Saint Laurent heir shows few graces

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THE PRESSURE was on Alber Elbaz at the Paris collections yesterday. In November - amid blazing publicity - he became artistic director of the Yves Saint Laurent women's ready-to-wear line.

Monsieur Saint Laurent, 62 and perhaps the most important designer of the latter part of the 20th century, would concentrate solely on his twice-yearly haute couture collection, we were told.

This decision was controversial given that it was Yves Saint Laurent who put the concept of designer ready-to-wear on the fashion map. Until he opened his Rive Gauche boutique in the late Sixties, fashion comprised haute couture - hand-crafted clothing, at prices few women could afford - and cheaper copies run up by dressmakers who stole the original designs.

There was nothing in between. Saint Laurent changed this, dictating that fashion should not be elitist. He was right.

Elbaz, the 37-year-old designer, has said: "The day it [his own appointment] was announced was one of the saddest days for me because I thought about Monsieur Saint Laurent. I thought, `How does he feel?' How does Monsieur Berge [the designer's long-time business partner] feel? Because it is their baby. They built it and now they are generous enough to say, `Alber, we give you a chance'."

Relations between all parties continue to be good. Alas, yesterday's show - which, as always, saw the Saint Laurent muse Catherine Deneuve taking pride of place in the front row - was a disappointment. True, the Saint Laurent signatures that Elbaz prom-ised to keep intact were much in evidence - the `le smoking', based on men's suits and introduced by Saint Laurent in 1968 to relieve women of overblown eveningwear, the sheer chiffon blouses with pussycat bows at their collars, the vivid colour palette.

In this younger designer's hands they looked clumsy, nowhere near as well-cut as the originals. The colour palette,though brave - fuchsia, flame, ultraviolet, and bright apple green - was jarring, simply too hot for comfort.

The collection admittedly looked more modern, which must be the intention. Notable exceptions to an unexceptional debut included chic chalk- striped skirt and trouser suits, a red leather trench coat and coat dress.

Elbaz - who worked for the American designer Geoffrey Beene, then Guy Laroche - has some way to go to can live up to the mighty Yves Saint Laurent. This is not surprising. His is a tough act to follow.

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