Jul 2, 2008
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Elie Saab's Botticelli beauties

Jul 2, 2008

Elie Saab
PARIS, July 2, 2008 (AFP) - Elie Saab's models wafted down the runway in clouds of silk chiffon and tulle like angelic Botticelli beauties at his haute couture show for next autumn-winter on Wednesday.

Their hair up in chignons, with tendrils escaping, they looked as if they had stepped off a Renaissance fresco, which is what the Lebanese designer intended.

He acknowledged as his inspiration Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel for the muted palette of grey-blues, faded pinks and reddish purples like wine dregs.

Empire-line ballgowns with tightly ruched bodices in shot taffeta were dramatic. He emphasised waists with giant bows, built up shoulders with flounces or ran ruffles down bare backs to meet a floor-sweeping train.

More fragile tiered dresses in silk chiffon were spangled with wavy bands of silver sequins, which trembled as the models walked.

A bustier in pleated satin encrusted with baubles topped a full skirt printed with clouds against a pale blue sky.

For old-fashioned glamour and exquisite workmanship, Hollywood stars need look no further.

Fellow Lebanese George Chakra is also a favourite with the red-carpet crowd, and one of his customers, British actress Helen Mirren, had a front-row seat at his show.

She picked up her Oscar in a red dress by Chakra. "When I tried it on it fitted like a glove and everybody looked at me and said 'that's the one. You must wear that.'"

"I was just blown away. He really understands my kind of womanly shape. His clothes are just up my street, grand, powerful, theatrical, imaginative and wild."

For next winter's grand occasions Chakra's striking evening gowns included one in silver lame and navy sprinkled with appliqued scarlet flowers and a floral print in indigo, black and white embroidered with jet.

The collection was full of eye-catching details, like the basketweave effect on a satin bodice, with tiny bands of rhinestones tucked into its pleated and tiered skirts.

Far from the hubbub of the catwalks, Belgian designer Martin Margiela allows visitors into his workrooms in northern Paris to examine his latest fantastical creations shown on models wearing opaque body-stockings which even hide their faces.

Each garment, assembled from second-hand or salvaged items, is by its very nature unique, taking up to six days to make.

This season he knotted the sleeves from 20 old silk shirts into a top and cut up the backs of 14 jackets and trench coats and superimposed them to create a new leather blouson.

Margiela also came up with a novel use for old vinyl 33 and 45 rpm records by cutting them up into fan shapes and hanging them on crepe de chine, with the record labels in the centre making each dress distinctive.

He also sliced press reviews of his work over the past 20 years into strips to create a jacket, sellotaped onto a leather base, perhaps to show fashion editors what he really thinks of their opinions...

Quirky French designer Franck Sorbier is also a couturier with a very hands-on approach, running up his designs with his trusty sewing machine. But this season he was forlorn at having just lost financial backing so he could not afford to mount a show.

His solution was to make his sketches available on his web site: www.francksorbier.com

"A customer never wants exactly what she sees on the catwalk," he told AFP. Any of the designs can be made up on receipt of a firm order.

This year's collection was dedicated to important women through history from Marie Curie to Maria Callas.by Sarah Shard

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