- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2012

PARIS (AP) - France may have lost an A in its credit rating, but fashion seems to have won it back with a flourishing start to haute couture week _ from the A-list celebrities to Dior’s 1950s A-line silhouettes.

Monday marked the lavish return to Paris couture of Donatella Versace, who wowed spectators with her unapologetic glitz, gold and famous friends.

Since haute couture is such an expensive affair _ shows have been known to cost in the millions _ Versace’s decision to show in the French capital after eight years away appears to have been aided by the house’s profitable 2011 collaboration with mass-market retailer H&M.

Haute couture, unlike ready-to-wear, is a protected French appellation existing only in Paris. The status is granted to select fashion houses that produce astronomically-priced, made-to-measure garments, bought by a shrinking number of super-wealthy women.

Year upon year critics predict couture’s demise, calling anachronistic an art form that generates little or no money in a profit-driven industry.

Yet the presence this year of mega-brand Versace suggests otherwise.

“Madame Versace’s return after all this time shows that haute couture is not in the past. Versace knows they need couture. We tap the creativity (of haute couture) for ready-to-wear like an ideas factory,” the president of the French Couture Federation, Didier Grumbach, told The Associated Press.

For Christian Dior, it was less a question of tapping new ideas than revamping iconic old ones.

Interim designer Bill Gaytten seems to have pleased the fashion crowd by revisiting Dior’s iconic New Look, including reworked 1950s bar-suits.

Question marks remain over who will permanently fill the shoes of Dior designer John Galliano, sacked after being caught on camera making slurred, anti-Semitic comments last year. The disappointment of Gaytten’s previous fall-winter collection only served to intensify calls for Dior to name a successor. But the subtle confidence of Monday’s offering has left critics scratching their heads: Has Gaytten been too quickly overlooked for the top job?

Ending the day, the award-winning Dutch designer Iris Van Herpen provided dark contrast from the rest of the shows with her highly abstract and unconventional creations. Tapping the dark depths of imagination and blurring the boundaries between art and fashion, the 27-year-old represents a younger and fresher side to Paris couture week.

ATELIER VERSACE

Donatella Versace climbed Mount Olympus for inspiration in the opening show of Paris’ spring-summer haute couture week, in top form after an eight-year hiatus.

Gold metal discs sculpted the busts and accentuated the hips as models with never-ending legs slinked down 13 shimmering steps Monday at the grand salon of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the acclaimed Left Bank school.

The show marked the designer’s return to haute couture week, with the Atelier Versace brand reportedly capitalizing on profits from last year’s lucrative collaboration with H&M.

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