Gaultier performs hat trick as he fills Yves Saint Laurent's shoes

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The Independent Online

For many years, it fell to Yves Saint Laurent, the master of 20th-century French fashion, to close the twice-yearly season. Since his retirement, five years ago, it is Jean-Paul Gaultier, one of the last remaining Gallic-born couturiers, who has taken his place on the schedule.

It is easy to see why the French fashion establishment loves this designer. All the classic staples of Parisian glamour are inevitably in place and this season more than ever. The most perfectly executed little black cocktail dress with a cut-out lace back rubs shoulders with glossy trench coats in exotic skins and jewel-coloured chiffon eveningwear with the long, lean tailoring with which Gaultier made his name.

Gaultier being Gaultier, however, these were classics with a twist: model's hair was teased to mimic oversized top hats; sheer panels were introduced into otherwise conservative velvet to reveal saucy flashes of flesh. The ever-present Le Smoking, meanwhile, famously introduced to the world of womenswear by Yves Saint Laurent in 1968, came with a single sleeve constructed entirely out of cockerel feathers.

In his third season at Givenchy, the Italian designer Riccardo Tisci, whose collection was shown late the previous evening, is interesting if not yet quite capable of living up to the impeccable standards that might be expected of this, one of France's oldest and grandest couture houses. Tisci's signature tends towards the gothic and so it was not surprising that, in a colour palette restricted almost entirely to black and brown, voluminous dresses in the softest and finest velvet, organza, tulle and silk crêpe were mournfully romantic. More in pale and interesting ivory and pearl would suit a modern-day Miss Havisham down to the ground.

They came with skirts cut out of row upon row of tiny, hand-crafted lace flowers. The tailoring, though ambitious, was not so successful. Moulded to the body in a patchwork of intricate panels and seams it looked heavy-handed in a world that prides itself in the ultimate attention to detail, proportion and fit and any imperfection was not helped by Tisci's fascination with the sort of elaborately choreographed presentation that would not have seemed out of place in London in the mid-Nineties.

No one would ever accuse the work of Christian Lacroix of being restrained. There was however, a certain rigour at play. Lacroix tends towards the maximal and so, even given the dominance of black, the colour of the autumn/winter season, clothes were invariably bedecked with the ruffles, bows, beading and embroidery that remain integral to the hand-writing of haute couture. Little black shift dresses, however, were uncharacteristically simple. They came with embroidered lace panels and looked entirely elegant. More in character was a coat covered in silver leaf and a full silk satin skirt hand-painted with a single, "giant" magenta pink rose.

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