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The hot spots that inspired last week's haute couture shows were often distant and exotic, from Dior's gypsy tour of India and Tibet to Jean Paul Gaultier's exploration of China.

But behind the folklore and ethnic inspirations were trends for fall and winter that are more easily adapted to real life than cheongsams and Yeti boots.

Karl Lagerfeld said he got the idea for an all-pants Chanel collection in early June. "My whole thing is for improving daily life," he said. "And look around. There's hardly anyone wearing a skirt."

The clothes looked right: close-fitting tweed jackets in lavender, plum and rust, worn with slender matching trousers and adorned minimally but eccentrically with tiny stones worked into braided trim, or a clump of tweedy flowers at the shoulder.

There was the usual harem allure at Emanuel Ungaro, with big plaid and paisley coats wafting over fragile blouses and hand-painted leather pants. Except this season Ungaro gave everything more harmony, all in a dusky palette of rose and pewter with ivory and chartreuse. A velvet tank dress, with lace pleating, cuddled under a printed silk jacket. Black and white gingham silk lapped extravagantly around a T-shirt top and a skirt of a finer check.

Apart from the big-time Spanish numbers that closed Oscar de la Renta's show for Balmain, the clothes _ sportive check suits, a charcoal jumpsuit under a mulberry jacket _ seemed to draw on an American interpretation of Continental flair.

Azzedine Alaia's first show in nearly a decade delivered a small but impeccable collection of modern ready-to-wear and couture. Here were jersey columns of Grecian severity draped from a single neck chain, a simple V-neck dress with a wide black belt of up-and-down silver A's, a black cotton shirt that wound around the body and closed in two peekaboo knots in the front.

The surprise of the season was Christian Lacroix's stunning collection. Over flaring crinolines _ one banded with pink ribbons and another done in a lattice effect of white mink _ he showed snug Edwardian jackets in rich velvet. Perched on the models' heads were hats that were a cross between a Rasta snood and a matador's cap, all encrusted with braid, lace and occasionally a tiara.

Now that younger designers, such as Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga, are playing around with this coquettish silhouette, it seems high time for Lacroix to flex his more experienced muscle. He did that start to finish, though no more sweetly than when he sent out a long black lace dress over which he had popped a black wool sailor's shirt.

Yves Saint Laurent's show opened quietly with nubby tweed jackets over jewel-tone blouses and knee-length skirts and sable-trimmed coats. The thing about a Saint Laurent show is that you have to work to pick up his train of thought, until, in a flash of recognition, you see it _ articulated and repeated again and again in the undulating necklines of the dresses.

Those swooped low over the bosom of black velvet dresses, revealing mountains of flesh. Sometimes the line was demurely sweetheart, swelling upward; at others, it dipped downward, as if imitating the curve of the breasts. Saint Laurent could have made his point in a hundred ways, but he chose to make it in one.