PARIS - Blurring the lines between the masculine and feminine is as old as Shakespeare.
Wednesday's fashion week previews in Paris — the second of eight days on the spring-summer 2013 calendar — showed that, over the centuries, playful gender-bending has lost none of its creative allure.
Dries Van Noten, who cut his teeth as a men's designer in Antwerp, produced the day's strongest show, mixing traditional menswear cuts with his own floral signature in a harmonious play on colour.
Damir Doma, meanwhile, who also trained in Antwerp, fused masculine-tinged Cossack gear, martial arts dress and buckles alongside more feminine touches.
Black, an unusual colour for spring, also featured highly on the rotation list — with London's Gareth Pugh channeling a dark hard, masculine femininity that seemed to indicate the 31-year-old designer was coming of age.
Thursday's shows include Manish Arora, Balmain and Nina Ricci.
DRIES VAN NOTEN
Dries Van Noten once said: "The more clashing it is, the more that I like it!"
This statement should have been proven true by the Antwerp designer's patterned and flowery ode to spring — a commanding show that mixed up wildly divergent textures, styles, cuts and shapes.
He presented ruffled 3-D flower appliques and floral prints mixed with blown-up Prince of Wales check, plaid, tartan and beaded denim. Those were pursued eccentrically down the catwalk by sheer organza shirts, metallic menswear jackets and oversized peplums.
Yet the preview, incredibly, was of the most harmonious Van Noten shows in some time, owing to its fine tonal colour palette. Traditional tartans blended softly into a haze of faded orange, peach, rose, nude, russet, silver and duck egg blue.
It felt like spring was in the air.
Croatian-born designer Damir Doma went East in an ambitious show that included Russian Cossack garb, Oriental kimono-sleeve jackets and even white belted karate tops.
Tight, high-waisted looks and a peppering of leather Obi-belts were followed by baggier silhouettes with dropped centres of gravity. Colors ranged from black, brown and navy to turquoise blue and cobalt.
If there was one theme that brought cohesion to the motley ensemble it was this: deconstruction. Almost a signature style for any graduate of Belgium's avant-garde fashion capital Antwerp — like Dries Van Noten — Doma exposed paneling, buckles, zips and fastenings on his clothes.
"Of course I am avant-garde, I'm from Antwerp," Doma said backstage. "I just cut things up, break and put them together: A collage."
"Hard femininity," was how Gareth Pugh described his show, inspired, he says, by the rawness of Latin American cockfighting.
Sure enough, black nappa kimono looks opened the collection swirling stiffly and authoritatively — with one model in a two-foot mourning veil.
However, the raw shock-factor — Pugh's signature — was short-lived for once. It soon gave way to a series of softer, elegant and more mature looks in sweeping vermilion, black fringing and pale dove grey.
The Latin feel was captured in a series of textured 3-D ruffles reflecting a coiffed, full-breasted cock, ready for the fight.
The designer's introspection was tangible, from the simplicity of the decor to Rebekah del Rio's haunting a capella singing to the clean, highly wearable silhouettes. Could Wednesday's show have been a coming of age for London's enfant terrible?
"Some things happened to me recently," Pugh said. "Sometimes you just can't help changing, some things are out of control."
"I love Frank Gehry," Guy Laroche designer Marcel Morongiu said after his uber-refined collection, which channeled the famed U.S. architect's buildings.
What the collection pulled off was no small feat: Downsizing with panache the spirit of Gehry's sculptural lines and volumes to fit the svelte female form. Long silhouettes slinked by with panels that flapped stiffly and with on-trend angular cutouts — replacing the house DNA's vibrant colours with streamlined elegance.
Another lofty reference was to Brazil's master architect Oscar Niemeyer — whose landmark contemporary art museum in Rio that features bold central paneling was evoked by outfits with strapped or sexily exposed midriffs.
Sex appeal is from the waist and above and long is back — the show seemed to declare.
In addition to the architecture master class, the Guy Laroche team also hit the science lab.
A fantastic new material was made especially for the show: A double crepe, silk and viscose Nutty Professor concoction that gave a curious stiffness to the clothes, including a show-stopping, knee-length, laser-cut navy coat.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http:/ /Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP