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The hoi polloi get a look at haute couture

Sunday, July 25, 1999

By LaMont Jones, Post-Gazette Fashion Writer

Buyers for stores, journalists, fashion-loving celebrities and well-heeled, well-connected fashionistas trek to Paris, Milan and New York several times each year to see the new clothing lines by the world's top designers.

Wouldn't it be nice if the rest of the world could experience the excitement of these shows and not have to settle for a few reprinted photos?

Isabella Rossellini has long thought so. The actress, former fashion model and Lancome cosmetics spokeswoman was honored when asked to host a televised program of highlights of the shows last year. It made history - the first time haute couture designers granted broadcast rights and allowed their collections to be recorded and telecast as a special.

Now Rossellini is back to host the second annual "Paris Fashion Collections," airing at 9 p.m. Thursday on ABC. She says millions of people across the globe will be able to experience a taste of what she was intimately involved in for more than two decades.

"I was always surprised that these beautiful performing arts can only be done for a tiny group of people," she said in a recent phone interview from her New York home. "I was always waiting for a television producer to step in and grab it and show it to the world."

The shows featured in the telecast took place earlier this month, July 17-21. Among the 25 designers whose 1999 fall and winter haute couture collections were previewed are Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, John Galliano for Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen for Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Valentino and Jean-Paul Gaultier, one of Rossellini's personal favorites.

Rossellini, 47, opens the show from the venerable Ritz Hotel in Paris. The program covers many bases, including the evolution of haute couture and fashion over the last century, a preview of 21-st century fashion, a segment with InStyle magazine on gowns worn by Hollywood's biggest stars, the influence of haute couture designs on bridal gowns, the latest shoe trends stemming from the collections, the role of hair stylists and makeup artists and how a theme is developed for a fashion show.

There also is a peek at gowns inside House of Lesage. Paris' legendary embroidery studio, Lagerfeld, traces a couture design from idea to actuality. And Donatella Versace takes viewers behind the scenes to see how everything from models to music is orchestrated to bring a runway show to life.

It's a lot of ground to cover in a single hour, but Rossellini promises the program will have "more rhythm" than last year's telecast, which featured her and actress Anne Archer in a news format at the Louvre's fashion museum.

"Visually, it will be beautiful," Rossellini says.

Joining her during the program is Vogue's insightful and witty editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley, who provides fashion commentary.

Exactly what Rossellini was to wear during the show hadn't been decided at the time of this interview. But then, that's hardly surprising - with so many designers and so many egos, it's a decision fraught with politics and peril.

But Rossellini was certain of one thing:

"The choice is going to be very diplomatic."

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