The party goes on at Balmain

AP News
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Posted: Sep 29, 2011 4:14 PM
The party goes on at Balmain

The jet-set party girls of the world breathed an audible sigh on relief Thursday, as the new designer at their go-to label for ultra short, expensive and fabulous clothes _ Balmain _ proved he wouldn't meddle with the label's tried and true recipe for success.

Olivier Rousteing gave the girls what they want with his debut, the spring-summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection _ minidresses that were drowning in gold, sequins, chains and studs, and little jackets with big, square shoulders.

Fashion was an altogether more ladylike affair at Nina Ricci and Carven. Lace and chiffon were the fabrics of choice at Nina Ricci, where designer Peter Copping continued to hone his vision of proper, old-school feminine dressing.

Carven also had a retro air about it, but clearly designer Guillaume Henry has his eyes on a different, markedly younger, demographic _ hence the sky-high hemlines on his flippy skirts.

Rick Owens was on the other end of the hemline spectrum, with long lean looks of an otherworldly beauty.

The big disappointment of day three of Paris' nine-day-long ready-to-wear marathon was Manish Arora, the madly inventive Indian designer whose creative cacophony failed this season to coalesce into a coherent collection.

The shows move into day four on Friday with displays by the ever-electrifying Paris label Lanvin, experimental house Maison Martin Margiela and Dior, the luxury supernova which has been without a creative director since John Galliano was summarily sacked last March for making anti-Semitic and racist slurs.

Dior's head of studio and longtime Galliano collaborator Bill Gaytten was behind the critically panned couture collection presented in July, and anticipation was rising ahead of Friday's show _ with many industry insiders (gleefully) predicting the worst.

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BALMAIN

The continuity was seamless.

With his debut as Balmain's designer, Rousteing remained true to the rock 'n' roll shapes that are now the label's trademark, sending out the second-skin dresses and blazers with power shoulders that have become the uniform of jet-set party girls with endless legs and even longer credit lines the world over.

Covered in glinting crystals, bulky gold embroidery and metalwork, and hung with a fringe of chains, the clothes looked so heavy it was a wonder the paper-thin models made it around the runway.

Thursday's show was deja vu all over again _ which, when you're a commercial success on the scale of Balmain, is a good thing.

Six months ago, the future of the brand looked anything but certain: When designer Christophe Decarnin, the man responsible for reviving the storied label after a long period of decline in the 1980s and '90s, failed to show up for last season's runway show, many in the industry worried about who would succeed him.

With Thursday's collection, Rousteing _ who was promoted from within weeks after Decarnin's no-show _ put those doubts to rest and proved he has what it takes to keep those Balmain cash tills cha-chinging.

RICK OWENS

Like ethereal extraterrestrials, Owens' women floated down the catwalk in long, lean column dresses with dramatic drapery that billowed in their disembodied wake.

The Californian designer has long been a critical favorite in Paris, and Thursday's show once again exceeded expectations.

Perched atop stacked heels, their sinewy bodies swathed in lengths of lightweight material, their hair in a wispy cloud of an up 'do, the models looked like angels from some distant and more evolved planet. Or Tilda Swinton. You could just picture the unearthly Scottish actress blowing away the red carpet in on of Owens' ravishingly simple ensembles.

The clothes themselves were feats of engineering. Despite their sculptural volumes and oversized drapery _ there were jackets the size and shape of pup tents _ the looks, in bone white, gray, black and pumpkin, managed to feel long and lean.

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NINA RICCI

Nina Ricci continued to corner the market on retro feminine dressing with the slightest touch of kink with a spring-summer collection that looked like it had just stepped out of "Belle de Jour."

Catherine Deneuve lookalikes, jaunty lacquered wicker toques upon their heads, sported bourgeois skirt suits _ with nothing under their snug little jackets but lacy bras. Smart sheath dresses were a see-through patchwork of pretty lace, and the models' bare legs shown through the translucent chiffon trains of the stately evening gowns.

Resuscitated by the hit TV series, "Mad Men," proper ladylike dressing swept catwalks around the world a couple of seasons ago. But it's more than a fad at Nina Ricci, where the label's English designer, Peter Copping, has been putting out one "jolie madame" collection after another for more than two years.

Other Paris labels, like Rochas and Carven, have also dabbled in the look, but both serve it up with a layer of irony that's utterly lacking at Nina Ricci.

There's no nudge-nudge, wink-wink here, just ravishing, old-school clothes that believe in their own beauty enough to take themselves seriously.

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CARVEN

Fashion was alive with the sound of music with Carven's Tyrolean-flavored spring-summer collection.

Models sported lederhosen short shorts with starched white shirts, and abbreviated leather dresses with flippy skirts were emblazoned with the little metal cutouts found on Swiss cows bells.

It even sounded a bit like an Alpine pasture. Above the din of the soundtrack came the jangle of little brass bells which, hung from the models' shoes, jangled as they walked.

Happily, the Bavarian influence wasn't served up straight, but rather distilled through the nerdy-sexy schoolgirl look that has become the label's signature style under French designer Guillaume Henry. The high-rise shorts and flippy mermaid shirts couldn't be have been shorter if they'd tried, but their overt sexiness was counterbalanced by the sort of willful dowdiness of some of the other pieces.

It was hard to imagine anyone besides very young girls with very long legs and very deep pockets being able to pull off many of the looks in Thursday's collection.

But perhaps that was precisely the point.

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MANISH ARORA

Arora's greatest strength, his wild inventiveness, proved his greatest weakness: The Indian designer delivered an utterly incoherent collection in which scads of good ideas failed to coalesce.

The show started with shrug-provoking pantomime that set the tone for what was to come.

Spanish actress and one-time Almodovar muse Rossy de Palma _ poured into a silver applique-covered minidress _ ordered a batch of models to sit at little tables that dotted the runway, set with tea sets in melting plastic. The models lounged at their tables, looking bored, until one by one they stood up and walked the catwalk.

The meaning behind this exercise was never fully clear, nor was its relationship to the clothes _ sequin-covered babydoll dresses and applique-emblazoned skinny jeans.

There were some amazing pieces, like a cage-like bustier made out of strips of leather that sprouted a flock of taxidermied finches or an anatomically correct top, complete with a pair of lungs and kidneys in laser-cut leather.

But there were simply too many looks _ and too many utterly disparate looks _ to send a coherent, clear message about what the season was all about. It almost seemed as if Arora were distracted _ and indeed perhaps he was: The new creative director of Paco Rabanne, Arora is to field his debut collection for the heritage house on Tuesday.