PARIS HAS ALWAYS been famous for its fashion. In the last century, the city of romance has been responsible for creating numerous classic looks. 'It is important to look at [fashion] history,' says Gloria Wong, assistant professor and fashion design discipline leader at Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Design. 'There are always new ideas and skills to learn from.' Paris was already a leading centre for art, philosophy and lifestyle in the early 20th century. And haute couture, or high fashion, was popular too. The style was flamboyant and luxurious, says Wong. 'Despite the grim atmosphere during World War I (1914-1918), the Pari-sians were optimistic. They still dressed the best. Every stitch was perfect.' The most famous couturier between the two wars was Coco Chanel, whose simple designs 'set women free with modernity'. Cardigans with trim around the edges and artificial jewellery were her signature style. Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli were also from this period. Many fashion houses shut down during World War II (1939-1945), but the desire for glamorous clothes returned thereafter. In 1947, Christian Dior's 'New Look' hit the street. Its cinched-waisted jacket and voluminous skirt set the trend for the next decade. Over the Atlantic, the Americans were introducing mass-produced clothing. 'The demand for clothes increased during the post-war period. To meet the demand, the French accepted the concept of ready-to-wear, the opposite of couture fashion,' says Wong. In 1947, Albert Lampereur brought this American concept to France. The first pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) collection was launched in 1955. The 1960s saw a revolution in fashion. Flamboyant styles were replaced by young, hip, simple designs. Mini-skirts by Britain's Mary Quant and high-quality Italian designs by Emilio Pucci posed some threat to Paris' leading fashion status, but Yves Saint Laurent, who designed the first see-through blouse and Andre Courreges' Space Age Collection maintained Paris as the world's fashion capital. The 1970s saw the introduction of Japanese fashion to the French capital. Kenzo opened his first shop, Jungle Jap, in Paris in 1970. 'Executive designs gained great popularity among the French because women started taking up higher positions,' says Wong. Agnes b., who made basic details fashionable, opened her first shop in 1975. Jean Paul Gaultier established his own brand in 1976. More Japanese designers began opening shop in Paris after Kenzo's success. Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto were collectively known as the Japanese phenomenon, who helped Tokyo became another fashion centre in the 80s. 'The low key, distorted designs shocked the French, who used to fancy glamorous dressing,' Wong says. Also in Paris, power dressing was a big hit. 'Women began to have high-ranking jobs. The exaggerated shoulder pads and masculine look were to disguise their feminine nature,' says Wong. Jean Paul Gaultier became an international star designer with his revolutionarily obscure designs. To revive old fashion houses and rejuvenate brands, young, hip designers were invited to take charge of designing for big fashion houses. In the 80s, for instance, Karl Lagerfeld became the design director for Chanel. The 90s saw John Galliano designing for Christian Dior, and Alexander McQueen for Givenchy. Belgian designers such as Dries Van Noten and Veronique Branquinho became the new stars of the fashion world. Nevertheless, some of the more established fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Hermes remain irreplaceable to this day. Fashion in film The French Consulate and the Hong Kong Arts Centre present When Cinema Meets Fashion. The 17 classics dating from the late 1930s to today showcase the evolution of French style, and include stunning costumes by designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier. Must-sees are Beauty And The Beast (1946) (see review on P.12), French Cancan (1955), The Earrings Of Madame De... (1953), Eva (1962), The Young Girls Of Rochefort (1967), Beauty Of The Day (1967), Subway (1985), Queen Margot (1994) and City Of Lost Children (1995) (see review on P.12). Tickets priced at $50, and $30 for students are available from all HK Ticketing outlets. For phone boo-kings, call 3128 8288, 2582 0200 or 2824 5329 for programme details.