McQueen successor Burton carries on his legacy

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PARIS (AP) - In the months that followed Alexander McQueen’s suicide in February, the fashion world was abuzz with speculation about the future of the house. How could McQueen’s successor, his longtime right-hand woman Sarah Burton, possibly take forward a house so fundamentally built on the extraordinary creative vision of its founder?

Burton’s brilliant debut Tuesday at the helm of the label put any rumors about the house’s future to rest. Her spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear collection was a tour-de-force that channeled McQueen’s darkly surreal style, remodeling his signature elements into strange and beautiful confections that managed to be at the same time new and reassuringly familiar.

It was all there: Tailed pantsuits in mesmerizing jacquard, sculptural sheath dresses entirely made from monarch butterflies, or feathers that gleamed darkly like spilled oil or woven chaffs of wheat that appeared to be one with the models’ woven hairstyles.

The audience of fashion elite burst into whoops of approval and frantic applause for Burton, who spent years as McQueen’s deputy and deeply understood the troubled designer and his work.

Burton’s brilliant debut was undoubtedly among the strongest shows of Paris fashion week.

Kenzo _ founded in 1970 by Japanese-born, Paris-based designer Kenzo Takada and now owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH _ celebrated its 40th anniversary with a stunning, theatrical display that mined the label’s archive to showcase its rich East-meets-West aesthetic.

At Chanel, a small army of teenage beauties in moth-devoured tweed suits that could have belonged to their grandmothers meandered through a French-style garden in the heritage house’s trademark colors, black and white. With the display _ a mega-production that saw the entire interior or the mammoth steel and glass-domed Grand Palais transformed into a high-contrast version of the grounds of Versailles _ Chanel once the again raised the ante for what fashion shows can be.

After a 2009 debut that stayed slavishly close to the aesthetic of founder Valentino Garavani, the label’s design duo continued to sharpened their own vision of the new Valentino women. Described in the collection notes as “at once magical and mysterious,” this new Valentino woman was not a screen siren in fire engine red, but a waif enveloped in a delicate cloud of black lace and sheer, buff-colored tulle.

Hong Kong-based Shiatzy Chen, too, showed transparent looks _ hers with Asian-influenced variations. Ultra-short babydoll dresses with Mao collars or sloping side toggle closures were served up in jacquard with Chinese designs and transparent chiffon. Paired with ruffly bloomers, the swingy concoctions were so abbreviated it was often not clear whether they were meant to be shirts or dresses, but still they were fetching, with sumptuous fabrics and nice attention to detail.

Just call him Captain Castelbajac. Zany French designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac took over the controls at the imaginary “Uber Tropikal Airlines,” serving destinations throughout Africa in retro fabulous style. As always with France’s king of kitsch, it was quite a trip.

Paris’ ready-to-wear shows conclude on Wednesday after nine long days with displays by Prada second line Miu Miu, and French luxury powerhouses Louis Vuitton and Hermes.

CHANEL

Hole-ridden tweed suits that looked like they’d been devoured by generations of moths opened the show with what seemed like a sly commentary on the French heritage label’s amazing staying power.

Today’s Chanel, designer Karl Lagerfeld seemed to suggest, remains as timeless as it was decades ago under Mademoiselle Coco: Just dig in your grandmother’s trunk, pull out her classic Chanel skirtsuit and you’ll look just as hip as the packs of It Girls _ like Keira Knightly, Lily Allen and Vanessa Paradis _ who flock to the label’s shows.

“My grandmother didn’t wear Chanel, unfortunately,” said British VJ Alexa Chung, wearing a Chanel dress in blue tweed with a midriff-baring lace panel at the waist. “But hopefully my granddaughters will be able to wear this _ though they might be scandalized that their grandmother went around with a bare belly.”

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