Cool minimalism and lavish classics set the tone in Paris

The diversity of the Paris ready-to-wear season was amply demonstrated yesterday by two shows - the first courtesy of the Comme des Garçons protégé, Tao, the second from the great Roman couturier, Valentino.

Tao is a young, Japanese-born designer who has attracted a cult following of fashion insiders. She unveils her twice-yearly collections in the small and minimal Comme des Garçons showroom to no more than around 150 international buyers and journalists. Her work is modelled by young women who have just started out on their career path.

There is no elaborate lighting or soundtrack save for that of cameras whirring. The clothes themselves are, equally, as about as far from status-driven as it is possible for designer fashion to be.

Valentino, on the other hand, is famously the designer favoured by the European ladies that lunch set. This designer shows in a cavernous hall and to an audience of more than a thousand. The house of Valentino is, of course, rich and powerful enough to employ all the big names in modelling and to install light-up glass flooring and a shimmering gold backdrop, all the better to remind anyone present that his clothing is about as status-driven as it is possible for designer fashion to be.

So what did these designers have to offer for the autumn/winter 2007 season?

Tao came up with this typically opaque description of her designs. It was, she said, about "magnetic bodies". So far, so unintelligible. Not that it mattered. With their black lipstick and swept-back hair - or sporting jaunty wool caps - models came out in polo shirts and gym shorts with pretty lace edging topped off with a cropped sports vest embellished with tiny, and very slightly crushed, frills.

More knitted sportswear followed - either striped or in black, cream or grey - worn beneath equally frilly dresses in high-performance fabric gathered round the body with canvas straps. If this was the designer's take on body-conscious clothing, the overall effect was covered up and even demure. As if to drive this message home, nothing more obviously clichéd than a pair of simple trainers and flesh-coloured pop socks (yes, pop socks) rolled down at the ankle finished a look that the more forward-thinking fashion follower will love to wear.

There was nothing much modest about Valentino's offering, although it should be pointed out that while his clothes always look just as expensive as they actually are, the designer is not one to resort to anything so vulgar as the flashing of flesh.

Now in his seventies, Valentino has dressed everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. If his label hasn't moved on - think immaculately tailored shift dress and swing coat ensembles, and delicate jewelled lace eveningwear - the workmanship that goes into the creation of each piece is unparalleled. It's small wonder that when the mahogany-tanned man himself comes out to take his bows, the front row rises to its feet. This is fashion's longest-running mutual appreciation society, after all.

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