Parisian catwalks steeped in sugary fantasy

By Susannah Frankel
Wednesday 22 January 2003 01:00

Paris's two grandest couture houses, Dior and Chanel, appear to have very different ideas about just what an haute couture collection should be.

While Dior, designed by John Galliano and shown earlier in the week, was all about spectacle, Chanel, presided over by Karl Lagerfeld, and unveiled yesterday, focused purely on clothes.

In a glass pavilion overlooking the Champs-Elysées, Lagerfeld proved that the spirit of the house's namesake was very much alive. The influence of Coco was happily in evidence in narrow, strictly tailored knee-length day coats in navy and black, her traditional ropes of pearls this time came large in a tangled mass of all the shades from black to rose. The Chanel suit (not a season passes without its entrance) was crafted in the palest colours, shot through with contrasting hues. The jacket was short and close-fitting, the skirt hugged the hips then gradually disintegrated into delicate tulle. The little black dress that Chanel gave the world was there too: it looked lovely with delicately frayed edges.

This was a very young collection, however – perhaps too young for the client herself, although perfect for her pubescent daughter. A dress entirely constructed of white and coral chiffon blossom was fondant-sweet, although it's difficult to imagine anyone quite delectable enough to wear it.

There is nothing much real about Christian Lacroix's vision of femininity either. The designer from southern France offered clothing more suited to flower fairies than the average middle-aged couture customer, wrapping an overblown floral print ballgown that might have walked out of a Fragonard painting in layers of lemon and apricot tulle, then finishing the whole with scarlet poppies and bows. A patchwork polkadot evening dress just doesn't seem quite over the top enough without a rose pink ruffled train. More steeped in fantasy still were a series of short, jewelled, corseted dresses in colours reminiscent of Dolly Mixtures and Licorice Allsorts.

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