BY JENNY BARCHFIELD, ASSOCIATED PRESS:
PARIS — A circus vibe permeated the Givenchy show on Tuesday, day two of Paris' spring-summer 2010 haute couture displays. But Givenchy's was the kind of circus where the tightrope walkers perform without a rope and the lion tamer regularly gets eaten.
Designer Riccardo Tisci, a connoisseur of the dark side, sent out a sumptuous collection of beaded pantsuits and sheer organza dresses – often paired with variations on the ringmaster's long tail coat – that fairly seethed with foreboding of bad things to come.
Chanel was a far sunnier place. Massive columns fitted with fluorescent bulbs glowed in a rainbow of pastel shades that matched the sweet pinks, peaches, mint greens and baby blues of the all-pastel and silver collection.
There was but a single black-and-white look in the whole show, and uber-designer Karl Lagerfeld described steering clear of the storied label's hallmark color combination as "a challenge." Lagerfeld himself was wearing a gray for the occasion.
French designer Stephane Rolland delivered a jaw-dropping collection of minidresses spattered with gleaming lacquer and column gowns that sprouted what looked like dinosaur vertebrae made from laser-cut plexiglass. Rolland, whose three-year-old label has made blurring the line between fashion and art its calling card, outdid even himself.
Worth, a weighty name in the rarified world of haute couture – which showcases the made-to-measure garments that cost as much as a car – made its comeback on Tuesday. Founded in 1858 by British dressmaker Charles Frederick Worth – who is widely credited as the father of haute couture – the label folded a century later.
The House of Worth relaunched several seasons ago with a lingerie line, but Italian designer Giovanni Bedin's collection of eight waspwaisted bodice dresses in fine lace and tulle were the label's first foray into couture in more than half a century.
Off the official couture calendar, smaller labels showed their spring-summer collections, as well. Lebanon's Basil Soda delivered glamorous chain-hung gowns in a warm palette of browns and bronzes, while emerging French designer Eric Tibusch seemed to be channeling – or courting – Lady Gaga with eye-popping leotards and asymmetrical dresses enveloped in stiff panels that were meant to resemble Saturn's rings.
Not the kind of garb you'd be able to sit down in, but wear one to a cocktail party and you'd instantly become its center of gravity.
Wednesday sees the end of the haute couture displays, with shows by two red carpet favorites, Italy's Valentino and Lebanon's Elie Saab, as well as France's former enfant terrible, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Chanel was basking in a luminous pastel glow.
Models in buttery yellow culotte suits, fancy plissed tank dresses in baby blue silk and frothy pink gowns minced down the catwalk on boots with silver rococo heels and pearl-studded soles.
Lagerfeld called working without black a "challenge" but said the idea for the color-soaked show came in "electronic flashes I get in my head."
"I saw it in a dream and I made the sketches ... at five o'clock in the morning," he told Associated Press Television News.
Some of the looks had a dreamlike quality. An off-the-shoulder bubble dress awash in tiny silk ruffles evoked sea foam, or a cloud. The wedding dress – which traditionally closes haute couture displays – had silver sequin-covered sleeves and a fluffy train in marshmallow pink. Little blobs of silver, like liquid mercury, dotted the seams of the peaked-shouldered jackets, which were paired with high-waisted culottes.
Never one to neglect his accessories, Lagerfeld decked the models out in fingerless gloves like the ones he often sports and fastened fancy bows into their massive winged bouffants.
Looks that deserved a spot on the center ring in Tisci's dangerous big top were the column skirt covered in minute emerald beads and a sheer silk top and a pantsuit and cropped jacket in electric blue beads that looked made for the world's chicest lion tamer.
The show, which had been edited down to just 22 looks, had plenty of the kinds of organza and sequin concoctions that in the hands most other designers would have come off as fluffy or, at best, pretty. But Tisci is able to imbue even the daintiest and sweetest of looks with a subversive edge that makes you take one look at the ingenue sporting his powder pink silk cocktail number and feel the need to check whether she's wielding a knife behind her back.
Singer Ciara – who took in the spectacle from her front row perch next to Kanye West and his girlfriend, Amber Rose – said she was attracted by Givenchy's darker side.
The label "is about taking risks, and having edge and being strong," the singer told The AP in a backstage interview. Ciara, who was wearing a printed top from Givenchy's ready-to-wear collection, said she had her eye on the electric blue pantsuit to wear at her concerts.
Clearly, she sees herself as a liontamer.
Since launching his signature label in 2007, Rolland has wowed critics with his sculptural gowns that bulge with bustles and capes and minidresses embellished with painstaking geometric mosaics.
But this season, Rolland took the shards of plexiglass he uses for the mosaics and flipped them 90 degrees, so they stuck up from the fabric's surface in stiff ridges. Aligned one alongside another, they formed astonishing volumes, and looked like stiff Elizabethan lace collars, oversized ivory bangles, or the fossilized, half-buried remains of spiny dinosaurs.
"I really wanted my woman to be sophisticated, with a hint of mystery and a spot of danger," Rolland told The Associated Press in a pre-show interview.
And dangerous she was. Ultra-glossy splotches dripped down from the necklines of asymmetrical jumpsuits and a scarlet stain with the sheen of fresh blood soaked up from the hemline of a razor-cut skirt suit in ecru silk.
Rolland developed the gloss with chemist who managed to mimic the brilliant shine of lacquer, while giving it the pliability of rubber. Still the substance requires 20-30 painstaking coats, to give the desired high-gloss effect, Rolland said.
Designer Bedin said he rifled through the archive, taking his inspiration for the capsule collection from the garmants the house's founder designed for 19th century European royalty.
"Worth focused on the bust, so that was where we started, with these constructed bodices to create a tiny waist," the 35-year-old Italian designer told The AP at the presentation.
Truth be told, there was little but bust to the eight minuscule concoctions of dainty lace, ribbons and tulle. Measuring just 25 inches (65 centimeters) from to top to bottom, they looked more like tutus than proper dresses, and it was hard to imagine anyone but a ballerina daring to shimmy into one.
But that was hardly the point.
The point was that on their mannequins, artfully illuminated by overhead spots, the bustier dresses looked like finely faceted jewels or something precious from a bygone era.
The emerging French designer shot into orbit with a Space Age collection of Saturnian ringed leotards, asymmetrical gowns with towering shoulders and cocktail dresses that looked like the uniforms of space stewardesses.
And as if the boldly imaginative collection were lacking in strangeness, Tibusch upped the weirdness factor by embroidering on chips of burned wood and dead flowers and covering a leotard covered with mini chocolate bars.
If Lady Gaga ends up ordering that one, someone really must warn her not to work up a sweat in it.
The Beirut native once worked under Elie Saab, and it's easy to see the imprint Hollywood's favorite Lebanese designer left on his work: Like Saab, Soda also turns out ravishing red carpet-ready gowns, heavy with fancy beadwork.
But his spring-summer collection, had a hard, rock-princess edge. Some of the looks, with peaked shoulders and fringes of gold chains and little razor-shaped metal appliques, felt like what Balmain would do if the Paris-based label ever brought hemlines down below the upper thigh.