PARIS — Naomi Campbell not only owns the clothes she wears, but by her sheer magnetic presence commands the entire runway when she walks it. Donatella Versace knows this well, casting the age-defying 43-year-old to start Paris haute couture week with a bang of indomitable energy.
It was a hard act to follow.
Monday, the first of three full days of collections, showcased a universe of divergent and notable styles: From Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen's organic musings, the diaphanous display by Giambattista Valli in top form, to the supreme elegance of Christian Lacroix's one-off ode to the late, great designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
Meanwhile, Christian Dior's Raf Simons broke through the walls of Avenue Montaigne to send the fashion house on a journey across the four corners of the globe: Encompassing the purity of Asia, the bold Americas, the bright stripes and patterns of Africa's Masai, with a dash of Europe's dainty-waisted "Parisienne."
Images projected on the make-shift show walls inside Paris' Invalides summed up the show's message: A carpeted salon of Dior's Right Bank headquarters fused into scenes of exotic red flowers and images of black and Asian models. In other words, with one full year as creative director under his belt, Simons has found the confidence to go beyond the weighty heritage of the 70-year-old house codes and explore his own visions.
While the iconic bar jacket popped up in one belted gray wool outfit, its several peplum flaps mirrored the layers of a Japanese kimono.
Elsewhere, looks fully embracing the East were pulled off with panache, such as one off-white silk coat with stiff upturned collar, long front flaps and an incredible jutting back piece. All the looks were supremely feminine.
But while all of the globe-trotting turned this show into one of Simons' most creative, the 53 looks were so diverse that it also was his hardest to make sense of. The brightly-colored Masai looks, for example, were sometimes so vivid they jarred.
Still, there were plenty of bold new explorations. Next season, a more focused vision might help sharpen these great fashion ideas.
There were awed gasps from A-lister Uma Thurman on Sunday night when the panther-like Campbell steamed past to open the Atelier Versace show in strong-shouldered micro-sequin black jacket held together revealingly just by hooks and eyes covered in Swarovski crystals.
The rest of the fall-winter 2013 show was equally extreme.
Versace made some provocative statements with front panels of dresses flapping down with white crystals to expose the bustier, as if the "Glamazon" model had been interrupted midway through her strip-tease. One dress embroidered with blue and black sequins was so long it had a six-foot woman hobbling and nearly tripping all the way down the catwalk.
But among all the wanton razzmatazz, several of the looks were highly wearable and combined Versace's exuberance with some fine tailoring.
With bold and refreshing sense of femininity, Giambattista Valli produced what could well be one of his strongest haute couture shows to date for fall-winter.
Thirty-nine diaphanous creations — in off-white, pale gray, mid red and soft Renaissance blue — stunned revellers Monday evening with their finely balanced play of texture, layering and transparency.
A series of truncated full silk shirts, that flared from the waist, softly blossomed thanks to myriad ruffles cut — in a masterly touch — on the bias. While myriad floral embroiderings added a delicacy.
One black and white bustier dress with tulle sported an exquisite satin in lilac blue gathered silk section that flowed over the model's hip, and billowed like a loose flower.
Shoe hats, lobster dresses, and spiraling goggle glasses could easily be part of a closet inventory belonging to Lady Gaga. But these objects were all spawned from the mind of another woman, one born— incredibly — in 1890: the avant-garde Elsa Schiaparelli.
The house of the influential fashion designer is being revived this year, and Monday saw famed couturier Christian Lacroix rise to the challenge of creating 18 dresses for a presentation entitled "Homage to Elsa."
It was a sumptuous display.
One dress called "Signature," in luxuriant navy wool crepe and satin piping, sported large pockets in midnight blue faille that formed an imaginative peplum. Elsewhere, a timeless black chiffon gown featured a feathered front with a straight white satin bow and queenly gold collar.
In a great touch, the lobster dress was reimagined as a clutch bag.
Lacroix was chosen as a one-off designer, and the house is still to name an artistic director.
IRIS VAN HERPEN
Wild nature was in the spotlight for Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen, who produced a typically organic-infused couture display for fall-winter.
The show venue -- among the pillared architecture of the neoclassical science museum - lent itself well to explorations of organisms and exoskeletons that ran through the 11 creations.
The twist this season was a neat fusion with Japanese styles. That featured nicely, for example, on a bronze kimono dress with round, large arms in the shape of a moth. Here, scratched detailing evoked the feeling of a perforated cocoon.
The piece de resistance had to be an incredible oval dark gray mini dress that, in its intricate hard ruffles, teaming sinews and un-human shape, looked like a work of abstract sculpture.
There was a feeling, however, that Van Herpen is having trouble moving forward creatively from her organic themes — though finely executed, two exoskeletal sheath dresses felt a little like a rehash of old-styles.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP