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Chanel, Valentino, Alexander McQueen: Top designers take their bows at Paris Fashion Week

Amy Verner reports from the runways of Paris Fashion Week. Shows on Tuesday included the new spring/summer 2012 collections of Chanel, Hakan Yildirim, Valentino, Paco Rabanne and Alexander McQueen

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Chanel Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection Held in the Grand Palais, a soaring Beaux Arts hall that dates back to 1900, the Chanel show is the largest of Paris Fashion Week. The amphitheatre-style seating encircled a bleached-out ocean floor, complete with sandy ground cover and massive sea forms. There were even glass-ball bubbles.

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Unsurprisingly, the show also attracts an impressive number of beautiful boldface names. Just try finding one reason to not love Uma Thurman, who appeared in head-to-toe Chanel.

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And then there’s Sean Lennon’s belle, Charlotte Kemp Muhl. She traveled all the way from the 1900s to attend the show. Or maybe that’s just how she typically dresses at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.

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But onto the fashion. Designer Karl Lagerfeld mined the sea while avoiding any mermaid clichés. Shell-shaped purses. pearls (as sashes, in models’ buns and down their spines) and watery hues came together to enhance billowy silhouettes. This jacket was one of several that lacked a back, remaining in place with an apron-like strap.

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Here’s a close-up of the spine pearls.

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But Lagerfeld did not go overboard with oceanic references. The simplicity of a thin black line as it continues around the dress suggests the designer is having a less-is-more moment.

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Hotshot chanteuse Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine belted out from a giant shell, Birth of Venus-style.

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And then there’s this swimsuit and corresponding cover-up, which, on one hand, looks liquid-slick, and on the other, looks like a high-fashion interpretation of sea debris.

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Master Karl, no matter the seasonal theme, never strays too far from creating permutations of his finely honed aesthetic.

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Hakan Yildirim Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection The profile of Hakan Yildirim keeps rising each season. It helps that the London-based Turkish designer sent out a collection that features many of the same ideas already seen since the start of New York Fashion Week. For starters, he’s done a modified peplum. Just Sunday, we saw a similarly soft overskirt from Céline.

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Next, the exposed pocket. Mesh and high-performance fabrics are making their way into high fashion. The exposed pocket, also done by Alexander Wang, is a ruse; while it still allows a safe haven for hands, it doesn’t exactly hide them. Notice how the jacket is paired with an uber-low-waisted skirt.

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It’s not the waist and it’s not the back. It’s the area down the sides of the torso and it appears to be the new sexy zone.

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The perception that yellow is not an easy colour to wear is a thing of the past. Yildirim showed three dresses in which yellow acted as a neutral.

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Valentino Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection Currently, Valentino is co-designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, who based their fall couture collection around a Russian fairytale. Their love of all things lace continued into spring/summer. But the striping is sassy and the shorts are less precious.

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A Valentino collection is never complete without a smattering of red dresses. One short, strapless number – strong in its simplicity – was utterly minimalist in the context of the collection. More typical is this full-length frock. Awards season is right around the corner, after all, and the designers made sure to offer enough red-carpet variety.

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But ethereal is not right for everyday. Here, the designers offer a polished look where the decorative elements of lace are implied rather than literal.

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Check out the princess hair. All that’s missing is a tiara.

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Paco Rabanne Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection Earlier this week, Indian designer Manish Arora presented his namesake collection (if you’ve been following these galleries, you’ll remember the birds). This is his first season also overseeing Paco Rabanne, a house founded on flamboyance 45 years ago. If his goal was to design a fembot uniform, well, mission accomplished.

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And if his goal involves catching the eye of Lady Gaga, certainly this headwear is as good a starting point as any. Props for originality.

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Oh, just something to wear to the office.

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This is the designer. His dreams must be pretty trippy.

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Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2012 ready-to-wear collection The Alexander McQueen show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was the most successful exhibition within its Costume Institute and one of its highest attended of all time. Three full seasons into assuming the design responsibilities, Sarah Burton has proven, in no uncertain terms, that she is capable of upholding McQueen’s legacy.

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When is a ruffle not a ruffle? Like Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Burton added dramatic ruffling to the front of this jacket and somehow managed to make it super-light and modern. The print, subtle from afar, is wondrously intricate up close.

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Like the spiny flora that embellished the previous dress, an otherwise pretty pouf always hints at something macabre. The areas on the chest left unadorned create a powerful visual that balances the concentrated volume and extraordinary beading.

Pascal Le Segretain/PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04: A model walks the runway during the Alexander McQueen Ready to Wear Spring / Summer 2012 show during

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This gown is a museum piece, un-plain and un-simple. Bravo to Burton, start to finish.

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And voila, the finale. For now.

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