AP Fashion Writer
PARIS (AP) -- First it was Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo who played with men's clothing in the 1930s. Then came Yves Saint Laurent, who in the 60s made it fashionable for every woman with the masculinity of "Le Smoking."
Ever since this time, menswear for women has been inescapable on the Paris catwalks -- a sure sign of breaking taboos.
But in Paris on Thursday, the third day of fall-winter 2013-14 ready-to-wear, some collections were different. They made no apologies about being feminine.
Nina Ricci looked to balletic style, featuring sisters playing live piano; and Balmain adorned women in jewels.
While Lanvin's message was clear -- the 20th century is the story of feminine glamor.
Could this be the start of the fightback of ladylike style?
Designer Alber Elbaz took the Lanvin guests on a typically encyclopedic journey for fall-winter.
The Lebanese designer's imaginative show in 52 diverse looks saw references that spanned from the furs of the 30s, the satins of the 40s, the full skirts of the 50s -- right up to the inflated sleeves and shoulders of cutting-edge trends.
Several satin looks even fused the flora and fauna of the garden, with dragonflies, moths, beetles and butterflies.
With the myriad references, it's little wonder several of the model worn gold necklaces with featuring the word "help."
There were some sublime furs, dip-dyed jackets and the seemingly endless boas really conjured up pre-Second World War glamor.
If one thing Elbaz used to hold this all beautifully together it was this: femininity.
Balmain went to the Far East for fall-winter, and came back with a Siamese princess and half the crown jewels for the Paris house's luxuriant ready-to-wear display.
Oriental wrapped silks combined with Bejeweled couture, which embellished the show's hourglass silhouettes.
Waists were cinched to within an inch of life; and high-waisted silk harem pants defined the esthetic.
27-year-old designer Olivier Rousteing has indeed come a long way in stamping the house with his youthful exuberance.
And it's no small feat: it's only his fourth season at the storied house -- founded on the eve of World War II.
"Upbeat, modern and real" were the words he used to described the collection.
With the spiky, in-trend 80s shoulders, "upbeat" and "modern" it definitely felt. But "real" -- given the collection's ample Lurex stripes, chandelier crystals, and metallic leather tweed -- was stretching it.
The Nina Ricci show was fashion-on-stage.
The music was provided by a live grand piano performance by sisters Katia and Marielle Labeque, who played "Two Movements for Two Pianos" by Phillip Glass.
The dance, seen in the balletic inspiration of the show -- which featured models with hair pulled back, and heels like pointe shoes and ballet slippers.
Though the show didn't take too many risks it was slick, saleable and, at times, very sexy.
With full red lips models walked in blacks, crimsons and soft pink in silhouettes that varied from the long to the super short, with the odd revealing bustier.
Some wonderful flared knee length skirts channeled designer Peter Copping's fascination with the vintage and romantic.
"Sometimes simple, sometimes powerful, but always balanced," said Barbara Bui of her restrained fall-winter 2013-14 show.
With this mantra, the French-Vietnamese designer delivered a clean collection that played on textures and transparencies in black and white -- and a dash of London-style.
Commercially-minded Bui is not one to break any boundaries, and Thursday's show certainly didn't.
But some of the 30 looks did add a twist to her tried-and-tested formula of simple, balanced feminine elegance.
Avant-garde romantic Rick Owens is always full of surprises.
On Thursday, it came in the form of what Owens called "wedding cake" stitching alongside billowing-sleeved Samurai silhouettes, and models with wild, Wagnerian hair.
The Gothic edge to much of Owen's bichrome repertoire should not fool anyone: What he does is always genuinely subtle.
Oversize white tunics and black fabric layers seem haphazard -- but were in fact delivered delicately, with soft architecture: the first look's white hanging robe frames the sectioned, column silhouette.
Elsewhere, collars -- like flaccid marzipan in celebratory cakes -- unfurled down from the neck; while a few white stitches, that he used sparingly, succeeded in dominating and defining whole looks in black.
Owens said thec ollection was a celebration of his favorite things -- by the applause he got, it seems he's not alone.
Friday's shows include Christian Dior, Roland Mouret and Issey Miyake.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP
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