Armani and Gaultier turn focus on the red carpet

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The Independent Online

Couture houses are notoriously secretive about their wealthy clientele, the women for whom an entirely handmade, hand-embellished cocktail frock with a five-figure price tag is merely another purchase.

Oscar nominees however are an exception. Giorgio Armani confirmed that Cate Blanchett, nominated for a best supporting actress award, was flying in from America to view his spring/summer collection. Not quite a done deal, but, given the power that Hollywood stylists now wield, as good an omen as any fashion house can hope for.

The LA stylist Rachel Zoe, who dresses Oscar attendees including Cameron Diaz, has been a prominent front-row guest all week. Certainly, the evening wear in this, Armani's fifth couture show, looked more appealing than in previous seasons, taking inspiration from the dress of Maharajahs. The dresses pitched at Blanchett and others - floor-length black with silver brocade patterns based on jewellery, and embellished with pale-green semi-precious stones at the back - outshone the angular beige skirt suits proposed for daytime.

Armani said few actresses would order a dress exactly as seen on the catwalk. "Couture is playing a significant part on the red carpet but actresses want their own derivation."

The show, given at the Musée d'Art Moderne in front of 630 guests, was Armani's largest and was broadcast live on the internet last night.

"My intention is to bring more people to couture - although it is all about dreams," he said.

Living up to his provocative reputation, Jean Paul Gaultier yesterday paid homage to the Virgin Mary with a stunning collection that by contrast remained in the realms of fantasy.

In an incense-scented theatre, each model wore a decorative halo - fashioned from fibre optics, feathers or coloured stained-glass - with more successful results than one might expect.

Even the tiny glass handbags were more sweet than sacrilegious. There were some earthly moments too however: the burlesque performer Dita Von Teese was among models who wore the subversive tailoring that makes Gaultier popular with his traditional clients.

Theatrical flourishes and themes aside, it is the complex embroideries and handiwork on his evening dresses that confirm his status as a Parisian couturier in the grand tradition, and his deft mixing of fringing, gold embroideries and icons here was exceptional.

Almost an immaculate collection, then, and in contrast to the play-safe draped dresses seen elsewhere an excellent choice for an actress not afraid of a little drama on the red carpet.

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