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c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS Alexander Wang showed Thursday that he could design for a major house. His debut for Balenciaga was smart and graceful, and the streamlined clothes advanced the codes in a modern way. He may have played it safe, but he also didn't make mistakes.

Wang had his doubters, on both sides of the Atlantic, who questioned if a designer of moderate-priced clothes with attitude could make the Paris grade. But Balenciaga isn't a cathedral, any more than Wang is strictly a T-shirt designer. Times change. The only way to preserve a house is to periodically examine its foundations and then figure out how to make the structure more livable for today.

That's essentially what Wang did.

Sticking to a stark but elegant palette of black and white with a smidge of brown and dark green, he poked around in the Balenciaga archive. In the roundness of the opening jackets, in the gentle sweep of coats and in the cap sleeves and loose-back tops, there were allusions to Balenciaga's 1950s modernity, as well as '60s evening styles.

But Wang brought his street smarts to those couture volumes that are indelibly Balenciaga. He minimized them so that they look more realistic for today. In effect, he was offering a top and a pair of black pants, or thigh-high suede boots with small loopy silver bows. But the results were not boringly minimalist.

He was also clever with textures. Jackets and tops that appeared to be stiffened wool were in fact knits. Those crackled leather pieces that came out late in the show? Not leather at all but rather painted knits.

His predecessor, Nicolas Ghesquiere, modernized Balenciaga, in part by using new materials that relate to hard, synthetic environments. Embroideries, no matter how exquisite, can look fuddy-duddy.

So Wang did some nice fake-outs. Tops and dresses that looked as if they could have been injection-molded and then rolled in plastic sprinkles were actually embroidered. And some of the loveliest dresses were elongated drapes with hard bodices of tiny French knots.

''I wanted to begin by going back to the roots of the house," Wang said, calling out each style the jacket, the skirt, the white shirt as if identifying his building blocks.

The New York designer can certainly build on these clothes, adding color and more risk-taking, but if he continues to strike that modern balance between couture and the street, he will reinvigorate a great name and win over naysayers.

One difference at Balenciaga was that the clothes were friendly toward women, of any age. Ann Demeulemeester's show also looked especially inviting, and individual, with its romantic white smocks and underplayed tailoring. But such genuine warmth isn't always evident this season.

Thinking of the degrading jokes at the Oscars, I wouldn't mind if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took over next year and while they're at it, can they do something about these shows? It's not that designers are misogynist, or not especially misogynist, as in the past when some presented women as trussed-up Kewpie dolls. But banalities persist.

Saying he wanted to present "the notion of a dignified womanly persona, with a wealth of experience," Marco Zanini of Rochas showed chic if unremarkable slacks-and-sweater outfits with loafers, silk pajamas and slim coats brushed to a careworn softness. But it's hard for a woman to maintain her dignity when her midcalf pencil skirt forces her to take short steps or her majestically oversize coat seems a royal pain. (Surely, a reference in the show notes to "Prince of Whales" check was a typo.)

Zanini may design some attractive clothes, but you don't get the sense that his worldly woman really owns them.

At Nina Ricci, Peter Copping turned to the dance world for a graceful, nonchalant elegance conveyed in fitted washed wool suits, blush-pink silk slips and open necklines. Without prints and not many saccharine details, the clothes looked fresh. A pair of pianists performed Philip Glass' "Two Movements for Two Pianos." Still, it's a narrow view of womanhood that Copping presents, reflected not just in the retro silhouette but also in the fact that he used only a few nonwhite models.

Dries Van Noten often blends cultural motifs. You can't be sure if a classic English jacket or a burnoose inspired pieces in a deep red and cream wool stripe. His shapes were oversize, with mannish coats and embellished blazers over fringed tops or gold brocade. But this collection, despite some great individual pieces, lacked the resplendent slob appeal of his January men's show. Can't women have that attitude, too?

Jun Takahashi's modest and brilliant show at the Sorbonne probably confirmed for many in the audience why they will cross an ocean just to be tickled for 15 minutes. Takahashi, the creator of Undercover, hasn't done a Paris show in a while. So it was a pleasure to see a genuine maverick back in action, riffing on girlie fashion and kiddie obsessions even as he (almost) convinced you that you needed pumps with ponytails swishing off the backs.

Somehow, unlike Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars, Takahashi takes the high road with the loaded female gags, including outfits whipped up from satin bras and corsets. He's just subversive in a way that few designers truly are today. The black version of the lingerie mash-up looked like a cool utility vest.

Each group in the show, done to a nice, laid-back mixture of indie rock and folk, winked at fashion as it displayed his technical virtuosity. White motorcycle jackets with matching skate skirts were adorable and grown-up. There were dresses made from curling layers of white shirt collars, and a finale of extremely twisted outfits formed by bunched-up balls of fabric. The white version looked as if the model was sprayed with whipped cream.