Lovers Charlize Theron and Sean Penn electrify Paris’ Dior couture show

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PARIS – They’re rarely seen in public together, and have only been a couple for a short time.

So when Academy Award-winners Charlize Theron and Sean Penn showed up at Christian Dior’s couture show inside Paris’ Rodin Museum Monday, holding hands as they sat prominently on the front row, guests were dazzled.

Meanwhile, France’s former First Lady Valerie Trierweiler used the catwalk as a platform to raise awareness for the missing Nigerian schoolgirls.

Here are highlights of Day Two of the Paris haute couture collections, including show reports from Dior and Schiaparelli.

DIOR COUTURE LOOKS “FORWARD AND BACK”

Encyclopedic would be a good word to sum up Raf Simons’ latest adventure for Dior — his most masterful yet.

Set in a circular ballroom in a section of Paris’ Rodin Museum, the Belgian designer ambitiously channeled some four centuries of style — with a fashion-forward twist he called “forward and back.”

Simons’ journey started with 18th-century dresses fit for Cinderella — or, at least, an avant-garde version of her.

Voluminous exaggerated French ball gowns in pale jacquard silk were made contemporary with trapeze structuring.

The couture novel continued in eight distinct chapters, with guests gasping in delight each time they were transported on to a different era.

There were the long-line coats of Edwardian England — one in dark grey cashmere that gently curved down the body stood out in its deceptive simplicity. Elsewhere, a beaded off-white flapper-style gown shook vibrantly as the model walked.

Then came the famed Bar Jacket of the 1949 New Look — represented in this exhaustive 62-piece show by exaggerated collars in black, and one great flappy coat in cobalt blue wool.

But the real stars of the show were the heels.

In deep red, vermilion, pink, black, yellow, orange and cerulean blue, the incredible shoes, with missing sections in the middle, gave these “forward-and-back” encyclopedic princesses the illusion of the longest legs known in any age.

CHARLIZE THERON AND SEAN PENN TOGETHER

Theron and Penn triggered a frenzy as they arrived together at Dior.

Thirty-eight-year-old Theron — a brand ambassador for Dior — wore a gold shimmering fringed cocktail dress similar to the one she appears in for Dior’s “J’Adore” perfume advert.

She and 53-year-old Penn, who wore a black suit with open shirt, chatted with LVMH boss Bernard Arnault.

That held up the show, but that didn’t help another Oscar-winning guest who was running late.

“Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence ended up having to catch a repeat of the show later in the day because her flight was delayed.

SCHIAPARELLI’S CONTROLLED ECCENTRICITY

The golden age of Elsa Schiaparelli — the ’30s and ’40s — were revisited in the second outing for the age-old house, which re-launched last year to mixed reviews.

This season, designer Marco Zanini tried hard to emulate the eccentricity of the house founder, whose business folded following World War II, by mixing up contrasting styles or deceptive material.

He found some success. In a striking look, exaggerated fur shoulders harking from the ’40s were pieced on a leopard-print double-breasted coat with tubular sleeves. Glycerine-glazed black ostrich feathers elsewhere made a cool bolero resemble monkey fur.

But the abundant use of embroidery and decorations, like a try-hard clown’s hat, made it feel like the talented Zanini was not always at complete ease and made the eccentricity look a tad controlled.

Still, the leopard-print catwalk was great fun.

FORMER FRENCH FIRST LADY USES FASHION SHOW FOR POLITICS

Former French First Lady Trierweiler broke with tradition — instead of wearing Dior to the Dior show, she wore Paul and Joe.

But there was a good reason.

The 49-year-old journalist sported a white T-shirt that read #BringBackOurGirls, a reference to the missing Nigerian schoolgirls who have still not been returned after being kidnapped in April.

“There are 220 missing. It’s been two and a half months since these young girls were taken,” she said.

In May, First Lady Michelle Obama drew attention to the same cause when she tweeted an image of herself holding a poster that read #BringBackOurGirls, demanding the return of the girls captured by Boko Haram.

“Two and a half months ago the world spoke about these young girls, including Michelle Obama. But now no one is,” she said.

“I’m using the media here to publicize this. Until they’re freed I won’t stop campaigning,” she added.

FASHION’S PRESIDENT STEPS DOWN

Didier Grumbach may not be a household name, but the outgoing president of Paris’ fashion federation has held an incredible influence on global style over the years.

Grumbach, who has announced he is stepping down, has been credited with revitalizing dying haute couture from behind the scenes and bringing young designers to the fashion world.

Back in the day, as an executive he even helped launch Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Grumbach reflected on the health of couture today.

“Even 15 years ago, couture could have filed for bankruptcy. Now there’s new blood, new designers,” he said.

“It’s very much alive with brands as strong as Armani and Dior and Versace, a craft that’s modern again,” he said.

“I have supported younger couture designers because there was a real need. It’s the fundamentals of our craft,” he said.

After 16 years at the helm of the key trade group, Grumbach is bidding the fashion world goodbye — to be replaced by Ralph Toledano as president of the fashion federation.

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Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP

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