Emperor of haute couture demonstrates how to turn style into cool, hard cash

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The Independent Online

The designer John Galliano was a French icon even before he dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte. The man who yesterday donned the bicorn hat of the former emperor at the finale of his spring/summer 2005 haute couture collection for Christian Dior is perhaps the best hope for the future of Paris fashion's most hallowed craft.

The designer John Galliano was a French icon even before he dressed up as Napoleon Bonaparte. The man who yesterday donned the bicorn hat of the former emperor at the finale of his spring/summer 2005 haute couture collection for Christian Dior is perhaps the best hope for the future of Paris fashion's most hallowed craft.

Transforming a marquee at the Polo de Paris with a set of futurism, 1960s-style, a string quintet and a rock band, the British-born designer tailored his haute couture into three distinct themes. The opening sequence of black bodysuits, bubble-shaped crocodile-skin skirts and narrow minidresses, worn with tights and flat black boots, were a perfectly tailored version of the fashions associated with the heyday of Marianne Faithful, who along with Sofia Coppola and Theodora Richards, watched from the first row.

Following this understated beginning, Galliano sent out a clutch of rust-red Empire-line dresses broadened by short crinolines, demonstrating his taste for historical themes has not waned.

The show ended on a cleverly commercial note: 11 grand white dresses demonstrating the embellishment skills of the specialist Paris workshops. They could grace any mega-budget wedding.

Dior is in the minority of houses that can claim to make money from haute couture and dresses for occasions such as the wedding of Donald Trump to Melania Knauss last Saturday - are a boon.

Earlier, Giorgio Armani, one of the biggest selling designers in ready-to-wear, tried his hand at haute couture. He did it his way. From the first outfit - a liquid satin gown decorated with crystals and a tiny embroidered organza jacket festooned with glass beads - to the finale, a pair of eye-popping crystal-encrusted sheath dresses, the Italian designer demonstrated how haute couture directly translates into high-impact dresses destined for the red carpet.

Backstage, the 70-year-old designer declared he felt " benissimo" to be showing in Paris.

But according to the regulations of haute couture, made law in 1945, collections are supposed to represent both day and eveningwear. Armani's transgression of this rule is yet another sign that the meaning of haute couture is in flux.

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