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Paris

Collections from the Paris catwalks underscored the shift towards stronger, personality-led directions at the expense of ultra-feminine looks

Designers in Paris imbued their collections with a masculine edge for autumn 07. Referencing the season's moody palette previously seen on the New York, London and Milan catwalks, brands cast aside the ultra-feminine signature that has dominated the past few seasons.

The best example of this transformation was at Chloe, with the appointment of Swedish designer Paulo Melim Andersson ushering in a minimal aesthetic. After Phoebe Philo left the label 18 months ago the brand struggled to find new trend directions, sticking instead to the retro-inspired youthful look that turned Chloe into a household name. But for autumn 07, Andersson dropped the characteristic smock dresses and replaced them with abstract prints, wet-look fabrics and embellishments that looked as though they had come from the floor of a metalworks.

Elsewhere, this harder-edged trend manifested itself in several ways. There was a gothic feel to Lanvin's range, where simple shapes featured raw edges and hardwear studding, while tailoring governed at YSL. A darker conceptual mood permeated at Alexander McQueen and the supremacy of leather at Hermes provided an austere, masculine flavour.

Of course, some designers bucked this more directional trend. John Galliano led Christian Dior on a kaleidoscopic romp through the 1940s fused with aspects of the traditional Japanese geisha. At Balenciaga, clashing prints and mixed textures avoided the simple messages with which the brand has become synonymous with as designer Nicolas Ghesquiere grappled with a multicultural theme. And at Louis Vuitton, designer Marc Jacobs continued his love affair with the 1920s.

But overall, this was Stella McCartney's week. Her collection effortlessly underlined the move away from ultra-feminine looks with a line that pitted luxury sportswear against forward-looking cocktail dresses, and put classic overcoats alongside zany pink neon. It appears that McCartney has finally established her brand's design footprint, which contains plenty of much-needed commercial appeal.

SHOW OF THE WEEK

STELLA MCCARTNEY

Stella McCartney has finally hit her stride with a sassy signature that mixes luxury sportswear influences with everyday femininity. For autumn 07 the look was louche with the brand's loose layers and relaxed tailoring driving the range. Shaggy coats and baggy jumpers with kitsch Nordic-style animal intarsias were indulgent but cosy, as were slouchy cashmere tracksuits that helped to present a new era of comfort dressing. This was mirrored by hooded sweats and loose V-neck knits which, combined with organza mini skirts, presented a slick, modern edge.

LANVIN

The unadulterated refinement usually associated with a Lanvin collection was underwritten by a hard, slightly gothic edge for autumn 07. Designer Alber Elbaz opted for an almost all-black palette and looked to simple knee-length shapes in luxurious fabrics of taffeta, organza and satin with masculine detailing. Hems had a raw finish and embellishment mostly consisted of rivet-like studs and zips, which either sat asymmetrically or sliced through dresses and coats from neckline to hem. Interest also came from leg-of-mutton sleeves or all-over doses of violet or scarlet.

NINA RICCI

Ex-Rochas designer Olivier Theyskens' debut collection for Nina Ricci was a light and airy invention that fused luxury sportswear with couture-like opulence. In stark contrast to the moody palette and gothic overtones seen in many collections in Paris, ethereal white and dove grey sat comfortably on wispy bias-cut dresses, chunky chainmail sculpted knitwear and silk chiffon bomber-style jackets. Floor-skimming day dresses wrapped sheath-like around the body and legs, while strips of textured silk were spun into undulating eveningwear creations.

CHLOE

Imbuing the collection with a more minimal look than the retro femininity of old, new head of design and former Marni designer Paulo Melim Andersson introduced a fresh aesthetic at Chloe for autumn 07. Replacing the bib fronts and smock-style dresses were wet-look fabrics, zip detailing and a shift towards tailored pieces. Alongside these masculine additions, a sprinkling of the label's signature youthful fripperies remained, with over-sized embellishments - albeit in stark metals - and a mini-dress silhouette at the fore.

BALENCIAGA

Creative director Nicolas Ghesquiere took Balenciaga on a global journey for autumn 07. The show began simply enough, with velvet-lapelled gentlemen's blazers and double-breasted admiralty jackets with boating-style trims displaying all the style characteristics of the British upper classes. But the pace switched as silk chiffon kaftans with tie-dyed panels sashayed onto the runway, nodding more to street art than high society. Heavily embroidered jackets with large knitted ribbed collars had a Mongolian feel while coats with geometric intarsias looked to traditional South American handcrafts.

CHRISTIAN DIOR

John Galliano's colour fanfare was the big story at Christian Dior for autumn 07. Like a Pantone colour chart, the designer's palette spun from dazzling acid green, tangerine and fuchsia to subtler shades of mink, dove grey and white. Taking inspiration from the 1940s, nipped-in waists and structured silhouettes dominated slick skirt suits and full-length gowns. On details, origami folds and kimono-style necklines sat alongside pussy bows and intricate ruching in a stand-off between retro styling and Eastern influences.

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

With simple and luxury the bywords for Paris's autumn 07 collections, Alexander McQueen trod a more conceptual path. With structured silhouettes his inspiration, designs veered towards the architectural. Coats in quilted duchesse satin had exaggerated funnel necks and strict trapeze line shapes. Egg-shaped knitted dresses sat around the body in a mossy construction, while bandaged mini-dresses had hourglass silhouettes. Rich embroidered velvet clung to the models like a second skin for eveningwear, while cashmere hooded dresses provided looser options.

GIVENCHY

A naval theme flowed through Riccardo Tisci's collection for Givenchy. Centred around a dark palette, his designs featured some simple chunky embellishments similar to those seen at Chloe and Lanvin. Midnight blue pea coats and high-waisted wide-legged trousers reinforced the seafaring theme. These masculine designs were juxtaposed with feminine shell pink accordion-pleated silk chiffon dresses, imbuing the collection with a lighter touch. Floor-length skirts rippled beneath sculpted and twisted knitwear, and oversized pyramid-shaped gold buttons added interest to jackets and tops.

CHANEL

Creative director Karl Lagerfeld took ice-skating as his theme at Chanel, using the brand's ubiquitous tweeds as snug cover-ups. As has been Lagerfeld's signature of late, the look was youth-driven. Examples included an aqua window-pane intarsia jumper dress and elbow-length sleeved housecoats in multicoloured plaids or boucle knits. The little black dress was given a modern twist with the addition of a white plastic collar, and ski jackets added a sense of kitsch. Eveningwear also embraced the younger vibe, with two-tone rope details injecting a sense of fun to a traditionally grown-up category.

YVES SAINT LAURENT

The indulgent floral creations of YSL's recent collections vanished for autumn as Stefano Pilati stripped back to a simpler luxury. Paying homage to Le Smoking, tailoring remained integral with shawl collars in abundance. Soft shoulders and tuxedo jackets that flared subtly from the waist played with volume for a more feminine approach. This look was enhanced by trapeze line dresses and shaggy double-breasted cocoon coats. Eveningwear looks were dominated by silk chiffon columns with stitched ribbon embroidery and shift-style dresses constructed from multiple folds of leather.

HERMES

Jean Paul Gaultier's collection for Hermes underlined leather's return to popularity. Almost every outfit used the material, including crocodile leather biker jackets and trench coats, double-breasted frock coats and embossed leather prom dresses. As a result there was a masculine allure to the range. Amid this raw flavour a medley of instant classics emerged, from black cashmere pencil skirts and chunky Fair Isle knitted dresses to floor-skimming cashmere overcoats and primary coloured shearlings.

LOUIS VUITTON

The 1920s theme that dominated designer Marc Jacobs' own line in New York was still in evidence in his collection for Louis Vuitton. Following a less literal route, key items included fitted mohair jumpers and loose pencil skirts in leather or metallic lame. Leather skirts that fell slackly just below the knee and roomy T-shirt-style tops had a laid-back femininity, as did flared peplum shirts and blouses with Peter Pan collars. Eveningwear looks came via tonal satin dresses that sprouted feathers from the hem, and dresses in bubble shapes that were wrapped around the body.

MIU MIU

Miuccia Prada has already upset the apple cart once this season with her fake-look fancy fabric treatments for Prada. At Miu Miu she used a monotonous mixture of peach, tan, nude and pink on pieces that played with stereotypical looks associated with 1950s housewives. Excessively full leather skirts and fitted housecoats were shown alongside oversized knitwear naively gathered by a narrow belt and satin skirt suits in doll-like proportions. Taffeta coats coupled with co-ordinated skirts and the bizarre sight of tights hoisted up to show the waistband further highlighted Miu Miu's enduring eccentricity.

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