Christian Dior changes its face in couture day 1

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By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — The start of haute couture week in Paris is a must on any self-respecting fashionista's calendar.

But day one of the French capital's fall-winter 2012 shows was different: It's what's called a fashion event.

Monday was the debut of Christian Dior's new designer Raf Simons — the first chance to see into the future of a storied powerhouse.

He is only their fifth designer since Christian Dior founded the company in 1946.

The anticipation was evident in the front row turnout: a who's who of influence, from Marc Jacobs to Donatella Versace, Pierre Cardin, Riccardo Tisci and Diane von Furstenberg.

Ever since last year's dismissal of John Galliano, the house has been looking for a new, stronger direction.

In Simons' triumphant offering — which modernized the cinched waisted New Look — it would seem they've found it.

Haute couture is an artisan-based method of making clothes that dates back over 150 years.

The highly expensive garments, shown in collections in Paris twice a year, are bought by a core group of no more than 100 rich women around the world.

Other shows on a busy day included Giambattista Valli, who also channeled 1950s silhouettes in tulip and A-line silhouettes.

Meanwhile, Moroccan-born designer Bouchra Jarrar went back to haute couture's artisanal roots to produce an accomplished show of femininity.

Tuesday's shows include Chanel and Armani Prive.

CHRISTIAN DIOR

Say it with flowers.

That was the clear message from new designer Raf Simons in his 1950s-tinged haute couture debut for Christian Dior.

When the normally exuberant house first hired the Belgian designer, known for his minimalist and linear style, it raised eyebrows.

But Monday's show will win many over.

He revitalized with panache the curved Dior "flower women" silhouette.

It's what Christian Dior, the man, used to describe his revolutionary 1947 New Look of cinched waists and full skirts that resembled inverted flowers.

One thing's clear: Simons has done his homework.

In the four months since being named creative director, he's delved deep into the house's archives.

The result: a strong show in homage to Dior's love of flowers, but never a servile one.

Simons owned it.

Fifty four diverse looks paraded through several sweet-scented salons, wall-to-wall in myriad multi-colored flowers.

The first pieces were among the strongest.

Simons truncated the New Look, pairing high-waisted A-line mini dresses with contemporary black pants.

These were followed by a series of clean A-line archive pieces in bright reds and pale pink.

Their clean lines with large, hip-level pockets signaled a break from the vivacity of Simons' predecessor, John Galliano.

Dior's been looking for fresh direction ever since Galliano was sacked last year for a drunken anti-Semitic tirade.

This collection shows they've found their man.

Simons aimed to create a new kind of couture. He said it wasn't "just about reaching for a typical satin duchesse, a silk...but new forms."

And this was certainly fresh territory.

One bright yellow, show-stopping evening dress might have come in silk, but its skintight sheer top exposed the model's nipple ring.

Some of the looks in fur didn't quite work, but the misses were outweighed by plays on traditional form.

In a clever touch, Simons transformed the Bar Jacket into a tuxedo-dress, turning its cupped pockets into a Madonna-style conical bra.

Simons' show proves that change is a good thing. Now, Dior could well give Louis Vuitton and Hermes a run for their money.

BOUCHRA JARRAR

Bouchra Jarrar is relishing her feminine side.

The lauded designer opened Paris' haute couture week on a breeze of soft A-line silhouettes.

The 22 highly wearable dresses — in a gentle palette of lavender, black and white — floated by with clean draped collars and backs with effortless elegance.

But the simplicity of the collection was deceptive.

At work here was the atelier of the last great embroider, Francois Lesage, who passed away last year — a huge loss to Parisian fashion.

But here his techniques carried on.

A perfect example was on one silk georgette knee-length dress with a deep green flash of crepe de chine. Its hand-woven draped collar in tweed showed off couture's accomplished fastidious technique.

"It was like magic," added Jarrar. "(The atelier) worked with Lesage for 30 years: you can see it in the clothes."

And you could.

GIAMBATTISTA VALLI

Giambattista Valli explored the flora and fauna of Mother Nature in a cinched waisted 1950s offering.

Models in billowing floral creations of lightweight silk organza and muslin fluttered by on Monday, some with butterflies covering their mouth.

His signature style of clothing — known to be uber-feminine — is rapidly building up a strong following among fashion's glitterati.

It was — of course — a VIP-filled front row.

"I'm dying to get into one of those dresses," gushed Jessica Stam, one of the world's highest paid models. "I just loved those butterflies."

The vibrant show was all about prints.

For the garden, tulip shaped or A-line skirts were covered in rose prints.

The silhouettes at times had a distinct feel of Christian Dior's 1950s looks — this generating, on more than one occasion, shocked gasps from fashionistas.

There were some sublime looks. In several ensembles the models' head disappeared in the voluminous, petal-like muslin ruffles.

But Valli took it too far.

One bizarre green feathered evening dress, the program notes described as "wild grass." It looked more like a hedge needing a trim.

ATELIER VERSACE

On Sunday, in an emotional coming home, Donatella Versace finally took an Atelier Versace couture show back to the Ritz Hotel in Paris — the last place she saw her late brother Gianni.

The Ritz has a particular significance for the storied Italian house.

Gianni staged his last runway show there shortly before his murder in Miami in 1997.

But Donatella ensured there was no room for mourning. Instead, her couture was a bejeweled celebration of a house with buoyant revenues and still lots to say.

The celebrity presence alone was proof enough of the house's enduring pull.

The 26 dresses were all strict, revealing and uber-sexy. Waists were cinched to within an inch of life on mainly corseted bodices — in metallic gold rose, blush and purple. The longer length evening gowns billowed with techno chiffon, of Barbie doll proportions.

Donatella is a designer demanding of perfection. It seems that being 6 feet (1.8 meters) is still not tall enough: one model stumbled twice, her heel tangled in her gown's cascading layers.

But the garments, bought by a core group of no more than 100 rich women around the world, are not for the average Jane. Creations range in price from $19,000 to $125,000.

The show ended to Prince's hit "Kiss."

You don't have to be rich to rule Versace's world? Surely it must help.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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