Ooh la, la. Those naughty Chinese communists and their wild fashions. Leggy models posed and pouted around the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday as the party prepared to take on Paris fashion houses on their home ground. President Jiang Zemin is making a state visit to France in the autumn, as well as visiting Britain and Portugal, and mainlanders are preparing the ground with 99 Paris, seven days of Chinese culture, supported by Unesco. Among the events being staged in France is a dazzling display of fashion and design showing off the best of Chinese materials and style. Wednesday saw a televised rehearsal in Beijing in the cavernous building which may yet be renamed the People's Cat Walk. In a theatre where aged veterans annually applaud the latest ideological breakthroughs in Marxism, long-haired arty types mingled with ambassadors, willowy models and other glitterati. Chinese designers are hoping that the Mao suit could yet make a fashion comeback among all those Left Bank intellectuals. Butch male models sauntered around in well-cut and tightly buttoned suits in black and blue. This year's fashionable ganbu is wearing his with just one pen and a bright silk tie peeking out of the top button. To lend a really raffish air and suggest just a tantalising hint of bourgeois decadence, the modish official might flaunt a silk waistcoat underneath. Men in calf-length trousers and suits could be another fashion in the making. Other models struck arrogant poses in red jumpsuits and motorcycle helmets against a background of throaty Italian rock music. The girls were wearing full-length evening dresses in black or grey. One designer put her models in Little-Bo-Peep outfits with lanterns and extravagant hats. Mini-skirts and see-through blouses are in, too. The fashion show is being sponsored by the Ministry of Information, the civilian arm of the party's Propaganda Department, along with what has become representative of official culture. This is a celebration of China's ancient history, including performances on ancient bells, academic discourses on bronze-age casting technology, Beijing opera and the time-tested standby of former Eastern bloc states, les danse folkloriques. The fashion show kicked off with a parade of customs from every dynasty, starting with the Qin Emperor, his scholars and soldiers, and then progressed through the increasingly outlandish and extravagant clothes worn by those who followed. Imperial costumes have changed a lot. Some court ladies once wore huge black witches' hats above green-and-yellow gowns while Tang Dynasty concubines seemed to favour elaborate beehive hairdos. Through these ages, women apparently favoured footwear with red or yellow turned-up ends like medieval jesters right up until the last dynasty, the Qing, when Manchu women tottered about on high, white patent leather shoes. Another element of China's modern image of itself is of the 55 happy minorities signing and dancing together or, as the programme notes put it, 'living together like brothers and sisters in perfect harmony as in a big family'. Parisians will be treated to the Chinese models dressing up in a series of increasingly exotic and splendid costumes representing all the different ethnic groups. Some are so extravagant and ridiculously impractical that they put to shame the imagination of Paris' Grande Couturiers and the annual parade of their creations. The most symbolic minority dress paraded was on a model wearing loads of the usual traditional jewellery and an elaborate head-dress on top and sexy black hot-pants and black stockings below.