PARIS: a reflective mood for autumn

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Designers offered almost everything under the fashion sun at the recent Paris ready-to-wear showings, but the French did little that will put existing styles into eclipse.

The big story here was short. But not short skirts. Bermuda shorts and knickers appear to be due for a major tryout on metropolitan streets, come autumn and winter.

What will be at issue, however, is not the fashion viability of the revealed knee. All knees in Paris were covered with opaque tights -- some thick and woolly, others not so. Chloe designer Karl Lagerfeld, anticipating women's reluctance to add even as much as a quarter-inch to their calf measurements, had tights specially made of a silk and wool mixture, so that they are reasonably light. Their price tag ($60 a pair) is less reasonable.

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Legs encased in tights were a frequent sight on the runways of Paris. In one variation, tunic-length sweaters went over ribbed long johns. These styles answered the call for minis which was heard from designers last season but generally went unanswered. No one here is seriously concerned with skirt lengths. To prove the point, several designers sent every possible length out on the catwalk at once. Thus, the micro mini, the median at-or-around-the-knee, the midi, and maxi, all had their moments, as did handkerchief points, a waffling short-but-long hemline solution.

The wild "ready to wear" (mass production) designers of Paris -- progressives like Thierry Mugler, Jean-Claude de Luca, and Claude Montana -- who usually spring a shock or two, were only occasionally outrageous.

Mugler's jumpsuits and skirts unsnapped or unzipped to reveal bright silk scarves or silk pleats. His mermaid dresses of sequins, shaded with a marbled effect, brought down the house. (Bloomingdale's buyers loved the show and are bringing it in its entirety to New York in the fall.)

De Luca's best numbers were alpine coats with ornamental loops and embroidery of red braiding, in the mannaer of Austro-Hungarian Empire military uniforms. Indeed, the influence of the exhibition on the Hapsburgs, being held now at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was felt in many French collections.

At Claude Montana, for instance, the Austrian loden coat had huge collars and double capes, with leaf-shaped appliques of leather. The Mephisto collar turned up to hide the face. The big bubble-shape jacket and huge sailor collars on the backs of wide-shouldered white coats were some of the overstatements this designer made.

Nearly every designer liked the look of the dropped torso. Some -- like Marc Bohan of Dior -- interpreted it in school- girl striped taffeta, sashed at the hips with a bow. Others -- like Valentino -- did molded matte jerseys with draped hiplines or tiered ruffled skirts. Yves Saint Laurent did the look as a straight chemise, with a skirt slashed into panels.

The popularity of action sports transformed the lowly sweat shirt into a deluxe fashion. Givenchy did one of velvet ribbons with gilt braiding and showed it with velvet running pants. Elsewhere, the athletic jacket took a suit form, with shorts or a flannel skirt.

While return engagements for favorite looks of the recent past were numerous and certain classics held their own, conventional tailored-separates dressing was not a strong point.

The honors of this season's showings should probably go to Mme. Gres. She is the oldest of Paris designers but the newest entrant into the ready-to-wear field. The last of the haute couture (made-to-order) creators to go into the production of ready-to-wear, she made a triumphant debut with beautifully cut jersey dresses and the sort of double-face wool coat ensembles and superb capes for which she is renowned.

Ungaro delivered an intriguing array of seemingly unrelated components -- lace-trimmed blouses, challis skirts, gilt-painted jackets, and shawls -- that somehow held together beautifully. Philippe Guibourge, the Chanel Collections' ready-to-wear designer, modernized the familiar Coco formula with chenille knits; pastel, waffle-patterned cashmere twin-set sweaters; and a bow print that was the theme of his presentation.

English preppie -- a young version of tailored dressing -- was the central idea at Dior, where brilliantly striped school blazers came with bow-tied shirts and shorts or pleated skirts.

Rich gypsy, peasant, and haute folklore, complete with ponchos, capes, shawls , and clanking coin belts and necklaces, came back at Yves Saint Laurent, also at Lanvin. YSL's folklore included Peruvian inspirations as well as North African, but his hit suit, a velvet dirndl and contrasting wool jacket with wide velvet lapels and rows of buttons, is in the Hapsburg vein.

Crimson with black took the place of black and white as the primary color combination, with the violet tones -- cyclamen, magenta, and plum -- retaining their popularity. Color splits and asymmetric treatments also continued.

Now does not seem to be the moment for new decisions in fashion, just a time for thoughtful revisions.

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