The ghost of Kate Moss looms above McQueen show

Kate Moss loomed large over the designer Alexander McQueen's autumn/winter collection which was shown in Paris last night. The world's most famous model, and McQueen's great friend, danced in a glass pyramid, surrounded by a cloud of billowing chiffon, appearing for the first time on the catwalk for years.

Of course, McQueen being McQueen, there was a catch. Moss in person was, in fact, nowhere to be seen. Rather than stalking the bare floorboards alongside her contemporaries, she had been filmed prior to the show and away from the crowds and her image was projected via an optical device, widely known as Pepper's Ghost, an effect first employed by the mid-19th century chemist John Henry Pepper for a production of Charles Dickens' The Haunted Man.

The model's other-worldly presence aside, this was a deeply personal show. Following a run of highly commercial, conventional runway presentations, this saw a return to the unbridled spectacle and raw power with which he made his name.

Any emotional charge was only enhanced by the fact that the proceedings were dedicated to "the widows of Culloden". McQueen is proud of his Scottish heritage and this is the first time he has explored this particular subject since the controversial Highland Rape collection, shown in his hometown of London in the late 1990s. Today one of the world's foremost designers, it was at that point that he shot to international acclaim.

With all this in mind, then, it is small wonder that the clothes themselves harked back to a time when, as a young, independent designer, McQueen felt free to express his imagination to the full. Since December 2000, when he went into partnership with the Italian luxury goods conglomerate the Gucci Group, he has been under immense pressure to deliver clothing and accessories that not only inspire but also appeal to a broad, international audience.

For McQueen, a fashion talent who has always relied on obscure references and an aesthetic that is fiercely challenging, this has been a steep learning curve. The fact that, with Stella McCartney and Balenciaga, also Gucci Group acquisitions, his company is required to break even by 2007 only adds to any pressure.

Still, the designer once again proved himself more than man enough for the job. This was clearly his way of saying that commercial clout didn't necessarily mean conventional wisdom or, indeed, overly simplistic clothes. And so last season's body-conscious, short sharp silhouette was replaced by a return to the brand's core values: the effortless juxtaposition of fragility and strength, masculinity and femininity and a dark, even eerie, romance which is quintessential McQueen in flavour.

There were wasp-waisted jackets and sweet little bell-shaped skirts that swung at the hips when models walked. These were crafted in the McQueen tartan, neatly enough, and softened by tiny silk ruffles at collar, cuff and hem. Then came the torn chiffon and lace sheath dresses which are the envy of any beautiful and bright young thing the world over.

More sober - though equally lovely - was eveningwear crafted in liquid black velvet, cut close to the body but never restricting it, and signature tweed tailoring that looked as sharp and sexy as might be expected. Feathered head-dresses, sky-high skinny-legged boots and tousled chignons finished a look that was a perfect balance between the theatre for which this particular designer is known and loved and the business brains with which he has taken a small, avant-garde label and, in just a few years, transformed it into a globally recognised concern.

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