A little dolly on the catwalk

By Susannah Frankel

Country and western rhinestones meet French couture in Paris.

The tallest evening gowns the fashion world has ever seen - one sugar pink, the other black - dominated the catwalk at the Viktor & Rolf show in Paris last week. They turned out to be worn by singers on stilts - the French girl band Brigitte, to be precise - who provided a live soundtrack and whose pleated skirts parted like curtains through which models emerged.

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren - the names behind the label - are not strangers to this type of blockbuster presentation. Models dressing and undressing on stage, tap dancing or painted matt black from head to toe have all made an appearance on the Viktor & Rolf catwalk before now.

There was a distinct country and western flavour to the clothes proper this time around. Rhinestones aplenty, giant stitching in contrasting colours and a predominantly short, sassy silhouette were pure Dolly Parton meets French couture. These designers are invariably attached to the latter: pussy-cat bows, little black dresses and an ongoing love affair with ruffles and frills all characterise their work. Such bourgeois fashion folly was, once again, blown up to cartoonish proportions, raising the question: however amusing they may be, will they translate into real clothes?

Earlier, Junya Watanabe came up with sweet lace dresses embroidered with peacock feathers and meadow flowers and cropped biker jackets with overblown layered organza sleeves.

While far from banal, this was the sort of clothing which is aimed squarely at the most discerning of fashion followers, so proudly individual and lovely it is to see. As if to drive home Watanabe's skills as a pattern cutter par excellence, his show ended with a sequence of immaculate and discreetly complex gabardine trench coats - a classic garment reinvented to the most elegant effect.

Anyone who has marvelled at Tilda Swinton's statuesque appearance on the red carpet recently will be pleased to know that the designer who dresses her most regularly, Haider Ackermann, was in similarly fine form. Ackermann proposed an entirely modern take on evening wear. Tailoring cut in fine silks and showcasing gorgeous colour juxtapositions - fern, teal, rose pink, thistle - appeared as intricately executed as it will ultimately be a pleasure to wear.

The Paris collections close the international spring/summer 2012 season that began in New York at the beginning of last month. They are home to shows by the world's most famous fashion names as well as the avant-garde. High points will undoubtedly include Karl Lagerfeld's show for Chanel - always a big-budget production; Sarah Burton's first offering since her creation of Catherine Middleton's wedding dress for Alexander McQueen; Louis Vuitton, designed by Marc Jacobs; and Miu Miu - Miuccia Prada's second line

Meanwhile, Kanye West's fashion line had its debut. West has followed the fashion circuit more assiduously than most for some years now, and this is therefore a potentially sound business proposition, however unlikely that may seem.


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