PARIS — Will the young, avant-garde designers from the Left Bank and the Old Guard from the Right Bank split Paris fashion at the seams this fall?
Can experimental fashion ideas co-exist peacefully with clothing concepts that have long been in the public domain?
Can the young hope to compete for fashion domination now that the Old Guard has been infused with riches from oil-rich couture customers?
Will the 10-franc dollar help or hinder the American retailer here to buy French fashion? These are the questions circulating around Paris right now as designers prepare to unveil their fall collections to retailers and press from around the world.
No Common Thread Revealed
As our preview photographs by Jean-Claude Figenwald illustrate, there is no common thread running through the new fall clothes. If the designs Karl Lagerfeld previewed for Fashion85 prove to be a real barometer of his mood, he seems to be influenced right now by the early '60s--a fashion time dominated by the late Cristobal Balenciaga. The boldly tailored boxy look, pioneered by Balenciaga, is evoked in the tunic and skirt Lagerfeld designed for Chanel, as well as the "roof collar" coat that bears Lagerfeld's own label. Both skirts are at the knees, a length favored by the Right Bank designers during the last couture shows.
Never one to follow the pack, Sonia Rykiel takes her new skirts to mid-calf and beyond, as in the new poodly-knit wrap skirt photographed here. Rykiel likes long-over-long for fall, putting stretched-out jackets over stretched-out skirts.
Thierry Mugler, whose fashion sentiments are often torn between '50s Hollywood and 21st-Century galactic, plans to offer a little of both worlds in the collection he opens Thursday. The long, full coat photographed here with the oversize patch pockets is more '50s than futurist, but Mugler says he's also planning some Space Age minis over ribbed tights.
Yves Saint Laurent remains true to the classics with his epauletted trench coat. The wide revers give a hint of the '40s, when lapels were wide and waists were small.
Jean Paul Gaultier, whose big look last season was skirts for both sexes, seems to have put aside that cause for a moment in favor of tights--wooly, show-every-dimple tights worn with dressing-gown-inspired tops and coats with quilted satin lapels.
The longest lapels, also in quilted satin, are on Claude Montana's new greatcoat. Its one-button, thigh-level closing is the lowest on record. Because Montana is such a major influence on other designers, this new open-face coat look is sure to set lapels plummeting all over Paris.
The plummeting franc is another story that's all over Paris. American retailers interviewed here say the strong dollar is indeed attracting American consumers--especially the affluent--to spend their fashion money in Paris, where they pay about one-third less than they would for the same clothes in American stores.
For those who can afford the trip anyway, French clothes purchased in France are indeed a bargain--on both banks.