Untidy shapes and neutral tones

Paris fashion week A series of ovoid coats at the Christian Lacriox show, with the sleeves casually pushed up, worn over leggings, might sound as grungy as it comes, but the careful tailoring stepped it up a notch.

The French fashion designer Christian Lacroix's show featured bold shapes but not much colour.
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Could this really have been a show by the master of opulence and painterly colour Christian Lacroix? In the upstairs portion of a derelict garage in the third arrondissement, a series of exquisitely clad models stalked the catwalk wearing greys, blacks and all shades gloomy, lightened only by the occasional off-mustard, dirty green or crisp cream. Not that the clothes lacked exuberance - as one would expect from Lacroix the fabrics were gleaming, the tailoring flamboyant and the shapes high-octane - but it was no rainbow riot.

In fact, for anyone wondering what was going on, the soundtrack to the show offered a pretty strong clue: the string quartet tribute to Nirvana, starting with a driving version of Come As You Are and moving on to Smells Like Teen Spirit, was an elegantly dressed up version of grunge, and that's where the clothes were coming from. The raw, messy side of the movement was left behind, but the punchy, angry attitude came in full force, musically and sartorially.

A series of ovoid coats in chunky, untidy tweeds with the sleeves casually pushed up, worn over leggings, might sound as grungy as it comes, but the careful tailoring, the beautiful fabrics and the elegant colour scheme stepped it up a notch. Suits in shining pewters with richly ruffled bows at the neck and shoulder, Gothic leg o' mutton sleeves and sculpted peplums were vampy and proud, while in evening wear a mix of silk bodices and skirts with black lace sleeves and back panels or crinoline-style mini skirts felt like the wardrobe of a sophisticated, trust-fund version of Courtney Love. Particularly lovely were a series of mustard knits that used three-dimensional knitting techniques to create bubbling organic puffed-out sleeves. With each heavenly cocktail dress that came out, the audience thought the show had reached its climax, but like many designers this season, things ended with a whimper not a bang, the final dress, a tobacco-brown ruched chiffon number, was pretty but no showstopper. Perhaps those big finale pieces are considered a touch tasteless given the mood.

Dries Van Noten - another grunge veteran, even if he wouldn't like to admit it - presented a palette with the desaturated gloom and mismatched textures and shapes that featured in the early Nineties movement. For Van Noten, though, the indefinably strange shades were inspired by the paintings of the British artist Francis Bacon. The silhouettes had a feeling of 1940s leisurewear, with a relaxed line, wrap jackets and fluid skirts. But the pale pink oversized mohair jumper at the opening of the show backed the nascent thrift trend, which is also starting to appear on the streets of Paris.

The musical theme continued at Karl Lagerfeld, who sent the British electro band Metronomy down the catwalk for the delectation of a crowd that contained the ubiquitous Beth Ditto and the Geldof girls. The strange motorcycle helmets worn by some of the models were made in conjunction with Apple, so that they are iPod-enabled. As the glitz and glamour of Hollywood starts to look tired and outdated, the in-crowd is apparently to be found in the music world, and Lagerfeld is, as ever, ahead of the pack with his new muses.

The clothes, though, were not so successful. In the now-inevitable shades of grey and black, the day dresses and suits, styled over silken trousers, looked rather dowdy and chunky, and their futuristic pointed shoulders and collars looked like a collision between Working Girl and the Starship Enterprise. The evening wear was more successful, with fluid silks gathered together with shredded tulle, and long fingerless gloves adding Dickensian cool.

Stark black, white and oyster made up Riccardo Tisci's palette at Givenchy, but this time fluffed-up feather necklines, soft lace and fringing softened the long, hard lines in a show that was pretty, though remarkable only for a truly awful studded, caped jumpsuit that would have delighted Elvis but, among such sophisticated evening wear, could only leave the audience confused. Meanwhile, Andrew Gn's always-elegant silhouettes featured slim cropped-sleeved coats with elegantly rounded shoulders, cut-out necklines on silk dresses and, as some light relief from the relentless grey, the season's alternative neutral: petrol blue.

The one chink in the gloomy armour was Esteban Cortazar's fun, flirty, Eighties-inspired collection for Emanuel Ungaro. Bright prints, classic Ungaro polka dots, colourful tights, strappy sandals and super-short shapes made for a fun but still edgy party-girl collection that was a homage to Ungaro himself. It was a welcome change of pace: in the face of a crisis, not everyone wants to wallow.