Paris haute couture courts lavish themes

Most of us here will be shivering in our thermal underwear this winter with gas and electricity charges up by an average of 17 percent, but the Paris couture is the antithesis of austerity. Luxury and opulence prevail everywhere with simple restrained silhouettes played up with fabulous fabrics, trimmings, and some of the most lavish embroideries and appliques on record.

The royal wedding in London coincided with couture week in Paris and the beautiful bride, now the Princess of Wales, influenced many of the ranking French designers, most of whom are true royalists at heart. The soft blouses with high-necked frilly collars and ultraromantic full-skirted ball gowns in shimmering iridescent taffeta evoke the princess's specific style. For daytime, there are miles of tweeds and tartans, kilted skirts, snug-fitting little velvet jackets or braidbound wool blazers -- all prototypes of the British "country girls" striding across the moors in Wellington boots followed by a pack of shaggy wet dogs.

Various themes range from Saint Laurent's highly contemporary collection of daywear to Pierre Cardin's avantgarde silhouettes based on cut in enormous squares and circles of shutter pleats suggesting mobile art. Other designers wander down memory lane in a haze of retrospection or take off for faraway lands. Jean-Louis Scherrer, who frequently bases his collection on some enthnic junket and after literal interpretations of Russian and Indian attire, came up with stylized costumes from China and Mongolia lavished with braid, embroidery, and fierce-looking samurai swords speared through wide belts and high, twisted chignons.

Emmanuel Ungaro walked off with the season's top honors, the "Golden Thimble, " which a jury of 23 fashion journalists and editors awards each season to the couturier who has shown the most influential collection. Ungaro also won it in January 1980 and this year has never been in better form with his deft touch at mixing three and four different fabrics and patterns in the same ensemble, evoking wistful nostalgia for the days of "gracious living" in past decades.

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