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Skin, what skin? Paris covers up for summer

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PARIS (AP) - A new modesty swept the catwalks on Wednesday's Day Two of the marathon Paris spring-summer 2011 ready-to-wear displays, with designers shunning sizzling sex appeal in favor of oversized, grandma-friendly looks that left nearly everything to the imagination.

Swedish rigor ruled the catwalk at Rochas, as the label's half-Italian, half Swedish creative director looked to his roots for a wholesome Scandinavian collection that took a step back from today's frenetic fray.

Belgium's Dries Van Noten was at the top of his game with a collection that combined menswear staples like wide-legged boyfriend jeans and white button-down shirts with sophisticated pieces with a sumptuous Asian touch.

France's Anne Valerie Hash pumped up the sex factor _ without uncovering too much skin _ with delicately draped shirtdresses and wrap trousers that were shorn of their fussy closures for easier access.

Pierre Cardin, the veteran Paris designer who fields a collection not once a season but only every few years, was having none of this new modesty. The father of the Space Age look, whose futuristic cat suits and zany sheath dresses shot him into fame more than half a century ago, stayed true to his intergalactic style, sending out an endless parade of spandex and sequin-covered gear that was ready for take off.

"What was young and fresh 40 years ago is still young and fresh today," he told The Associated Press in a backstage interview. "I'm like a painter, a writer, a musician, I have my own style. I don't copy anyone, and really it's more the others who copy me."

Point taken. Even if fashion insiders were often hard-pressed to suppress their laughter during Cardin's heartfelt display, it's hard to deny the vastness of his influence.

There was more than a hint of it on display at Felipe Oliveira Baptista, a young Portuguese designer who was recently tapped by French sportswear giant Lacoste. Baptista's retro-futuristic silhouettes _ second-skin leotards with lozenge-shaped cutouts and sheath dresses with scythe-shaped appliques _ looked like cool, self-aware takes on Cardin's staples.

Paris' ready-to-wear shows move into day three out of nine on Thursday with displays by zany Indian designer Manish Arora _ another of Cardin's disciples _ sizzling Paris label Balmain and California native Rick Owens, whose somber post-apocalyptic aesthetic is anything but sunny. One-time wunderkind Zac Posen will also make his Paris debut after years of showing in New York.

But first, the fashion glitterati were celebrating Roberto Cavalli's 40th anniversary in the industry with a star-studded gala at Paris' Ecole de Beaux Arts. The Italian designer, whose name has become shorthand for his trademark trust-fund hippy look, showed his first collection in the City of Light four decades ago.

DRIES VAN NOTEN

The show might have been held on the docks of the Seine River, but the scent of the South China Sea enveloped the collection.

Kimono shirts in flower-printed silk were paired with wide-legged trousers, and the classic men's button-down shirt _ ever a cool-girl staple _ morphed into skirts. It was what a cool young Parisienne might wear if a weekend visit to her boyfriend in Hong Kong turned into a weeklong stay and she had to raid his closet.

The collection managed a perfect melange of ladylike sensuousness and relaxed chill, and the fabrics reflected that _ with a magpie's mix of sequins and high-sheen Lurex-shot knits and workaday cotton canvas in white and khaki.

Noten, whose gift for color has made him a critical darling and won him legions of devoted fans, said the collection was born out of his search for "a beautiful fabric."

"We started looking at Chinese pottery, which is something that I've always loved," the Antwerp-based designer told The AP backstage. "The colors started quite bright, so then we started to bleach them away."

The result were nightgown dresses in navy silk, with a hothouse of oversized flowers in fuchsia that faded to white at the hemline. A boyfriend-cut jacket in canary yellow drained into a bleached-out white at the shoulders.

At once in saturated colors and bone white, in sumptuous metallics and industrial cottons, the collection had it all.

ROCHAS

The Paris-based house proved you can dress like your grandma and still be at the very apex of fashion.

Long-sleeve button-down blouses in naive prints depicting Swedish villages were paired with matching skirts that hit at mid-calf. Plain-fronted dresses in navy were cut wide and left nearly everything to the imagination. Printed doo-rags and black knee socks topped off the show's "un-sexy is the new sexy" spirit.

Still, hidden beneath that modest facade, there was a hint of Baroque decadence that lent the collection a subtle kinkiness.

Designer Marco Zanini said he'd looked to Scandinavia's rigorous aesthetic for inspiration.

"I find the modesty of certain Swedish people the key to elegance," he told The AP. He added that the collection was conceived as a sort of antidote to today's frenetic pace.

"These are very chaotic times, we need calm down and reflect on things," said Zanini, a towering blond with oversized mutton-chop sideburns. "We're trying to take it one step at a time, the proper way."

His slow but steady approach seemed to be working. The show elicited hoots of approval from the A-list audience, which included Anna Wintour of U.S. Vogue, taking it all in from behind her trademark dark shades.

ANNE VALERIE HASH

Anne Valerie Hash presented clothes for the kind of girl who loves her clothes to be simple but sexy too.

Shorn of buttons, zippers and bothersome closures, the French designer's collection had the ease of a sweatsuit but the sexy draping and sensuous fabrics befitting of a sophisticated, in-demand Parisienne who wouldn't be caught dead in standard-issue sweatpants.

Hash has made relaxed but worldly dressing her trademark, and Wednesday's collection ratcheted it up a notch, giving the look a more polished finish.

In addition to her vacation-ready staples like low-slung linen trousers and easy-on, easy-off shirtdresses, Hash delivered flouncy little skirts that were a swirl of chiffon and pants with trompe l'oeil kangaroo pouches. Cropped blazers topped off the looks, in a palette of seashell grays, powder pinks and sandy taupes.

Such was the smoldering sexiness of these casual clothes that it was hard to keep from picturing them strewn across the floor of a chic Paris hotel room.

PIERRE CARDIN

Cardin said his show Wednesday was made up of "timeless pieces."

"Timeless" because the cat suits in fluorescent spandex that opened the show _ with plastic rings that stood out from the body at the waist, elbows, wrists and knees _ harkened back to the designer's debut more than half a century ago. The interminable parade of lampshade dresses and polyester power suits that followed looked as though they'd been dug up out of the label's archives from the '60s and '80s.

The collection, which was suffocating in spandex and drowning in sequins, highlighted how very thin the line is between fashion's cutting edge and its polar opposite. While some of the looks echoed recent retro-futuristic offerings at red hot labels like Balenciaga or Indian madcap Manish Arora, Cardin served them up without a hint of irony, with an earnestness that in the cynical world of fashion tends to make people look away in embarrassment.

The 88-year-old designer wasn't reinterpreting his work through today's ironic lens and high-tech fibers, but serving it up straight, polyester and all.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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