There are many designers showing in Paris capable of dreaming up classically glamorous clothing. Then there are the conceptualists, the names whose approach to fashion is thought-provoking and innovative, though rarely overtly sexually charged. But there are very few designers capable of both. The Austrian-born Helmut Lang is one of them and his show yesterday confirmed that he should be cherished for his ability to achieve a perfect balance between the two.
As always, the space was white and unforgivingly bright - all the better to show off Lang's fiercely contemporary, layered looks, an aesthetic he has described as "interactive", and reminiscent of the Microsoft Windows system. It's rather more beautiful than that, fortunately. In fact, it is very beautiful indeed. Working with only limited colours - black, midnight blue, white and bronze - Lang sent out the best skinny flat-fronted trousers of the week so far worn with cropped jackets and fine jersey T-shirts with just the suggestion of another T-shirt, stripped away to a mere slither of fabric, over the top.
Slender ankles were clad in stiletto-heeled boots which puffed to enfold the hems. The tuxedo, back in fashion next autumn, was, of course, more than safe in this designer's hands: the tailoring tradition is highly respected in Viennese society and Lang cut his fashion teeth in that city. Narrow-shouldered, subtly waisted jackets cropped just at the hip-bone looked ultra-cool worn with more slim-legged trousers to match.
For the first time, the cape - also set for a comeback and hardly easy to wear - seemed manageable, even desirable, attached to the backs of knitted dresses and low-slung skirts and fluttering prettily when models walked. And as for that time-honoured design classic, the trench coat, suffice to say that tightly belted at the waist, knee-length and with subtly asymmetrical details, it made perfect sense of the lady-like, Parisian-style elegance that, in other people's hands, all too often looks bourgeois almost to the point of being dowdy.