PARIS, France — Naomi Campbell not only owns the clothes she wears, but by her sheer magnetic presence commands the entire runway when she walks it. Donatella Versace knows this well, casting the age-defying 43-year-old to start Paris haute couture week with a bang of indomitable energy.
It was a hard act to follow.
Monday, the first of three full days of collections, showcased a universe of divergent and notable styles: From Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen's organic musings to the supreme elegance of Christian Lacroix's one-off ode to the late, great designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
Meanwhile, Christian Dior's Raf Simons broke through the walls of Avenue Montaigne to send the fashion house on a journey across the four corners of the globe: From the purity of Asia to the bold Americas to the bright stripes and patterns of Africa's Masai, with a dash of Europe's dainty-waisted "Parisienne."
Images projected on the make-shift show walls inside Paris' Invalides summed up the show's message: A carpeted salon of Dior's Right Bank headquarters fused into scenes of exotic red flowers and images of black and Asian models. In other words, with one full year as creative director under his belt, Simons has found the confidence to go beyond the weighty heritage of the 70-year-old house codes and explore his own visions.
Elsewhere, looks fully embracing the East were pulled off with panache, such as one off-white silk coat with stiff upturned collar, long front flaps and an incredible jutting back piece. All the looks were supremely feminine.
But while all of the globe-trotting turned this show into one of Simons' most creative, the 53 looks were so diverse that it also was his hardest to make sense of. The brightly-colored Masai looks, for example, were sometimes so bright they jarred.
Still, there were plenty of bold new explorations. Next season, a more focused vision might help sharpen these great fashion ideas.
There were awed gasps from A-lister Uma Thurman on Sunday night when the panther-like Campbell steamed past to open the Atelier Versace show in strong-shouldered micro-sequin black jacket held together revealingly just by hooks and eyes covered in Swarovski crystals.
The rest of the fall-winter 2013 show was equally extreme.
Versace made some provocative statements with front panels of dresses flapping down with white crystals to expose the bustier, as if the "Glamazon" model had been interrupted midway through her strip-tease. One dress embroidered with blue and black sequins was so long it had a six-foot woman hobbling and nearly tripping all the way down the catwalk.
But among all the wanton razzmatazz, several of the looks were highly wearable and combined Versace's exuberance with some fine tailoring.
Shoe hats, lobster dresses, and spiraling goggle glasses could easily be part of a closet inventory belonging to Lady Gaga. But these objects were all spawned from the mind of another woman, one born in 1890: the avant-garde Elsa Schiaparelli.
The house of the influential fashion designer is being revived this year, and Monday saw famed couturier Christian Lacroix rise to the challenge of creating 18 dresses for a presentation entitled "Homage to Elsa."
It was a sumptuous display.
One dress called "Signature," in luxuriant navy wool crepe and satin piping, sported large pockets in midnight blue faille that formed an imaginative peplum. Elsewhere, there was a timeless black chiffon gown with a feathered front with a straight white satin bow and queenly gold collar.
IRIS VAN HERPEN
Wild nature was in the spotlight for Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen, who produced a typically organic-infused couture display for fall-winter.
The show venue — among the pillared architecture of the neoclassical science museum — lent itself well to explorations of organisms and exoskeletons that ran through the 11 creations.
The twist this season was a neat fusion with Japanese styles. That featured nicely, for example, on a bronze kimono dress with round, large arms in the shape of a moth. Here, scratched detailing evoked the feeling of a perforated cocoon.
The piece de resistance had to be an incredible oval dark gray mini dress that, in its intricate hard ruffles, teaming sinews and un-human shape, looked like a work of abstract sculpture.
By: Thomas Adamson
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