Nine days after Dior dismissed its flamboyant star designer John Galliano in a shock announcement that coincided with the start of Paris's ready-to-wear displays, the City of Light's marathon collections wrapped up Wednesday with a kinky fetishist collection from another fashion luminary, Marc Jacobs, that set tongues wagging that he could be the one to replace Galliano.
The former Dior designer was fired amid allegations he hurled anti-Semitic insults at a couple while drinking at a Paris bar and after a video circulated on the Internet showing a visibly drunk Galliano say "I love Hitler" in a separate altercation at the same bar. The news was deeply upsetting to industry insiders, and many were quick to come to his defense, saying Galliano's multi-ethnic-inspired work of 15 years with Dior had proven him not to be a racist.
The whole saga was like a wet blanket thrown over the Paris shows.
The sense of relief was palpable after Elie Saab, the last big-name show on the Paris calendar. Fashion editors, journalists and stylist beat a beeline out of the show, glad to have put what was generally agreed to have been an uninspired season to bed.
Still, Wednesday saw one of Paris' strongest fall-winter 2011-2012 collections, Jacob's handcuff-wearing fetishist display for bag-maker Louis Vuitton. The hourglass-shaped coats and bustiers-as-outerwear struck a vaguely Dior-like note, reviving speculation that the American superstar might be tapped to succeed Galliano.
Other persistent rumors would have Riccardo Tischi of Givenchy or Haider Ackermann, who has his own eponymous label, step into Galliano's immense shoes. Both Vuitton and Givenchy are owned by Dior parent company LVMH Moet Hennessy, a not insignificant detail which would appear to shore up the speculation.
The Paris-based luxury conglomerate also owns Galliano's signature label, throwing its future into question. Galliano-designed collections for Dior and his eponymous John Galliano label were shown to the press and buyers in solemn displays last week that had some in tears. What would happen next was anyone's guess.
The disgraced designer himself is rumored to be in rehab in Arizona.
Other shows Wednesday included a star(let)-studded display from Prada second line Miu Miu, dramatic fares for power dressers at Elie Saab and an unintentionally amusing international debut from Turkey's Arzu Kaprol.
Top fall trends to emerge from Paris' catwalks over the past nine days included colorblocking, patchwork, wool coats with oversized fur sleeves and what's perhaps the world's classiest looking but most infuriating garment to actually wear, the cape.
The City of Light gets a respite from fashion until late June, when the spring-summer 2012 menswear collections hit town.
For now, though, the fashion world will crawl into bed and try to sleep off the past week.
At Vuitton, it was all about the obscure object of desire: corsets, patent leather boots, see-through raincoats and handcuffs.
Hostesses dressed in French maid's uniforms and brandishing oversized feather dusters and platters with caviar hors d'oeuvres and shots of vodka _ the perfect pick-me-up at 10 in the morning _ ushered guests into a tent that recreated a dimly lit Paris hotel. With its black marble floor and old-school cage elevators, Vuitton's hotel was, while not seedy per se, perhaps not the kind of place you'd take the kids on holiday.
One of the elevators creaked into motion, and the first of Vuitton's army of kinky mistresses emerged from the lift and onto the catwalk in a see-through skirt nipped to wasp-width at the waist by an extra-wide belt.
Hourglass shaped coats in tweed and slick patent leather were worn with thigh-high stockings _ and nothing else. Black bustiers were layered over demure A-line skirts worn with shirts with round, white schoolgirl collars. A black dress embroidered with sequins looked innocent enough until the model turned the corner, revealing her handcuff-bound wrists. (Because this was Vuitton, all of the models were carrying handbags, even the ones in handcuffs.)
Superstar designer Marc Jacobs said the public's insatiable desire for everything with the LV logo had sparked the idea for the collection.
"There's this crazy, almost irrational desire for these objects, these things we create," Jacobs told a scrum of journalists in a frenzied backstage interview.
"We were thinking about obsession, fetishism and we thought about an old hotel, with its chambermaids and the affairs that go on there, the crimes and scandals. And we just wanted to reveal all the amazing creatures who passed through there," he said.
In recent seasons, Vuitton has bucked the trend toward pubescent models, sending out veterans in their thirties and forties, and Wednesday the label brought out the big guns _ '90s supermodels Stella Tennant, Amber Valletta and Naomi Campbell.
When Kate Moss, who closed the show, emerged from the elevator in a rubberized lace jacket, lace-up crocodile boots and hotpants more abbreviated than most self-respecting underwear, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause. Moss responded by taking a puff on her cigarette and blowing the smoke out onto the crowd.
Perhaps because of the Galliano scandal, celebrities made themselves unusually scarce at this season's Paris shows. But Hollywood starlets turned out in force for Miu Miu.
"Black Swan" co-star Mila Kunis was there, chatting with her fellow front row guest, W Magazine editor-in-cheif Stefano Tonchi, and Jennifer Lawrence of "Winter's Bone" and teenage phenomenon Hailee Steinfeld from "True Grit" took in the show from a couple seats down.
Miu Miu is the second line of Milan-based luxury supernova Prada, and with its lighter-weight price tags, abbreviated hemlines and popping colors, the label generally appeals to a younger public.
The proper, frankly unsexy wares at Wednesday's show, then, came as something of a surprise.
There were the calf-length dresses in black silk, given a touch of fancy by sequined embroidery of swallows in flight or dandelions. Wool coats had big square shoulders and triangular cropped sleeves that gave them a vaguely '40s air.
The collection was spot on-trend with the wave of polite dressing that's hit Paris catwalks, but it was jarring coming from a label known for subverting classic codes.
Still, 14-year-old Steinfeld didn't mind the more mature look for fall.
"My parents, when we go to fittings, are all about finding things that are age appropriate," she told The Associated Press in a post-show interview. "I loved, loved, loved it and I could tell by the look on my mom's face she loved it, too, so I think it's age appropriate."
Saab's detractors complain the Lebanese red carpet favorite's collections are always the same, but frankly, if it's not broke, why fix it?
Saab has the magic formula that has won him legions of fans among world's beautiful people down pat. In addition to his high-drama red carpet gowns covered with flashbulb-friendly sequins, he churns out flattering, glamorous daywear that transitions seamless from the office to dinner and beyond.
Wednesday's show included plenty of formfitting sheath dresses with sharp square shoulders and long, lean, sequin-covered gowns with rounded trains in black, taupe, mauve and brick red.
Granted, Saab didn't reinvent the wheel with the fall collection, but then again, with a mile-long client roster that includes A-list actresses, princesses and stylish women the world over, why on earth would he?
"I already picked out about six pieces that I absolutely want," said Victoria Yaeger Sawyer, a San Francisco lawyer with a passion for fashion. "As a working woman who has to go from day to cocktail, the collection was great. For my needs, it's the best show I've seen all week."
Perhaps it was because Saab was the last show after a month of collections that began in New York, moved to London and then Milan before debuting in Paris at the start of the month, but the models appeared to be staging some kind of spontaneous strike: Several of them walked only half the runway, posing and turning around and a hundred yards (meters) from the photographers' pit. Most of the girls ignored the photographers' boos and hisses, but in a rare instance of on-catwalk spontaneity, one of the models poised to turn back early changed her mind, shot the photographers a radiant smile and walked the whole runway.
It's not every day you see models collide on the runway, much less a head-on crash between two encased in plexiglass bubbles like oversized versions of the plastic eggs that pantyhose used to be sold in.
The crash _ more than the clothes, sadly _ made the international debut of Turkish designer Arzu Kaprol something no spectator is likely to forget.
The production value of Paris' shows, and the quality of the garments on display, tends to be very high, and Kaprol's all black, hard-edged fall collection just wasn't up to snuff: The zipper down the back of a translucent pencil skirt refused to lay flat and buckled in unattractive waves as the model, in vertiginous platforms with spike heels, hobbled down the catwalk.
The plexiglass eggs that closed the show, worn cape-style over little black dresses in leather and python, were covered in fingerprint smudges. Those sound like minor details, but when you're trying to compete with the heavyweights, you've got no choice but to sweat the small stuff.