Designer merry-go-round rings in Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week kicked off on Tuesday with the in-crowd abuzz at the prospect of style icon Hedi Slimane designing for Yves Saint Laurent, and rumours putting a newly-free Raf Simons in the wings at Dior.

Opening with a day devoted to young designers, the Paris autumn-winter collections round off a month of womenswear shows that have sent fashionistas, models and media trooping on a style trail from New York to London and Milan.

A cellist performing George Frideric Handel's baroque masterpiece "Sarabande" set the tone as Portugal's Fatima Lopes sent out sleek, second-skin silhouettes, in solid tones of nude, blood red, burgundy and black.

Long-sleeved, high-necked dresses hugged the figure to the knee, in dark leather with lighter strips at the side and burgundy fur draped cape-like from the shoulders, or in pale prints that suggested a network of delicate veins.

Blood-red lipstick, red stiletto heels and tiny hats balanced on the forehead, shaped like disks or pointed leaves, added a geisha feel to the look, shown under the vaults of the historic Invalides complex by the River Seine.

But the designer also hinted at a rock-and-roll edge, as the cellist signed off with a few bars of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Wednesday brings the first big names onto the Paris catwalks, with Belgium's Dries Van Noten, Rochas and Mugler, followed Thursday by Carven, Balmain and India's Manish Arora.

Adding spice to this week's proceedings, a fashion world merry-go-round kicked off in Milan last week as Germany's Jil Sander announced its Belgian designer Simons was leaving to make way for a return of the house's founder.

The discreet, avant-gardist Simons had been widely tipped a few months back as a successor to John Galliano, sacked from Dior a year ago over a drunken, racist outburst in a Paris bar.

Showing his swansong collection for Jil Sander Saturday, Simons earned a standing ovation for the pure, sensual lines of a look built around coats and dresses, all in soft pale blues, pink blushes, and creams.

His sudden availability has set Twitter abuzz with speculation, although a spokeswoman for Dior insisted no announcement was planned for Fashion Week.

Change is afoot at the Parisian luxury house Yves Saint-Laurent, however, after it confirmed that its Italian designer Stefano Pilati would show his last collection next Monday, without naming a successor.

Industry sources told AFP at the weekend that he would be replaced by Slimane, a designer admired by rock stars and fashion trade peers alike and who is returning after several years away from fashion.

Slimane, whose father is Tunisian and mother Italian, worked at YSL in the late 1990s but made his mark at Dior from 2000 to 2007, revolutionising menswear with his androgynous skinny suits and tight low-cut trousers.

Dior will be grabbing the spotlight at the Paris shows on Friday, together with Lanvin.

Haider Ackermann and Jean Paul Gaultier follow on Saturday, and Hermes, Kenzo and Givenchy wrap up the weekend on Sunday.

Fashion Week continues Monday with Pilati's last show for Saint Laurent, Britain's Stella McCartney, and the young Maxime Simoens' first line for Leonard.

On Tuesday Chanel takes over the ornate, domed Grand Palais hall -- as has become its Fashion Week custom -- before shows by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Valentino and Alexander McQueen.

Marc Jacobs' latest look for Louis Vuitton headlines the final day of the shows, which wrap up with Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Rabih Kayrouz.

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