Paris shows rich layering for fall

The French sent out plenty of signals in the course of their ready-to-wear openings for next fall and winter -- both the long and the short, including a smattering of minis.

But one message came over louder and clearer than any other.Paris designers are turning the volume up again and they brought on yards upon yards of long swirling skirts, coats, capes, poncho wraps, topped with blanket-plaid shawls slung over one shoulder.

This may sound like a replay of the layered Big Look of recent (and not lamented) memory. The point would be well taken were it not for a difference in both fabric and cut.

The ingredients are different this time. The look is a lot richer. The amplitude consists of layerings of luxurious featherweight materials -- from sheer lurex-shot mohairs and wool jerseys to silk crepe de chines -- all of which are unlined. Delicate and light-reflecting accessories -- very often of bronze, copper, pewter, gold, or silver for daytime as well as evening -- also keep the bigness from looking heavy or ponderous.

Karl Lagerfeld's thin flannel Cossack coats for Chloe, and his interpretations of the military uniforms of the famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna, are cinched with five-inch-wide metallicized belts and shown over pipestem pants. Gilt edges rim his gray flannels (the old favorite fabric is on the ascendancy in Paris), and silver kid encircles the waists of other sheer woolens. But since they are not weighted down with linings (nor with hems: the edges are bound with fine stitching), they are feminized, airy treatments of military styles.

Lagerfeld continued the coat-over-pants style on into evening with sable-trimmed printed velvet coats over gossamer lacy double skirts and skinny trousers. There were moments, as the models at his showing did their whirling dervish six-revolutions-per-second pirouettes, when the runways seemed to be covered with so many spinning tops.

If the new voluminous clothes in Paris seldom looked bunchy (and they rarely did), that would also be due to their circular cuts. The sweeping ankle-length skirt is flared, as a rule. In cases where fullness is gathered, the line is kept long.

The dirndl skirt, for example, will be set on a fitted hip yoke. Flat-heeled corsair boots, musketeer hats with dashing plumes, wide d'Artagnan capelets (often of lace), piratical overblouses with hip belts, and other swashbuckling regalia accompanied the dashing knee breeches French designers showed with puff-sleeved jackets as alternatives to the swinging skirt. Bloomers, culottes, pedal-pushers, walking shorts, and other innovative types of trouser (including the traditional mannish variety) were incorporated into a synthesis of styles.

These ranged from the folkoric to the historic with such amalgams of looks as Marc Bohan's mixing of the British duffle coat with his Chinese theme. Peasantry took many forms -- the richest being Ungaro's combinations. For day, there were leather-appliqued jackets over blouses of giant paisley prints and skirts of oversized tartans.

The Scottish influence -- represented by big plaids in muted colorings at Chantal Thomass and Yves Saint Laurent -- was combined with various other regional sources. Nostalgia also played its part with knee-revealing Marilyn Monroe dresses that clung to body curves. Wide-shouldered George Raft mobster suits of striped menswear fabric appeared at Claude Montana.

The stellar talents in pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) -- Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent --cessionist-inspired embroideries on his navy wool peasant dresses, and his doubling up of lengths -- with skirts over pants, trousers over trousers -- demonstrate inventiveness; Saint Laurent's clothes are a reevaluation of his own designing past.

Among the last to present his ready-to-wear, Saint Laurent moved away from his colleagues with a strong restatement of the classic tailoring at which he is unexceled. His bride, as well as his groom, wore a mannish dinner jacket and trousers, a style Saint Laurent was the first to popularize for women over a decade ago.

It was back to the traditional for Saint Laurent. No musketeers, pirates, military uniforms, or other forms of costumery mined by other French designers for him. Except for a few capelet capes (which he pioneered many seasons back), he skipped the voluminous looks. Folklore -- another trend he initiated -- was bypassed.

Haberdasher pant suits, cashmere tartan kilts, mohair stoles, loden duffle coats, and velvet knickerbockers with the nuances of cut, fit, coloration, and the masterly innerplay of textures that mark the hand of Saint Laurent added up to low-profile chic. Even his black velvet and gold night bird clothes are muted and relatively understated. One of the best pieces in the collection is the pair of black pin-striped gold metallic trousers, cut straight as a die.

Everybody else showed ankle boots of V-vamp pumps with low underslung heels with opaque tights, often in a bright color. Saint Laurent likes high heels and ultrasheer black nylons with the broad-shouldered suit jacket (it closes with a low-placed single button) and its knee-revealing straight skirt with a vent at the back.

Straight tunics, belted or skimming the body, formed another large portion of the proceedings at his show. The chemise, which comes in new charmeuse or crepe de chine marbled prints of vivid colors, also came on strong in smock and other versions. The one that drew the most applause is a double-breasted black velvet coat dress with a V neck and YSL's familiar braid binding.

The reaction was understandable. The tunic and the chemise -- easily wearable styles that such customer-conscious designers as Givenchy have kept in currency for next season -- were regarded by buyers as heaven sent. For although they admired the opulence and lightness of the latest edition of the Big Look, most retailers could not see it as something every woman will rush out to buy.

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