Paris defends title as fashion research lab

PARIS Thu Sep 29, 2011 3:12pm EDT

PARIS (Reuters) - Balenciaga on Thursday proved yet again that Paris remained one of the world's most experimental fashion capitals despite efforts by rivals Milan, New York and London to upstage it.

Fashion knows no taboo and for Balenciaga it is all about pushing the boundaries of acceptable combinations of radically different materials and colors in the same outfit.

Nicolas Guesquiere delved into Cristobal Balenciaga's rich heritage of weaved and embroidered fabrics to produce oversized, geometrics-inspired dresses made from a patchwork of organza, polyester, leather, vinyl and other materials.

Wearing felt hats covering their eyes and half the back, models presented an eclectic spring/summer collection whose striking compositions included a bouffant ochre satin blouse on a shimmering half-purple, half-black straight long skirt.

Other original mixes included black and white prints with orange or beige satin tops or poplin prints inspired by medieval cathedrals' stained-glass windows on short vinyl shorts.

Guesquiere awed the star-studded crowd whose front row guests included French actresses Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni.

"His research on materials is amazing," Deneuve told Reuters. "His mix of fabrics is very audacious."

Charlotte Gainsbourg, always present at Balenciaga shows and the face of the brand's first perfume launched last year, said Guesquiere was one of the only fashion designers who did not make any compromises in terms of style.

"I am always surprised by his work," Gainsbourg told Reuters. "His clothes are about modernity and elegance but he is also a man who does not make any compromises, whether in terms of trends or comfort."

Balenciaga, which makes more money from its handbags than from its ready-to-wear, is one of the fastest growing brands within the PPR stable of fashion companies, sitting alongside Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Stella McCartney.

FIRST SHOW FOR CARVEN

If Balenciaga was a sleepy fashion house resuscitated by Guesquiere and financially backed by PPR over the past 10 years, Carven, which presented its first catwalk on Thursday, is a much younger revival story.

A couture label which lose its luster in the 1980s, Carven was acquired three years ago by two businessmen who hired designer Guillaume Henry to infuse new life into it.

The brand quickly became the darling of fashion editors with little advertising thanks to its concept of original fashion designs at accessible prices. It is overseen by Jean-Jacques Picart, fashion adviser to Bernard Arnault, founder and head of LVMH, the world's biggest luxury group.

Carven's spring/summer collection included a wide range of school-girl style short dresses, which like Balenciaga, made much use of ochre and orange colors.

"There were some very nice things," said Maria-Luisa Poumaillou, fashion adviser for French department store Printemps which has been selling Carven for two years, practically since its inception.

"It is good value for money for fashion."

Carven, which opened its first shop in Paris in March, is planning to open a boutique in Tokyo and Hong Kong next year.

Chief Executive Henri Sebaoun told Reuters the brand had not seen any slowdown in spite of the dark mood in the market, with revenues up 20 percent over the first eight months of the year.

"To this day, none of our clients have cut their orders," Sebaoun said. "But it is true that what is going on in the market leads us to ask ourselves questions. Maybe we will be affected later."

(Additional reporting by Pascale Denis; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)

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