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Chanel looks to China

PARIS –Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld on Tuesday delighted haute couture's new breed of deep-pocketed customer with a collection just like them – young, modern and in many cases Asian.

Boyish, spiky-haired models wore hats perched on the back of their heads, cycling shorts and flat sandals with ribbons tied in a bow around the ankle.

Bags with long straps were slung around the body like school satchels.

Asked about the collection's youthful feel, the designer joked that not many customers were interested in clothes with an "old" feel. If there was a future, he said, "it can be like this".

Lagerfeld drew inspiration for his collection from one of the pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier.

In the early 1930s, the architect created a terrace at his apartment overlooking the Champs-Elysees with an outdoor fireplace and a mirror set against a concrete wall.

Cue Lagerfeld's latest fashion extravaganza with a set inside Paris's Grand Palais that was all sharp lines and big white walls.

Huge panelled doors at either end of the catwalk slid open to reveal two Le Corbusier-style mirrors above 18th-century mantelpieces.

For autumn/winter 2014/15, Lagerfeld sent out a string of memorable looks featuring playful skirts, pointed shoulders, fur necklines and heavy embroidery that created a rich, baroque effect.

"I liked the idea of baroque elements and modern touches. His (Le Corbusier's) apartment was a famous place for that," Lagerfeld told AFP after the show.

The architect's terrace was destroyed before World War II but appeared over the years in many architectural books and magazines, he said.

"This is the typical thing of the collection -- concrete with baroque elements. Le Corbusier goes to Versailles," Lagerfeld added.

A significant number of guests at the show were from Asia, such as Wen Hsin Tsai Hong from Taiwan who told AFP the collection had a particularly Asian feel.

The models, she said, were shorter than usual and had a noticeably "Asian shape", she said.

Another customer, Yi Mig Shi, 32, from Shanghai, described the collection as "young" and said she planned to buy two of the dresses.

For the finale, Lagerfeld added a dramatic touch taken from Chinese history.

Models moved in formation from opposite ends of the set, crossing in the middle, as if the Terracotta Army had been brought to life.

Lagerfeld then took to the catwalk with a pregnant model in a bridal gown, applauded by guests including fashion photographer Mario Testino and US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

Haute couture, which exists only in Paris, is worn exclusively by the world's richest women due to its sky-high prices.

Chanel fashion president Bruno Pavlovsky told AFP that after years of an ageing clientele more and more customers were now in their twenties and thirties.

They were looking for exclusivity and bought haute couture "for important events or as a present to themselves", he said.

Fashion houses are increasingly looking to the new elites of countries such as China for customers.

Last July, Lagerfeld's haute couture show contrasted a crumbling "old world" symbolised by a dilapidated theatre with a modern, futuristic-looking city.

At the same time, Christian Dior chief Sidney Toledano declared that haute couture was "no longer something for old women".

Haute couture is a legally protected appellation subject to strict criteria, such as the amount of work carried out by hand, the limited number of pieces and the size of a house's workforce.

Around 30 haute couture collections for autumn/winter 2014/15 are being shown in Paris this week, before wrapping up on Friday. – Sapa-AP

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