PARIS (Reuters) - Chanel prescribed boxy white jackets and white wool skirts as a cure for boomtime excesses at its haute couture show on Tuesday, calling for a new asceticism in a ballroom crammed with celebrities and wealthy clients.
While Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld said it was time for a big cleanse after years of indulgence, rival couturier Christian Lacroix preferred to ignore the economic crisis with a fairytale display of frothy tulle dresses and embroidered taffeta coats.
"We had too much stuff, too much red carpet, too much bling-bling, too much of everything, and it was like having an upset stomach from eating too many good things," Lagerfeld said about the bubble years that preceded the downturn.
"So then you have to have a big cleanse. It's a refined purge," he told Reuters after the show, wearing a sharp black suit, sunglasses and his trademark studded leather gloves.
Taking his inspiration from a blank page, Lagerfeld dressed models in knee-length skirts, bolero jackets and tailored dresses cinched by shiny black belts, in a play on Coco Chanel's classic wool suit.
But there was still plenty of bling-bling in the shape of fantastical white head-dresses, black and white glitter and rhinestones, to the delight of Lagerfeld's Hollywood fans.
"I think in different periods in the world, fantasy is always really important. It's good to get lost in that fantasy for a minute or two," said actress Keira Knightley, seated at one of the little white tables that dotted the ballroom.
Her own fashion formula was more simple.
"I don't plan my wardrobe I'm afraid. I go for whatever is clean," she told reporters.
Chanel suits, two-tone shoes and quilted handbags filled the audience as the fashion house's most loyal customers dressed for the occasion. But like other exclusive brands, Chanel is feeling the end of the luxury shopping spree and has been forced to end the contracts of 200 temporary workers.
Fashion houses have also cut back on marketing, putting on fewer shows, hiring fewer models or scrimping on parties. But it is next to impossible to economize on haute couture, the most extravagant form of advertising for luxury firms, where hand-beaded, embroidered gowns cost upwards of 30,000 euros.
At Lacroix, dreamy exuberance defied the financial gloom.
Ruffled polka-dot dresses, embroidered corsets and puffball skirts, red and pink clouds of tulle floated past an enthusiastic audience that included Ivana Trump, unabashed fashionista and ex-wife of property mogul Donald Trump.
Paola Schulhof, a New Yorker attending the Chanel show who has been a fan of the label since she was a little girl, believes haute couture will weather the crisis.
"The artist will always be there, and it's a matter of backing them up," she told Reuters, adding she had a Chanel haute couture dress made for her when her son got married last year. "I love wearing it, I was waiting specially for that occasion."