An old master offers seamless simplicity: The Givenchy collection stands out among the gimmicks in Paris, Alison Veness reports

HIS designs may not be the toast of Paris or launch a thousand imitations, but for Hubert du Givenchy, la mode is an evolution.

Established as a couturier in 1952, Givenchy has had 42 years in which to perfect the language of clothes and needless to say, he is now fluent.

Yesterday, in the ornate gilded ballroom of the Grand Hotel, he presented a harmonious, virtually flawless collection - no feathered faces, no gimmicks.

The sad news is that it may be his penultimate couture collection, if he retires in 1995, aged 65. But for now the show goes on and, to the sound of Frank Sinatra, his models pranced down the catwalk like exquisite thoroughbreds, all good breeding and Swiss finishing schools.

Givenchy cuts and handles fabrics in such an accomplished manner that it is virtually impossible to see any seams or fastenings. Silk organzas and crepe de Chine appear as light as downy feathers with tulip skirts, seemingly balancing on air, and bias-cut ruffles on evening gowns rippling with the slightest movement.

Although his designs don't smack of sex appeal, no waist-high splits or cleavage queens, they are more mysteriously sensuous. This luxurious refinement is one of the qualities he has been pursuing since the beginning and after the show, having done the ritual backstage handshaking with an impressive line-up of loyal customers, he elaborated on his philosophy.

'I want people to immediately understand my message, I want them to know that it's a jacket, a dress, a pair of trousers, I don't want them to be confused. As I approach the end of my career you can see that I am moving towards total simplicity. Absolute simplicity.'

Dressed in the traditional white linen working jacket of the haute couturier, Givenchy resembles a chemist - but then couture labels have always been the laboratories for ideas.

He may not be working on explosive experiments or attempting to woo restless fashion editors, but there is room within a fickle industry for one thoughtful master craftsman. And these days, simplicity has perhaps the strongest novelty value.

Of the future, he says: 'When I do finally retire I hope someone exciting and someone new will replace me. It's important that an established hand is not imprinted on the house - we have to look forward.'

And by this he means the next 42 years - not the next 15 minutes of fame.

(Photographs omitted)

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