PARIS - Chanel's haute couture view of the coming spring-summer season, revealed Tuesday, is distinctly storybook - but with midriff-baring outfits proudly declaring that "the stomach is the new cleavage".
One of the tentpoles of the haute couture shows this week in Paris, the Chanel event held in the capital's glass-roofed Grand Palais attracted a slew of international celebrities.
They included "Twilight" actress Kristen Stewart, Kris Jenner (mother of Kim Kardashian - and of Kendall Jenner, one of the models in the Chanel show), French actress/singer Vanessa Paradis, South Korean rapper G-Dragon, and Dylan Penn, daughter of actors Sean Penn and Robin Wright.
They watched a parade centred on a set-piece worthy of a fairy-tale conservatory: a grey artificial winter jungle with grey flowers that mechanically blossomed to life when "watered" by an obliging team of male model gardeners.
Orbiting that shrine to tropical spring came the models: flower children in gossamer-light pinks and coral and blues and reds, some topped off with wide-brimmed hats, many wearing black sock-shoes.
The refrain throughout was a belly-baring look evoking a 60s free-love wardrobe for carefree teens. An easy look for the nymph-like models to carry off.
For wealthy earth-bound Chanel customers, however, some serious abdominal work will first be in order, as designer Karl Lagerfeld himself admitted after the show.
"The new cleavage is the stomach," he said.
"The upper part" - here his half-gloved hands describe a bosom far more generous than those on the waifish models - "everybody did it.
"Now we go a bit lower, and it (the stomach) is even more difficult to keep in shape."
That word of caution will undoubtedly fail to dissuade the coterie of Chanel-clad celebrity fans, some of whom came up to congratulate Lagerfeld.
Kris Jenner, for instance, was dressed top-to-toe in the French high fashion label, from the sunglasses to shield her from paparazzi flashes, to her see-through netted pants hiding nothing of her legs.
"I like your pants," Lagerfeld said to her.
"You know where they came from!" Jenner laughed in reply.
Jenner's daughter Kendall was one of the Chanel models showing off her naked waist above a white skirt upon which printed orange and white blossoms crowded the hem. The short top was black and (her mother would approve) see-through.
Lagerfeld enthused about the petal prints - that perennial springtime reference. "It's a kind of flower woman - I don't want to say flower child - of the 21st century," he said.
He also explained the pop-up storybook theme that ran through the show.
"For people who don't like to read, which is not my case, pop-up books are the best," he said.
There was no deep strategy to it, he stressed. "I had like an electronic flash, I saw something like this and did what you see now. I cannot explain how and why, I don't know. I'm not a marketing person."
Model with 'E.T.' looks
As mercurial as his inspiration might be, Lagerfeld's eye for unusual beauty still held true in his choice of model for his climactic piece, a wedding dress with a long, complex feather-flower-embroidery train.
The ensemble, escorted by the gardener-models, was carried by Molly Bair, a young American model with a triangular face of broad forehead, narrow chin, protruding ears, intense eyes and sulky mouth all giving her a strange, almost extraterrestrial look.
"She looks like nobody else," Lagerfeld said.
"She's like from a science-fiction movie, a kind of E.T. of beauty. I think she will be a big star because she looks like nobody else."