x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Chakra, Armani and Lagerfeld on form

Giorgio Armani defied rumours of ill health and appeared on the runway looking as good as his collection.

Georges Chakra's autumn/winter 2009 collection.
Georges Chakra's autumn/winter 2009 collection.

Emotions and rumours ran wild on the second day of the Paris haute-couture shows. At Giorgio Armani Privé in the morning, where Cate Blanchett, Emanuelle Beart and Megan Fox took front-row seats, the whisper was that the 73-year-old designer, who is known to be recovering from hepatitis, is dangerously ill. No wonder that the sight of him at the finale, tanned and grinning at the end of the catwalk, following one of his best collections in years, caused a roar from the normally restrained fashion crowd.

You can always rely on Armani for a bit of sparkle. This is emerging as a huge trend especially for red-carpet evening wear for autumn/winter 2009/2010, along with Joan Crawford-style shoulders, floor-length gowns and neat little skirt suits. Earlier, George Chakra's sublime beaded flapper dresses in grungy hues of teal and graphite oozed the sort of gritty glamour that fans including Cheryl Cole and Paris Hilton adore.

Armani also demonstrated a lightness of touch and restraint when it comes to bling. Most of the 50 looks in the legendary Italian designer's show at the Palais de Chaillot, came dripping with beading, rhinestones, twinkling embroidery and crystal-studded zips which snaked down the spines of hourglass frocks and never once looked anything but elegant and tasteful. After the show the sprightly Armani hosted a party to launch his new fragrance, l'Idole.

There were, however, tears on the catwalk at Christian Lacroix's final collection of 24 perfect couture outfits, mostly in a palette of sombre black and navy lace with slashed backs and ultra-short hemlines. The show, staged in the Salon des Boisiers of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on the rue de Rivoli, was always going to be dramatic (drama is one of his trademarks). Extremely beautiful and wearable cape coats, black lace shorts, a silver sequin-encrusted peplum jacket and bouncy ballerina tutus, reminded assembled VIP guests, including a sobbing François Lesage, of the Parisian couture embroidery firm, of the fashion world's loss.

When the moment came for Lacroix to take his final bow (to Frank Sinatra's I Did It My Way, sung in French), it was quicker and more painful than anyone had expected. The crowd applauded. The French designer, who only filed in May for protection from creditors, shrugged. A banner spelling out "Lacroix forever" unravelled and a chapter of fashion history ended along with rumours about a wealthy client and a rescue package.

There has been a weird uncertainty hanging in the air for the past week in Paris. Even when it became clear that Lacroix had gone bust (12 of 24 workers were laid off last Friday) it was assumed that certain French authorities might step in. It was, after all, Lacroix who ironically rescued haute couture from extinction in the 1980s when he invented the pouf skirt. Now, pouf and he's gone. Actually, one hour after his show he rocked up at the Givenchy show.

Here, the designer, Riccardo Tisci gave a nod to traditional Middle Eastern dress, with variations on the abaya and hooded djellaba, accessorised with Bedouin face jewellery and masks. A dramatic rumour surfaced later at the Andy Warhol exhibition preview at the Grand Palais, hosted by Dior CEO, Sidney Toledeno. Karl Lagerfeld was about to be joined at Chanel by Hedi Slimane, the man who invented the skinny-trousered look, but so far not much else.

By 10pm, when the house lights finally dimmed for the Chanel show, staged in the metal and glass surroundings of the Grand Palais, this had been long forgotten. There is currently one reliable star in the couture firmament and it's Kaiser Karl. From the moment the first model, Sasha Pivovarova, stepped onto the specially erected white Perspex stage featuring two giant bottles of Chanel No 5, wearing a glittering tweed suit, lined in leopard print, lacy tights and Rapunzel-like hair extensions, a new trend was born.

Models strutted across the stage and posed purposefully in various styles of tweed suits, high-heeled brogues and cloche hats totally different and far more exciting (and wearable) than anything we had seen in the last two days. No wonder the vast crowd was riveted. Couture is about fantasy but its always nice to be brought down to earth with clothes that have a relevance in the modern world. Moving from daywear more often embellished with studs and intricate embroidery to evening wear, a theme of asymmetric hemlines developed. Knee length suits also featured a long back panel, which swept the floor. Longer back panels also were incorporated into glittering gowns with panels of sheer and opaque, studded with twinkling crystals, baubles and beads.

For the finale, the panel on one of the giant bottles rolled back to reveal a bouffanted bride in a babydoll dress and a groom in a white tuxedo. Breathtaking stuff. There may come a day when Lagerfeld and the Chanel haute-couture show cease to matter. Tuesday night certainly wasn't it.