Before rating Chanel's Fall couture, let's consider what Karl Lagerfeld has already done for the house in the last six months. There was the indelible, incredible high of his all-white couture show in January. Then, a matter of weeks ago, the staging of an unforgettably glamorous Resort collection on the beach at the Venice Lido. All this supremely heart-lifting fashion, delivered in a year that is technically the most depressing in living memory.

Back in Paris again, was it going to be humanly possible to top that for a third time? As it turned out, not quite. The Chanel couture for Fall, shown in the Grand Palais on a stage set with giant white N° 5 bottles, had a comparatively toned-down atmosphere. Lagerfeld's single conceit was a play on graphic proportion—suits and dresses with a longer flyaway panel in the back, all shown with lace tights and stiletto-heeled booties. As the show progressed, he offered up some remarkable looks: a "smoking" redingote with a ruffle-necked blouse; a crinolined dance dress; pretty, light chiffon dresses in nude or midnight blue with ruffled trains. The outstanding look, though, was the one where the panel device was the least evident: a superchic spiral-cut dark blue dress with an asymmetric "tail" lined in red. All the Chanel craftsmanship was there, of course, and impeccably achieved. For all that, Lagerfeld didn't manage to outstrip the genius of those previous two shows. That's the annoying thing when you're competing against yourself.