PARIS — Bye, New York! Ciao, Milan! And bonjour, Paris.
The world's largest traveling circus of fashion editors, models, buyers and journalists has descended on the French capital, clutching their metro maps and city guides, to cap fashion season for nine days of intensive ready-to-wear.
And this fall-winter 2013-14 is the biggest to date, with some 99 "on-calendar" shows that see the week almost tearing at the seams, starting earlier and finishing later than ever.
"There are 12 shows a day. Twenty-two different nationalities this season. With new top designers at work," says Didier Grumbach, president of the French Fashion Federation. "It's an impressive mix, an energy that sets Paris apart from what's going on elsewhere."
Tuesday – day one – saw collections dominated by three up-and-coming Belgian designers: Veronique Branquinho, Cedric Charlier and Anthony Vaccarello, who dressed actress Charlotte Gainsbourg at last Friday's Cesar film awards.
The similarities start and end with their nationalities; all three threw together strong but highly individual collections.
If Branquinho was elegance, Charlier was edgy architecture, and Vaccarello was retro sex-appeal.
In other shows of the day, Le Moine Tricote spiced up the bread-and-butter knitwear with woven fabric.
Wednesday's shows include Guy Laroche, Damir Doma and London's enfant terrible, Gareth Pugh.
The no-holds-barred sex appeal for Anthony Vaccarello is not for the faint-hearted.
The third Belgian designer to show on Paris fashion week's first day served up a black-and-white ode to the early `80s in a show that featured micro skirts, chainmail, a lot of skin and lashings of sensual leather.
Strong retro shoulders, asymmetrical, diagonally cut skirts, upturned lapels and cowl collars set the fashion time dial firmly back to the era of the New Romantics.
This was fused with the innate sexiness of his variations on the Little Black Dress.
The best look was a black kimono-style top, which billowed in great contrast to the tight, bright shiny black mini.
Subtle this was not, but then, subtle isn't glam-loving Vaccarello's thing.
It was the modern bohemian woman on parade.
Veronique Branquinho mixed and matched eclectic references, from wooden African bracelets to Obi-style dresses with belts.
The soundtrack included Marilyn Monroe's sultry "One Silver Dollar" from the Western "River of No Return," which played as cowboy boots and denim studs peppered the looks.
Stetson cowboy hats in Shetland went too far, but overall it was a strong collection for the up-and-coming designer – reined in only by its feminine silhouette proportions and textural contrasts that unified the show.
The graceful, slouchy style, now a Branquinho signature, was seen on several of the dropped waist looks, often in beige and fawn.
LE MOINE TRICOTE
Fall-winter sees bright-eyed designer Alice Lemoine brimming with ideas.
First of all, in the unique presentation of her Le Moine Tricote collection via three different mediums in three different rooms: there were edgy photos, vintage-looking video projections, and the clothes themselves on mannequins.
Second of all, there were new ideas in the direction of the up-and-comer's knitwear line itself, which saw the repertoire this season spun out to include stricter woven fabrics. They provided a subtle but welcome contrast to the more feminine thick-knit tailored jackets in black, beige and gray.
The strongest piece in the show was a fantastic black mid-length coat dress that had pockets, a lapel and sleeves in billowing wool to imitate fur.
Despite sporty flashes, the collection overall remained thoroughly feminine, thanks to the natural roundness of the thick-knit silhouettes.
This season, ladylike is the name of the game.
Architecture, "art brut" and Dutch Master Brueghel were all inspirations behind Cedric Charlier's diverse show.
The first pieces, among the collection's best, mixed up sharp geometric paneling alongside oversize coats with fluid, rounded shoulders.
Ensembles were made up of several layers, like square navy skirts on top of knee-length leggings with a rectangular bib form hanging down.
There were also some great structured sheaths in silky navy and black leather.
It's a far cry from the more fluid looks seen in Charlier's last collection.
The designer said medieval painter Brueghel inspired the bright colors of some of the prints and patterns, as did an early 20th century movement called "art brut" that celebrated art from shunned circles, like mental asylums.
It was an interesting idea that worked on the more simple silhouettes.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP