The late Gabrielle Chanel once remarked that it was all right for high fashion to go down into the streets but that it certainly should never come back up again. Today, it's often the other way around. Young Parisians set their own styles and create their own image. They choose and select ideas which are quickly copied and adapted. Alert French manufacturers often produce items that flood the trendy boutiques within a few weeks.
Part of Yves Saint Laurent's genius has always been his sense of timing, adapting looks as they first begin to appear in the streets and turning them into super high fashion at super prices. The avant-garde ideas he incorporates into each of his annual collections soon sweep the retail markets and are quickly copied by the lowest-priced designers at affordable prices.
Each season evolves its own special looks, the specific stamp of a certain year differentiating 1980 from 1979 as clearly as any postal mark. American sportswear influence and "preppie" looks are a leading influence in Paris this fall, gaining mass acceptance everywhere, yet interpreted with a certain individual flair by the young Gallic swingers. They seem to be hard on the warpath of General Custer and the Indians at the moment, garbed in soft-soled beaded moccasins, cascades of fringe dripping off leather jackets, feathered ornaments, and fanciful headbands strapped across the forehead.
Miniskirts are back in full force, a tremendous hit with juniors who never wore them the first time in the 1960s. Bermuda shorts and micro skirts were also the leitmotif of the recent spring and summer ready-to-wear showings at the Porte de Versailles, and they are going to gain even more momentum next season on the streets of Paris. Now they turn up with heavy woolen tights and short ankle-length booties trimmed with the omnipresent fringe.
One "uniform," the bulky knit minidress, is banded so snugly round the thigh-high hem that the wearer is often obliged to take mincing little steps as though she were garbed in a 1900 hobble skirt. Outerwear sweaters, often posing as a mini and blazoned with Scandinavian motifs or figurative and scenic patterns, team with knickers and are worn with knee-high boots or heavy woolen stockings and flat-heeled shoes. But beware of the word "knickers" in the frequent controversy of fashion's fickle vocabulary! In England the word connotes underpants.
Then comes the fling with "high tech." Workers' clothes -- painters' overalls , mechanics' jump suits, and kitchen smocks bought in specialized sections of the large department stores -- have suddenly become status symbols. They play up the functional details as an integral part of the design: giant industrial zippers, huge snaps, and stud closings in lieu of the conventional buttons. With the current raids on these departments at the Samaritaine and other famous 19th-century emporiums, stocks may eventually be depleted and real-life workers will be obliged to buy their gear in the small fashion boutiques around Saint Germain des Pres.
The current interpretation of "French dressing" is far more fanciful than any concoction that ever topped a salad. Little ideas that appear "with it" this season: disco jewelry, gimmicks (often nothin more than a scarf from the French dime store), and chains worn knotted high around the throat with the ends tossed casually back over the shoulders.
There are hairdos and hair "don'ts," but the big trend is toward braids of every description. African corn rows plaited close to the head are giving way to bouffant manes with small loose braids at the sides. These are twined or trimmed with multihued Maypole ribbons fluttering in the cold autumn winds. Long dripping chandelier earrings made of crystal or strass also appear out of context.
Replicas of Pop and Op art off the walls of the "ye-ye" galleries on the Left Bank also turn up as perambulating fashion: electronic jewelry operating on mini-batteries with brooches, clips, and disks that blink, clink, belch, burp, bubble, and squeak at will.
If some high French fashions occasionally filter down from the cloistered studios of the great name designers, these are short-lived fads with no pretention and no wish to make it back up to those ivory-towered realms.