c.2014 New York Times News Service

c.2014 New York Times News Service

PARIS — Since the man-woman thing started with Adam and Eve, perhaps it is understandable that androgyny, and its fight back, just won’t go out of fashion. As the fall 2014 shows reach their final week, designers are still betting on mixing the sexes.

With delicate dresses, fine tailoring and furs the color of face-pink powder, the Givenchy show was closer in spirit to couture than any show of the fall 2014 season so far.

Gone was the giant circle with crash-and-burn cars from last year. Instead, Riccardo Tisci created an ultralong, slim runway with elegant chairs. His collection was far from rapper ’n’ roll and had none of the upmarket sweatshirts that he has been creating as fetish fashion objects. All was “luxe, calme et volupté,” as the French say, except that there was a subversive element in the strong erotic charge beating through the chiffon dresses that opened the collection. As the show progressed, small butterfly patterns gave way to digitally created giant wings, and the fabric seemed increasingly transparent.

“It was Carlo Mollino’s Polaroids of women,” Tisci said backstage, referring to the Italian creative genius of the first half of the 20th century. “He was the first to show sensuality; he collected butterflies, and so did I. And he was an architect.”

From this inspiration came a beautiful collection, still pulsating with 21st-century sexual energy while streamlined in its tailoring. The designer used strips of fabric, in the manner of Helmut Lang, to make the clean-cut clothes look modern and dynamic. The masculine side could be softened, as in pleated pants running in straight lines to the ankle. And the show was really about femininity, as snake prints and butterfly patterns collided to create clothes teetering toward the erotic.

But the subtlety of the show was its strength, making for a beautiful Givenchy collection.

Stella M cCartney

“Emotion and energy,” Stella McCartney said after her show, and it certainly looked that way when the model-of-the-moment Cara Delevingne pranced down the runway with a group of other models at the finale, their faces almost as bright and sparkling as the gilded decorations inside the Paris Opera, where the designer habitually shows.

The McCartney aesthetic is always about a sporty ease and ultimately about women, so the clothes were dynamic, from parkas to stretch pants with an elastic underfoot, like on 1980s ski trousers. McCartney also spoke up for “function and utility,” hence the zippers that curled around sweaters and tops as embroidery she described as “scribbles.”

The significance of this collection — and its strength — was that the designer had dropped the idea, seen in her most recent collections, of addressing different segments of the show to different types of women. This presentation was all of a piece, with texture as the prominent story, enabling the designer to give a clear direction and a feeling of energy.

Chloé

At Chloé, Clare Waight Keller is moving forward, thinking, she said backstage, of her Chloé girl as “wilder and more mysterious” than the sweet (and French) young thing dreamed up decades ago. So there was quite an English spirit to this figure who exchanged her sensible slim line or shrug-on coats in beige or lavender for a wilder leather coat, “pillowy padded,” as she described it. A tunic decorated with metallic cutouts, meanwhile, looked positively fierce.

The story was, once again, about texture, with some intriguing double-faced wools. Although this designer, who cut her fashion teeth on knitting, might have extended Chloé’s knit repertoire. But Waight Keller is getting a freer sense of the Chloé style, and that is to be applauded.

Céline

How should women today present themselves to the world? Should they put masculinity to the fore, with all the strength of geometric lines and sleekly tailored fabrics? Or should they opt for femininity, the clothes soft and cuddly, swathing the body?

“Tough and tender,” Phoebe Philo said backstage at the Céline show, lined up with her children and husband as if at a family event. And so it was — for fashion. Philo has become a scissor sister, the great clothing creator and problem-solver for the fall 2014 season.

With overcoats flaring in the skirt, cinched at the waist with double rows of buttons on parade at different heights, the outerwear was military yet pretty. Ribbed knits were woman-friendly in their elongated shapes, as were split-leg dresses for a long stride in sturdy sandals. Céline proved that a woman can embrace both sides, the distaff and the spear, even if it means just dangling a pretty earring above a firmly fitted coat, or allowing feathers to infiltrate the outer arms of a tweedy coat.

“It wasn’t feather; it was threads — it’s about craft,” Philo said, explaining that the jewelry was also handwork, put together from found objects.

The show was far from last season’s, with its African handworked patterns, rumbling with a jungle feeling and a touch artsy. For fall, the vision was urban-friendly, yet even before this show started there was a feeling for nature, with greenery planted around the flat wooden runway. The idea was reinforced by animal prints on coats and furry muffs, big as pussycats (but dyed marigold).

It is Philo’s ability to be cute and cutting edge at the same time that marks Céline as a label that is plugged into a woman’s life in the 21st century.