Paul Gaultier's haute couture show. Last week, Hermes invested pounds 15m in Gaultier's company - Hermes now owns one-third of it - so that the designer could afford to develop his loss-leading haute couture line. He has previously funded it himself.

Hermes will not be disappointed - the designer and former enfant terrible has never seemed so assured, sending out an exotic and opulent mix of skinny knitted dresses and coats encrusted with beads, glossy black velvet evening wear and the immaculate tailoring that made him famous.

Even though this was his most mature collection to date, Gaultier still managed to demonstrate his trademark wit. This came in the form of trompe-l'oeil cardigans, a Barbarella-inspired evening dress emblazoned with "Couture 2000", clear plastic raincoats printed with black lace and long leather evening gloves, which doubled as holders for mobile phones.

However, this was not a collection for the faint-hearted. Although haute couture is, at the best of times, hardly politically correct, full-length crocodile dresses that creaked when models walked, rare plumage embedded in more crocodile and a sweeping fur ballgown skirt made for savage if beautiful viewing.