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Wind of Austerity Blows Over Paris Catwalks
A wind of austerity blew over Paris last Tuesday, as designers opted for discreet opulence in their haute couture collections while riding out the storm battering the luxury goods sector.

The weak dollar, the war in Iraq and the SARS outbreak have all taken their toll on the industry. Haute couture, a loss-making activity whose main purpose is to fuel sales of lucrative perfumes and cosmetics, has been hit especially hard.

Empty front row seats were conspicuous at several shows, signalling the absence of key buyers and editors from the United States and Asia. The antidote for top French houses was a renewed focus on brilliant workmanship, without fanfare.

Welsh wizard Julien Macdonald harked back to the golden era of Hollywood glamour in his autumn-winter collection for Givenchy, while French designer Christian Lacroix dipped his Spanish-flavoured creations in a wintry northern palette.

German maestro Karl Lagerfeld, meanwhile, presented his sober designs for Chanel in a 17th century convent.

Macdonald, who has struggled to find his groove at the house that dressed Audrey Hepburn, stuck to a classical line with elegant skirt suits for day and sparkling siren gowns for night.

The collection, in sombre shades of midnight blue, aubergine and gun-metal grey, put the emphasis on high necklines with fabric dissolving at the back to reveal panels of beaded lace.

A cinched dress in yards of inky tulle could have been modelled by Hepburn in the 1957 fashion comedy "Funny Face".

"Phenomenal! So Hollywood, so Hitchcock, so leading lady, so glamorous and wearable," raved stylist Philip Bloch, who dresses A-list celebrities for awards ceremonies.

Latin shapes met boudoir fabrics at Christian Lacroix, as models stepped out in delicate lace coiffs, their faces framed by black velvet ribbons.

Austere glamour

Flared trousers gained a soft edge in black satin edged with lace, while a ruffled flamenco skirt came in folds of shimmering taffeta. A bolero jacket decomposed at the edges into layers of peach gauze, dotted with lace flower appliques and fur patches.

Sudanese model Alek Wek drew a wave of applause in a sweeping pink lame opera coat with fur collar, thrown over a silver sheath dress with giant embroidered palm leaves.

A roar of approval and a shower of pink carnations greeted Lacroix as he ran down the catwalk to take his bow.

Graphic lines ruled at Chanel, as models in strict tweed blazers with raised collars and extended sleeves glided through the arched passages of the Abbaye de Port Royal.

A black tailcoat with a sweeping train was slightly softened by a frothy underskirt of white tulle. There were medieval touches in the shape of snug lace caps, fastened under the chin, and ermine trims on knee-length tunic dresses.

But the splendour of the details reflected the skill of the seamstresses who spend hundreds of hours on each made-to-measure couture creation.

(Agencies via Xinhua July 17, 2003)

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