By JOELLE DIDERICH
PARIS — Paris couture may be reserved for a handful of wealthy clients, but Giorgio Armani on Wednesday gave the whole world a glimpse of his exclusive creations by becoming the first designer to broadcast an haute couture collection live on the Internet. ‘‘Now through the democracy of the Internet, we can provide a front row seat for everyone,’’ the 72-year-old Italian said in a statement.
The Armani Prive display capped a week of extravagant catwalk shows, signaling the start of a frenzied campaign by top fashion houses to dress Hollywood stars for the Oscars. ...
Australian actress Cate Blanchett, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, was flown in by private jet from New Orleans — where she is filming alongside Brad Pitt — especially for the show, which was followed by a gala dinner.
Moments after she swept into the Museum of Modern Art, where the event was being staged, the lights went down and images of models in outfits studded with Swarovski crystals were broadcast to the world via Microsoft Corp.’s MSN and Cingular cellular phones.
Though the show was unusually heavy on daytime clothes, there were some standout red carpet ensembles, including a full-skirted cream organza gown with a fringed bodice and diamante trim that looked like it was designed with the blonde, fair-skinned Blanchett in mind.
Asked if she would wear Armani on Oscars night, Blanchett said: ‘‘I haven’t decided yet, but I think everything here is extraordinary.’’
Her presence almost overshadowed that of fellow star Katie Holmes, who famously wore Armani for her wedding last year to Tom Cruise.
It was just the latest in a series of publicity coups for Armani, which included a huge fashion show and concert in London in September that drew stars including Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyonce Knowles.
Wednesday’s event illustrated the paradox at the heart of haute couture — though its customers are estimated at less than 500 people worldwide, images of these shows helps fuel sales of lucrative cosmetics and perfume.
Anna Wintour, the influential editor-in-chief of U.S. Vogue, said she was in favor of any effort to bring fashion to the masses.
‘‘I think it’s wonderful,’’ she said, referring to the Armani webcast. ‘‘It helps [fashion] maintain a glamorous image and I’m all for it.’’
Armani’s made-to-measure business has grown rapidly since he launched it a mere two years ago, thanks in part to his historic links with the movie industry — his film credits include designing costumes for ‘‘American Gigolo’’ and ‘‘The Untouchables.’’
His show grabbed the coveted closing slot of couture week, previously held by Jean Paul Gaultier.
But the award for creativity went to the French designer. Gaultier, famous for creating Madonna’s conical bra, had models take the veil for his spring-summer collection, which was inspired by childhood memories of his religious upbringing in a suburb of Paris.
‘‘We were looking for a little corner of paradise,’’ the designer said after the show.
Gaultier found it with his opening series of crisply tailored suits that showed a rare mastery of cut and proportion. Religious references were woven through the display, from a rope belt securing an Empire-line waist to a stained glass print on a black jersey sheath.
Burlesque star Dita Von Teese turned heads with her cameo as a Spanish-style Virgin Mary, complete with fake tears tumbling down her cheek — the result, Gaultier cheekily suggested, of her recent split with shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
The Madonna theme also resonated with Franck Sorbier, who showed a model in a flowing pink robe clutching a live infant in one of a series of dramatic tableaux showcasing his designs on a theater stage.
Though he is not a household name, Sorbier is one of just eight Paris houses which are officially allowed to use the couture tag. With a smaller budget than industry behemoths like Christian Dior and Chanel, he relies heavily on sponsorship.
This season, he was given a had by renowned interior designer Jacques Garcia, who helped design the set cluttered with oddities including a sphinx statue, a gilded mirror and African masks. And that was all that was needed to conjure the magic of haute couture.