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c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS In one way, this has been a season about a top and a bottom, and a great coat. Alexander Wang made that point at Balenciaga. But it took Phoebe Philo to turn basics into high fashion.

Within moments of the start of her Celine show on Sunday, she had bleary-eyed editors and other guests including Stella Tennant and Amanda Harlech, who works with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel salivating for a sweater and a skirt.

Well, not just any skirt. In creamy shades of white and beige, Philo offered an ungirly version of a trumpet skirt, which she paired with loose tops. Some were short-sleeved, but the newer shape was a long-sleeve top with a high neck. Still another option was a chunky sweater with deep cuffs. The accessories were ankle boots and squashy clutches that sometimes matched the outfit.

The clothes were simple but hardly plain, and for once just about everything in the collection, including some terrific mohair coats in dark blue and grass green, looked feather-light. That's been a complaint: Celine's too-thick fabrics.

You can see how Philo has evolved since her first collections. They are less complicated, for sure; and the relaxed attitude of her spring show, which featured loose tops with fluid trousers, has been carried forward. In fact, these clothes are probably the most realistic she has done at Celine, even if the idea of this kind of simplicity has been done before (by Zoran, most notably). And so much of what makes this collection so potent is in the proportions of the top and skirt, or the clean cut of some gray wool shifts. It's also interesting that she barely bothered with tailored jackets that's also new.

So far, the French collections have been unusually good, with talked-about shows by Dior, Lanvin, Comme des Garcons and Rick Owens.

On Saturday, in Owens' busy showroom in the Seventh Arrondissement, a young woman came up to the designer and did a big fan gush. She was wearing one of his new coats, taken off a rack to try on, and she looked as much delighted with its effect as with meeting its creator. "That's very nice, thank you," he said.

Owens' clothes look extreme on the runway, and that's the idea. He had a smoke machine, and a bank of fans blasting the smoke. And each time a model stepped onto the runway, the wind caught her tumbleweed hair and her features seemed to dissolve. As for the clothes, you could be joining an underworld meeting of the gods. There was a distinct ceremonial cast to coats in wool and shearling, with kimono sleeves, toggles made of bone and nunlike collars that, if you like, can be zipped into a druid's hood.

The scale of the clothes was interesting, too. He said he just wanted to make things roomier this season. Well, you can't get enough personal space these days. I was tickled by a lightly padded outfit that essentially looked like a big pair of overall shorts attached to a small duvet. You just lift the wide flap in back and climb in. But the scale of the clothes served another purpose: It blew out decorative elements like lacing on the front and back of coats. The daintiest of details now looked tribal.

It's clear to me that the cerebral malcontents of the last 20 to 30 years have an easier time dealing with the present than the reactive rebels do. (I laughed when Owens reminded me that he and his wife dine every night in the same neighborhood bistro. Who needs more than one window when the ideas come out of your head?)

At Comme des Garcons, Rei Kawakubo has a similar freedom. Her idea was to show that tailoring has no limits. Rosettes, coils and lumps of classic menswear fabric were embedded in outfits of the same material, creating weird volumes and textures but also feminine decoration. A bustle sprang out of the rear of a jacket. Checked outfits were papered with squares of checks. There were also a few lumpy looks in rose velvet or lace, but the most extreme outfits were in a deeply saturated, multihued print.

Kawakubo has displayed such technical power before, but it was interesting to see how feminine symbols, like rosettes, were absorbed into tailoring and how the masculine forms exploded into decoration.

By contrast, the Jean Paul Gaultier show indicated a man who has lost the power of speech, rather than the work of a former bad boy. Nothing about the collection of molded leather jackets and miniskirts (one made from scraps of fur, no less) would make you want to party, '80s-style. Clearly the problem for Gaultier is that the things he used to riff on, like sex and savoir-faire, don't produce the same shock and awe anymore. And if he tries to play it straight, the results look pedestrian.

Yohji Yamamoto is enough of pro to be graceful about his diminished influence. He has the lightest hand when dealing with layers or tailoring. In a way, you feel his authority even more when he sends out a stripped-down tunic dress with delicately knotted streamers or loose black jackets with box-pleated skirts waltzing out with platform lace-ups.

The experienced Yamamoto seems to tease the idea of what is new and desirable, in contrast to Haider Ackermann, who does everything possible to a jacket and a pair of trousers. The latter showed more restraint this season, but once you scraped away the styling gimmicks the belts, the rolled or dangling cuffs it was a job to find real substance.

Junya Watanabe's collection of patchwork jeans and couture-shaped dresses in tweeds and leather was nice if reworked. Among the fresher looks were skimming dresses made from oblong straps of plaid wool and silk, and worn over black leggings.