- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

PARIS (AP) - Fashionistas breathed a fatigued sigh of relief as the spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear collections that took them from New York to London to Milan and finally to Paris for nine show-packed days wrapped up Wednesday with an equestrian show at French heritage saddle-maker Hermes that marked the end of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s seven-year tenure there.

As riders put their dressage horses through their paces in a chandelier-topped arena at the end of the catwalk, Gaultier paid homage to Hermes’ long and illustrious history of leather-working with a collection of chic equestrian garb in buttery suede and calfskin.

The one-time enfant terrible of French fashion will continue to put out his signature line while a designer who cut his teeth at the crocodile-embossed sportswear line Lacoste takes over the reins at Hermes.

Cross-town rival Louis Vuitton, which began as a trunk-maker, sent out a cross-pollinated collection that combined glossy Chinese shapes with African safari motifs. The collection, Marc Jacobs‘ strongest for the brand for several seasons, shot the darkly sensual clothes with a stiff dose of self-mocking kitsch.

Miu Miu’s woman embraced her inner contradictions, mixing demure pleated skirts with oversized leather jackets with exploding star appliques.

Red carpet-favorite Elie Saab toned down the glam factor with a relaxed 1970s-infused collection in peachy hues, while Russia’s Valentin Yudashkin glammed it up with ultra-short bustier dresses for the jet-setting party girl set.

Other highlights of the City of Light’s nine-day-long ready-to-wear marathon included a strong debut by Sarah Burton _ the longtime deputy to designer Alexander McQueen, who was appointed to replace him following his suicide last February _ and a spectacular fortieth anniversary show and after-party at a Paris circus by East-meets-West label Kenzo.

A 1970s spirit took catwalks in New York and Milan by storm, and though there was some retro hippy peace and love in a few Paris collections, the most salient trends to emerge from the City of Light were transparency and clean white looks. From Yves Saint Laurent to Givenchy, designers here cocooned opaque shorts, pants and little skirts with long skirts in sheer chiffon and tulle.

And while Milan was all about saturated jewel tones, there were few Paris collections that didn’t open with an all-white look. Men’s white button-down shirts, worn as dresses or morphed into capes or even little skirts, were also nearly omnipresent here.

There’s a six-month-long respite before the next round of ready-to-wear collections, for fall-winter 2011-2012, which hits Paris in early March.

HERMES

It was hard to know where to look _ at the models in fetching equestrian garb in supple leather, or the breathtaking dressage horses strutting their stuff at the far end of the catwalk.

Models in jodhpurs and bustiers in caramel-colored leather, with fringed suede ponchos thrown jauntily over their shoulders, tramped the catwalk _ made, like the riding arena, out of wood chips _ in equestrian boots. Flat-topped felt Seville riding school hats topped off all the looks, and riding crops competed with the brand’s best-selling Kelly bags _ served up for summer in leather and wicker _ to be the season’s top accessory.

There were touches of the kinky edge that designer Gaultier _ who shot to global fame with Madonna’s pointy-cone bra _ has brought to the very classic and bourgeois label over the years, like the belts that wound around the models’ torsos and fastened around their necks like, well, horse harnesses. Or any other harnesses you might think of. Ahem.

Despite the spectacular show, there was a whiff of sadness in the air over Gaultier’s departure from Hermes.

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