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.
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.
As usual, the looks were so tight it was hard to imagine anyone besides a teenage model _ or Cate Blanchett, who graced the front row, along with Katie Holmes _ managing to wiggle into them.
Rolland also looked to Japan for his fall-winter collection, but whereas Armani silhouettes were constricted, the French designer's were all air and flowing movement.
Satin catsuits with dramatic slits up the thighs had built-in capes that billowed as the models strode boldly down the catwalk, and waterfalls of silky chiffon cascaded down the back of the column gowns.
The collection's oversized accessories and sculptural accents blurred the fine line between couture and art.
Mermaid dresses were cinched at the waist with oversized metal belts that glinted with chunks of fool's gold. Gold tubes stacked in an hourglass shape embellished the front of long-sleeved sheath dresses.
"That belongs in a museum," whispered one of the droves of chic couture-buying ladies from her front-row perch as a mermaid gown with an oversized metal and satin bow on the back swept by.
But it was the wedding gown _ a kimono knit out of thick white yarn into intricate mosaic patterns _ that took the audience's breath away and best showcased Rolland's impressive technical know-how.
The dress was so heavy, so monumental, that the model sporting it got stuck at the end of the runway, her stick-thin thighs not strong enough to make a U-turn. An usher and Rolland's chic ivory-haired mother scurried over to help her maneuver the train.
Givenchy continued to probe the beating heart of couture with "Albino Angels," a pared-down collection of exquisite, feather-light concoctions of ivory tulle, chiffon and shimmering pearls.
Each of the 10 looks was a miracle of inventiveness and painstaking labor.
Somehow, designer Riccardo Tisci and his atelier of seamstresses and embroiderers turned thousands of tiny little iridescent beads into sculptural birds of paradise, the tropical flowers blooming across the midriff of a tank dress. Hundreds of long strands made from the same luminous white beads formed the dress' skirt and hung like a waterfall from an assorted clutch.
Clocking in at 2,000 hours of work, that look was, astoundingly, among the least labor-intensive of the 10.
More than 3,500 hours were poured into hand-cutting tiny circles out of tulle, which were then stacked sometimes 32-deep, on a turtleneck gown in Champagne colored tulle, creating scales that enveloped the delicate mermaid dress.
Brilliantly inventive and exquisitely executed, the collection showcased the endless possibilities of couture _ and Tisci's enormous talent.
It's official. The devil no longer wears Prada.
Any she-devil worth her horns and forked tail will soon be sporting Vauthier, the emerging French talent who served up a red-soaked collection so sexy it could surely persuade just about any man to sign over his soul.
A bustier fit around the midriff of a cherry-colored fur coat to give it a formfitting hourglass shape and more than a hint of naughtiness, while the saucy, second-skin pantsuits in fire-engine neoprene left precious little to the imagination.
As if the weather were conspiring to lend Vauthier's inferno added credibility, Paris temperatures soared Tuesday to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), turning the cramped show venue _ a historic high school library illuminated by red spotlights _ into a hellish sauna.
But while the elaborately costumed audience of fashion glitterati sat streaming with sweat, Vauthier's she-devils dripped only diabolical sensuality.
Kayrouz is a breath of fresh air. The Lebanese designer manifests no apparent desire to fetter, hinder or hobble women with binding clothes or painful shoes _ instead churning out wearable knit dresses that flatter just about every figure and dispensing with the footwear altogether.
His barefoot models splashed over a catwalk covered in several inches of water in tank dresses with flippy skirts and Bermuda shorts paired with a leather jacket _ a symbolic nod to the fall-winter season at hand.
It was a simple, ravishing collection from a designer who has understood that no women _ ultra-wealthy couture clients included _ really want to suffer to be beautiful.