Clothes with a life of their own

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A little slice of fashion history was witnessed on the Paris catwalk yesterday when the Turkish-Cypriot born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan, gave the world the first computer animated dresses.

On a catwalk scattered with Swarovski crystal, and against the backdrop of the spinning hands of a numberless clock, the overblown skirts of a model's Victorian dress split into panniers then metamorphosed into a boyish Twenties-line design, complete with jewelled fringing. Next came a second, floor-length, diaphanous gown with a Centurian-pleat skirt that rose up and flipped over to become the dazzling silver panels of a futuristic Sixties-style shift.

"I was inspired by the different decades," said the designer, backstage after the show. "So a 19th-century design transformed into a 1920s one and so forth."

If it looked like magic, it was, in fact, the latest in state of the art fashion technology. "We worked for months with a huge team," Chalayan explained. "The software was woven into the corsets of dresses. "

Even in a world that prides itself on spectacle, this collection was extraordinary. It could all too easily have descended into crudely executed, sci-fi territory, but the proceedings were orchestrated with a lightness of touch and an aesthetic purity that was second to none.

Chalayan has in the past created tiered wooden skirts out of coffee tables and fibreglass dresses the panels of which lifted to echo the wings of aircraft. He is well placed to carry off such intricately staged wizardry. In recent years he has put any overtly conceptual leanings to one side in favour of more conventional catwalk presentations. This, however, saw a return to more ambitious territory.

As the lights went down and the last model came out centre stage, her impossibly fragile, snow-white slip rose up to reveal her slender, naked frame. Then ­ in the blink of an eye ­ it disappeared entirely into the crown of her wide-brimmed hat, from where it was expelled into the air, miraculously transformed into a gleaming handful of crystal dust.