A much-needed agent provocateur in a world bored with play-safe tactics

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The Independent Online

Alexander McQueen transformed a 19th-century ballroom into the world's most glamorous dance marathon in Paris yesterday.

The designer said that the inspiration for his spring/summer 2004 collection was the Sydney Pollack classic They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, set in America during the Depression. Never one to do things by half, McQueen enlisted the services of the modern dance guru Michael Clark who choreographed the event.

Models whirled about supported by professional dancers all wearing the designer's clothes. The high octane pieces that are traditionally the climax of the show came out first: a liquid silver Thirties-inspired sequinned gown; a second in peach satin trimmed with maribou and a flesh-coloured tulle sheath encrusted with crystals. Next came sportswear in acid colours as our heroines and heroes raced about the roomto prove their worth. McQueen was clearly keen to adhere to the structure of the film.

For the third and last part of the show - a supposed 62 days after the marathon began - models were dragged about by their partners wearing beautiful rags. Typically, it made for darkly romantic viewing. McQueen enjoys unsettling his audience and the sight of stiff-limbed women hurling themselves across the floor was uncomfortable.

The designer's ability to elicit an emotional response from his audience, which stretches far beyond the normally mundane reaction expected from the commercial presentation of clothing, is challenging to say the least.

Given the play-safe tactics that dominate today's fashion arena, however, he is a much needed agent provocateur: a profoundly subversive force in a proud to be arrogant and unshakeable world.

Gilt-chained handbags and tweedy jackets were out in force earlier on in the day at the more conventional Chanel show. There are few brands that are enjoyed by so wide a range of followers.

Chanel remains one of the last bastions of bourgeois French fashion but the young and beautiful buy into it too as exemplified by the appearance of blue-blooded model and former face of Chanel, Stella Tennant, in Paris covering the shows for American Vogue.

Ms Tennant wore her Chanel haute couture jacket with slouchy cropped jeans and biker boots. She was not alone in dressing this iconic garment down. On the catwalk it came this time in the form of a softly structured cardigan, sometimes belted but always fitted snugly to the body and in rosy hues. It looked lovely worn with a matching short tweed skirt or over light-as-a feather chiffon cocktail dresses.

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