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Leave it to John Galliano for Christian Dior to add a jolt of excitement to the Paris Ready-to-Wear shows. And he delivered on cue with a forceful blow on Wednesday afternoon, showing a sizzling summertime collection, inspired by the wardrobe of Marlene Dietrich, and destined to be a megastar success.

Dior is rather unique among luxury labels in that sales have been steadily climbing in a difficult economic environment, while others, say Hermès and Gucci, have been falling like a lead balloon. It's no wonder that Sydney Toledano, President of Dior Couture, was all smiles before the show began. "We're very happy with the sales figures," he said emphatically. "And just wait, they're even going to get better."

There is always an air of excitement at Dior, be that on the men's side, couture, or ready-to-

  wear. And as usual, there was an assortment of French stars sparkling amid the usual dignitaries and high-powered fashion editors at the event held in a tent set up in the Tuileries Gardens.

Hélène Arnault, who is surely one of the most beautiful women in Paris, looked especially dazzling, attired in a liquorice-colored leather jacket brushed with jet-black sequins, and a lacquered crocodile skirt worn atop fishnet leggings. An accomplished pianist, she spoke graciously with a fellow music lover. "I do give concerts from time to time," she giggled while holding husband Bernard Arnault's arm. "And I've even got a CD coming out in a couple of weeks." And that CD will probably sell out at least as fast as the Christian Dior Spring / Summer 2004 collection.

As sirens blared and light cubes flashed, out stepped models sporting frizzy wigs and high-heeled stilettos. They came tightly wrapped in black and silver knee-length skirts trimmed in crystal fringe oozing sexiness. Sensuous silver fox stoles wrapped around the shoulders, while ingenious body suits decorated as tattoos were
  worn beneath fluttering flamenco dresses, and shredded skirts. Other pieces came with old-fashioned garter belts glazed in high gloss ebony, and overlaid as a contemporary appliqué.

Bathing suits twirled with beaded pearls attached to collar-necklaces, while micro-bikinis were paired with fur pelts. And for the ultimate beach going attire, why not a string metallic bikini accessorized with a sparkling diamond bracelet and necklace?

The colors were striking: apricot, caramel, dusty peach, sterling, all poured onto satin, silk, lamé and even python.

Understated is not a word found in John Galliano's vast dictionary. And what is perhaps most striking is his forceful self-confidence, his magnificent style that literally pulverizes Dior's competition. Marlene Dietrich, then, could have met her match.

After a finale, which prompted André Leon Talley to brush aside his own mink and pull out a camera, John sashayed down the runway in a silvery satin peaked lapel suit, as rows upon rows of fashion's elite rose to offer a standing ovation.