- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Walking, Paris’ elite cadre of haute couture designers seems to have determined, is out _ at least for the handful of women wealthy enough to fork out the price of a car for a single dress.

Judging from the hobbling looks on display Tuesday at Chanel and Giorgio Armani Prive’s fall-winter 2011-12 haute couture displays, women rich enough to afford four-to-five-figure ensembles should never need suffer the injustice of actually having to walk.

Instead, let them mince, like the poor models who struggled to make it down the Chanel and Armani catwalks without incident.

Walking was a trial by fire at emerging French designer Julien Fournie’s show, too, where bowling shoes had been fitted with weighted cork platforms that forced the models to walk on pointe, like ballet dancers. By the end, the models were turning back only halfway down the runway, in a bid to save their battered feet.

Footwear wasn’t the issue at Stephane Rolland, but a few of the Frenchman’s elaborate, sculptural garments also posed some mobility issues. Though most of his dramatic gowns in flowing silk were easy enough to move in, Rolland’s bride was so weighed down in her embroidery-covered wedding gown that she got momentarily stuck at the end of the runway.

Only rising French star Alexandre Vauthier’s sexy she-devils in head-to-toe red and Rabih Kayrouz’s barefoot models _ who splashed through the water-covered runway in breathable, flattering knit dresses _ had a full range of motion on Tuesday.

Paris’ three-day-long couture extravaganza wraps up on Wednesday with shows by romantic Italian label Valentino, Lebanese red-carpet wonder Elie Saab and one-time French enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier.

CHANEL

When it comes to putting on blockbuster shows, the sky is literally the limit for Chanel: The deep-pocketed French label recreated a life-sized model of Paris’ Place Vendome _ complete with a starry night sky.

The Chanel display usually takes place in the morning, but to add to the nighttime feeling of Tuesday’s show, it was held at the unprecedented hour of 10 p.m. But the added authenticity of it being dark both inside and outside the venue was largely lost on the fatigued fashion crowd, which had been working nonstop for the previous 11 hours.

Models circled the set’s centerpiece _ a life-sized version of the towering column that presides over Place Vendome, Paris’ jewelry Mecca _ in cropped jackets with shirt-dress hybrids with sculptural bell-shaped peplums, which were layered over the hobblingly slim pencil skirts. In dark tweed embroidered with Swarovski crystals, the ensembles twinkled like the faux night sky of the set.

GIORGIO ARMANI PRIVE

Giorgio Armani Prive dedicated his collection of wildly expensive made-to-measure skintight column dresses and painted-on pantsuits to the victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

“Homage to Japan” incorporated Japanese silks and shapes culled from kimonos into the Italian designer’s trademark lean, clean-lined shapes.

Strips of printed silks peeked out from slits on the back of peak-shouldered cropped jackets in black velvet. A pencil skirt and bandeau tops fitted with stiff architectural panels bloomed with oversized cherry blossoms. The head wear _ always inventive at Armani _ was made from what appeared to be Japanese wrapping paper or an explosion of folding fans.

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