c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS — None of the big names on the bill for the opening of the Paris spring shows is French. There’s Jun Takahashi of Undercover (Tokyo), Alexander Wang of Balenciaga (New York) and Dries Van Noten (Antwerp). Rick Owens has lived in Paris for years, but we Americans still claim him as a California guy.

And it’s funny: nobody whines about the circus atmosphere, as they do in New York, or the business-as-usual humdrum of Milan. It’s all fashion here and, so far, it’s all pretty exciting.

Let’s take Wang’s Balenciaga show, on Thursday in an old stone observatory in Montparnasse. Up a steep, winding set of stairs the guests climbed to a beautiful, bare room filled with greenery. “It’s like a wedding scene in a Richard Curtis movie,” an editor said. “You almost expect to see Bill Nighy.”

Gratefully, one saw Daria Werbowy, the ultimate show closer, with little makeup, in a white off-the-shoulder minidress veiled in palest green organza. The lower part of her dress looked like printed scraps of paper pressed and flattened together, and set in relief to the white. It was actually a rayon and Lurex cloqué made from an archival Balenciaga ivy print that was then pleated and cut out by hand.

Other versions of the dress came in white and pale pink, and Wang used the papery cloqué for a shift dress and some tops, shown with trousers that had a soft fold-over panel in the front.

Certainly the tranquil setting served Wang’s purpose. “I wanted to define Cristóbal’s shapes in an easy way,” he said. With the exception of some fussy, corseted minidresses, Wang did that step by step, first with flared skirts and track shorts worn with cropped jackets or tank tops in finely braided leather. A sports theme has been running through the shows, including his own in New York, but the connection seemed less obvious at Balenciaga.

Maybe that’s because of Balenciaga’s gently sweeping lines and its high level of materials. Wang manages to incorporate those signature lines in the simplest way — in the cut of a white silk top with slashed sleeves, in the rounded, slightly flaring shape of his shorts and skirts. At the same time, the shorts look sexy.

As he demonstrated in his debut show in February, Wang is good at minimizing Balenciaga’s volumes to make them work for today. His designs still seem a bit tentative, but it was interesting to see him try to reduce the Balenciaga line to a loose-back cotton shirtdress and some brief tuxedo dresses. He’s clearly thinking about younger customers.

So are luxury-goods rivals LVMH and Kering, which owns Balenciaga. After a decade of very limited investment in new brands, the two groups are suddenly active: LVMH just announced investments in the Nicholas Kirkwood shoe label and the London fashion label of J.W. Anderson, who also has been hired to design its brand Loewe. Kering bought into Altuzarra.

Marco Zanini is also on the move, apparently to Schiaparelli. His last collection for Rochas, on Wednesday, was a blowout of sugary pastels and novel fabrics that seemed vaguely electrified, whether from glinting fibers or coatings of sequins and crystals.

Because the collection had such a single-minded focus, it succeeded. Zanini translated the lucidity and sun-sparkle of glass in dozens of ways: frosted lace, spongy knits, organza fused with duchess silk. The shapes were ’50s feminine. Among the prettiest looks was a pleated silver evening dress with a pistachio cardigan in that spun-sugar knit.

Dries Van Noten’s collection felt more relaxed and intuitive. With ruffles spilling down the sides of skirts, and balloon sleeves and faux gold leather, the show felt more costumed than maybe his fans are used to. But in most of the individual looks, like a white cotton poet’s blouse, the wine-dark, tasseled Ottoman knits or the cool, slouchy boy trousers, there was something personal waiting to be found.

I’m always hoping a designer will comment on the schlock and noise that is more and more a part of life, and that’s what Takahashi did at Undercover. His black-wigged, robotic models wore leather or vinyl separates bearing words like “GUNS” and “GOD,” often with the same word spelled backward. Clutch bags strapped to arms blinked more words. Many of the styles treaded on sex-shop favorites. But, in the end, Takahashi only seemed to add to the visual chaos.

“It’s just grit,” said Duneia McManus, 21, part of the Washington Divas step-dance group, explaining the intense scowls on the faces of the dancers in Owens’ terrific show. He invited the Divas and three other sororities to take over his runway: the Soul Steppers of New York, and Momentum and Zetas, both of Washington, D.C.

The young women were all dressed in Owens’ style, in a different neutral shade for each group. But, of course, the clothes were secondary to the incredible energy of the women, who nearly got up in the faces of the front-row editors. The show’s free spirit certainly reflected Owens’ open approach to fashion.

“I’m so excited,” said Antonette Jordan of Brooklyn, in the throng backstage. “I loved it.”