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Paris, mon amour, is the place to be

Paris has never been quite so buoyant or cool, boasting by far the most important names on Planet Fashion

New York, London, and now Milan have thrown down the gauntlet with unprecedented confidence for spring/summer 2009. Already, there are so many trends, colours and even a new silhouette (short lace dress under long sheer coat, anyone?) you'd be forgiven for asking - sacrebleu - is Paris really necessary?Historically, Paris, home to influential French labels that form the backbone of the designer fashion industry -Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent - played it safe.

This heritage and classicism threatened to put the boot in the way of its fashion supremacy not too long ago. At one point during the early 1990s, it wasn't so much French fashion designers that were dying off as French fashion. Limping home in fourth place on the show calendar with a cobbled together effort worthy of a provincial talent show, Paris seemed to have peaked.Fast-forward to 2008 and Paris has never been quite so buoyant or cool, boasting by far the most important names on Planet Fashion. So what happened?

Firstly, and most remarkably, given their nationalistic pride and non-cuddly approach to strangers, the Parisians had the foresight (and nerve) to go global. Big time. It's a largely overlooked fact that this city, not streetwise London or groovy New York, is by far the most multicultural global melting pot in fashion terms.Mode à Paris, part of the Chambre Syndicale, who organise the French capital's twice yearly fashion week, have been encouraging interesting designers from Britain, Belgium, Japan, Libya, wherever, to show here, so long as they could bring something juicy to the table, for the past decade.

Paris fashion week would now be unrecognisable without the Japanese contingent, who include Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe, or the weird and wacky Belgians, Martin Margiela and Dries van Noten, or the intellectual Dutch duo Victor & Rolf.Most recently, an influx of irreverent Italians who have landed plum jobs at notable French fashion houses - Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Stefano Pilati at YSL, Alessandra Faccinetti at Valentino (who shows on the Paris schedule), as well as Giambattista Valli (formerly of Ungaro), have created a fabulously sexy take on classic Parisian aesthetics. And then there are those influential Brits: Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Gareth Pugh.

Recently, the Texas fashion guru, Tom Ford mused, "When you think of Paris, you think of Karl Lagerfeld, who is not French, and you think of Marc Jacobs, who's also not French, and Stefano Pilati, who's Italian. And yet, when you think of fashion? you think of Paris." He's right, of course, but it's hardly a case of Paris being full of fakes or impostors. A designer lucky enough to find him or herself at the helm of a legendary, globally renowned French fashion house (especially one financially supported by a luxury group like LVMH or Gucci-PPR) inherits a legion of skilled craftsmen for whom nothing is impossible. Any designer will tell you that this is as good as it gets. (That and a flat overlooking the Seine and personal trainer thrown in, says John Galliano.)

LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) have been hugely responsible for bringing fashion "home". Ever since LVMH began playing their strategic game of musical chairs, pairing hip, young designers with nearly forgotten French fusty labels, the seemingly odd combination of new blood and old brand has worked out a treat. They didn't stop with French names. LVMH have added Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, Fendi and Pucci to their stable, giving them access to supercool trendsetters like the American designer Jacobs, who could then be linked with Paris fashion week via Louis Vuitton.

Must-see shows in Paris this week include Chloé (now that the British designer, Hannah MacGibbon has replaced the grungy Swedish Goth Paulo Melim Andersson); Celine (who recently hired Phoebe Philo, the British woman who made Chloé a cult label) and several French names. In fact it's never been so hip to buy French. Lanvin, headed by Albert Elbaz, Nina Ricci by Olivier Theyskens, Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquière, Balmain by Christophe Decarnin (the creator of Gwyneth Paltrow's tiny lace slips) and Guy Laroche by Marcel Marongiu are the hottest tickets of all.

Ultimately in Paris, no one cares where you come from. Here what counts is clothes rather than huge catwalks, or even who is sitting front row. It remains the only place celebrity fails to overshadow the main raison d'être: fashion is the superstar, not some woman off the television, cradling the latest Balenciaga "it" bag.

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