PARIS — "Fashion is the only thing that can travel ... from the old world to the new," proclaimed Karl Lagerfeld. And on the second day of haute couture shows, Chanel's showman couturier made his point with aplomb: he delivered the words from the stage of an old, decayed opera house standing next to pop star Rihanna.
As ever, the master designer stole the show, with Tuesday's most impressive couture display. His creations glittered in dramatic contrast with the broken-down theater, recreated inside Paris' Grand Palais. Faded grimy curtains, old wooden stalls, and some classic clothing styles mixed alongside futuristic streaks of silver embroideries and cosmic-looking hats. Fashion, it seemed to say, lives in the past and the future.
A similar message ran throughout the day of shows, with Italian designer Giorgio Armani delivering a stylish collection that evoked the sensuality of old Hollywood while still remaining modern. Stephane Rolland, too, cited old masters such as Velazquez as muses for a strong show, but pulled off looks with a modern elegance.
Haute couture itself dates back over 150 years and is steeped in history. But the hurdle for designers is to keep the looks fresh while also keeping the artisan-based method of making clothes alive and relevant.
The setting saw Lagerfeld carry off a dark, expressionist-tinged fall-winter 2013 collection, which began with an image of a futuristic metropolis beamed onto the old, nostalgic theatre wall.
When the models appeared, the contrasts continued: the first chic series of A-line skirt suit-styles were twinned with Grace Jones-style space-age hair. Intergalactic square hats that were attached at the back of the head seemed to float like a geometric halo, in a great anachronism.
The 67 very wearable looks had some notable features, such as wide, often shiny, belt bands that strapped across at the hip, and mosaic patterns. Instead of boots, Lagerfeld put legs inside "stocking shoes," attached up the leg with a garter like lingerie. Jackets sometimes had strong, menswear shoulders which contrasted with tight feminine dress sleeves. And skirts were layered upon skirts to produce different directions of movement.
One fantastic tweed-style gray coat was constructed with one long piece of material, half of which went down, and the other half hooped back up to create a voluminous silhouette.
At the end, a creation perfectly showed Lagerfeld's expressionist mood. A long, black diaphanous silk dress was streaked with shards of fractured and glimmering silver. Was this musing inspired by the dark landscape of legendary filmmaker Fritz Lang?
"You know," Lagerfeld said. "My whole life is a Fritz Lang moment."
Giorgio Armani seemed to strip the body bare in a classic couture collection Tuesday that came with a twist and was entitled simply, "Nude."
The checkered runway in pearly hues of yellow, pink and beige set the mood for the nude-toned musings for fall-winter 2013. The colors recurred on the 52 creations, all of which were constructed with a delicate femininity.
The Armani Prive show made its statement in skin-colored fine organzas, lace and tulles, which exposed much skin. At times, the material seemed to simply melt into the models' flesh.
But the show, for the most part, remained relatively classical, and several creations had the refined look of old-school Hollywood glamor.
Loose, pleated pants combined with high shoulders in marabou feathers cut a striking 1930s silhouette along with the models' short wavy hair. One look that had a soft floppy bow tied on the top of high-waisted trousers could have been worn by Katharine Hepburn.
The museum of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle was a magnificent backdrop for the sculptural creations conjured up by lauded Moroccan-born designer Bouchra Jarrar.
Models in ivory, pink and jet-black wandered among Bourdelles' private collection of bronze and marble figures, creating a visually dramatic scene.
Fabric woven tightly round the neck and held with silver clasps, at times, felt as carved as the marble artwork itself.
But the stronger work was found in the three-part silk dresses in pink crepe, black georgette and ivory "charmeuse." They fluttered by like butterflies.
"Austere, but sensuous," were the words the program notes used to describe Stephane Rolland's dark and luxuriant couture display, which continued in the elegant footsteps of last season.
Deep midnight blue produced a classy silk crepe jumpsuit with a billowing black satin module that evoked the fuzzy brushstrokes of a painter.
Indeed, the Spanish royal court's master painter Diego Velazquez was one of the inspirations behind this collection.
Thirty-three creations saw Rolland using black, flowing capes to get this regal message across, as well as hanging lengths of rippling silks that conjured up the idea of nobility or time-old queenliness through the material's simple, natural luxury.
Though the collection was not ground-breaking, it confirms that the normally glitzy and glam designer, who's known for dressing red-carpet celebrities, is moving in a welcome, more elegant direction.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP