Paris has great expectations for the spring and summer couture season. Should it prove as profitable as the last one, all will be well in those lofty realms of high fashion where prices are even higher.
In spite of the overall mood of restraint since the Socialists were elected last spring, business has been excellent, with a handful of wealthy international private clients spending money as if there were no tomorrow. The fabled number of 4,000 clients who once dressed in the couture has considerably dwindled, but there are still more than enough orders to keep the ateliers working full time, even with retail prices that seem astronomical to the average person. The latest report from the famous old house of Chanel is that a spring ensemble including a coat, skirt, and silk blouse now costs about $15,000.
Last season, however, the majority of orders were for formal wear as private clients tended to invest in good readymade fashions for daytime and save to splurge on elaborate evening clothes. This is the underlying theme of spring and summer couture, with almost every ranking designer playing up fanciful and frequently flamboyant costume effects after dark.
Yves Saint Laurent received a thunderous ovation for this most recent collection, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of his couture house. Yves took over the entire Lido nightclub on the Champs Elysees for a gala soiree with a guest list of 1,000 people, including his staff of 400, several of whom were seated at the table of honor to watch him blow out 20 candles on the 12-foot high cake.
Saint Laurent's spectacular lineup of trouser suits or pencil-slim skirts teaming to all sorts of mannish little jackets may be a hard act to follow, but Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro were close on his heels when it came to applause. Cardin appears more original, more eccentric, more avant-garde than ever this season. His semi-abstract treatments often deal with asymmetry, lopsided collars, and sleeves erupting in an explosion of pleats over bubble and balloon skirts banded snugly above the knees.
Ungaro and Scherrer bring theater and the arts into fashion, often in retrospection with costumes that might have stepped off the stage of the Comedie del'Arte and Scherrer's ultraromantic dresses inspired by Gainsborough and Renoir portraits. These may be fairy-tale fashions that seemingly have little or no connection with fast-paced contemporary life styles, yet this romantic influence is bound to filter down and influence mass production.
What Paris really has to say, in a way that will affect most women in one way or another, is shorter hemlines, cinched waists, sleeve and shoulder treatments, pleats, frills, and the wonderfully mad mixup of prints.
Heretofore no one except Matisse has ever successfully combined pattern against pattern. Certainly it was considered gauche to play fashion roulette with different designs. That classic navy blue spring redingote or trim little suit purchased for the Easter parade might be teamed to a print dress or blouse, but that's as far as it went. The idea of combining three or four different patterns in the same ensemble would have seemed as incomprehensible as wearing a bathing suit to dine at Maxim's.
Today it's a whole new game. Ungaro, Saint Laurent, and Lanvin have been playing with mixed patterns for several seasons. Today almost every major designer evolves the trend with the truly new message in patchwork prints. Giant paving stone designs and abstract motifs individually frame fine geometric designs. Stripes mix with chevrons, polka dots, and checks, all drawn with a free hand.
Other effects mix geometrics with giant upholstery flowers or the prevalent art-deco roses. This is wonderfully effective in the omnipresent combinations of black and white or color related in soft earthy hues of terra cotta, clay, and the mellow tones of old pottery.
Paris also spells glitter, literally and figuratively. The body beautiful, if not the streets, is paved with gold - kilometers of gold lame, brocades, sequin and stone embroideries, and delicate lace traced with golden threads. And in the figurative sense Paris is looking forward to a golden season if the tax collector doesn't get there first.