Close encounters with leather, fur and cashmere

By Susannah Frankel,Fashion Editor
Saturday 06 March 2004 01:00

At the end of his show in Paris last night the designer Alexander McQueen crossed his own catwalk and shook the hand of Domenico De Sole, the soon-to-exit Gucci Group CEO in pride of place in the front row. It was a fitting gesture. McQueen has a lot to thank De Sole for. With the group's creative director, Tom Ford, also stepping down next month, De Sole has supported McQueen through his transformation from small, independent, London-based label into a global brand, while ensuring the designer's considerable integrity remains intact.

When McQueen, 35 this month, signed over 51 per cent of his company to Gucci in December 2000, no one was sure whether his raw talent would be harnessed. Sceptics have long been proven wrong. Even given that the Paris collections are the world's most important, filled to capacity with major names, McQueen's is today among the most famous.

Last night, as always, he rose to the challenge beautifully. The stage was a raised, circular lightbox around which models with tightly curled hair, pale masks of make-up and cocooned in clothing which resembled nothing more than designer second skins stalked like embryonic aliens. Perhaps thankfully the only close encounters were between models and their clothes which, in many cases, clung to every contour. Liquid jersey dresses in flesh tones were testimony to the fact that covering up can often be as, if not more, sexy as revealing all; buttersoft leather in the same muted hues was equally figure-hugging and supremely chic to boot. This was a collection the focus of which was on warmth and protection: curvaceous jackets had huge fur-lined hoods and were worn with fine cashmere skirts either bell-shaped to the knee or hour-glass to the ankle. Quilted coats were fastened right up to the throat. Soft tweeds were moulded to the body in a masterful map of complex seams.

At the end the designer sent out a sequence of models dwarved by huge, organically shaped silver dresses embellished with gleaming spirals of bright, white light. A futuristic fashion moment.

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