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Lanvin’s African Magic

Godfrey Deeny
March 06th, 2010 @ 00:07 AM - Paris

With voodoo drums and congas on the soundtrack, Lanvin designer Alber Elbaz took the fashion house on a tour of Africa on Friday, March 5, in Paris, in darkly chic collection of clothes that earned the loudest cheer of any runway show this past month on the planet.

Massive amulets, rough hewn fabrics, muddy hues and tribal feathers all reflected the designer's African inspiration, though it turns out that the Moroccan-born Elbaz did not visit the interior of the continent to research the collection.

“I took an extended tour of Africa, though without actually getting off my couch. But my imagination did visit many lands,” beamed Elbaz after the presentation of this fall 2010 collection.

His is an Africa in deep winter, where women are bundled up protectively in the most somber of colors. And, this collection marked a significant alteration in the Lanvin style. Where before Elbaz ruched ad infinitum, this season he cut down on his draping and concentrated more on darts, nips and tucks, sending out a series of quite brilliant coats and coat dresses where the clothes suggested a modern, understated opulence.

Wearing jet-black wigs, the models cinematically descended a remarkable custom-built spiral staircase onto the pock-mocked concrete catwalk.

Pre-show, the sense of expectation was palpable, as 1960s rock music boomed out of the speakers and the crowd took their seats sipping either champagne or kiwi juice in champagne flutes.

In the front row sat Jade Jagger, French thespians Natalie Baye, Juliet Binoche, Cecile Cassel, Jean Reno and "Harry Potter" star Clemence Poesy, Rachida Brakni, wife of soccer great Eric Cantona and Jared Leto, who played a Paris concert later Friday night with his band.

Backed up by a wonderful conga soundtrack, the models appeared in cerebral unlined coats and cocktail dresses in rough felt wool, all cut a good six inches above the knee and occasionally tied at the waist with ribbons. Looks were often completed with magical clunky pendants or felt scarves finished with explosions of beading and crystals.

For evening, Elbaz upped the ante, sending out spectacular muddy metal hued cocktail dresses with Bird of Paradise feathers. His most striking image was a coat in Kidassia, or longhaired goat, which was shaggy and printed over with black streaks.

As the O’Jays classic soul dance track “Love Train” boomed out, Elbaz took his accustomed ramble down the runway to thunderous applause, as many in the audience of 1,200 stood and cheered.

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