PARIS — In the topsy-turvy world of French fashion for fall, dresses turn inside out, mink jackets are worn right-side up and upside down, sunglasses reverse from plain to fancy, gray flannel switches from day to night, jackets have two left sides, and it's become terribly fashionable in some quarters to wear miniature versions of overstuffed chairs as hats.
Beyond these tricks of the trade lie some of the most beautiful, wearable clothes of this or any season. Sonia Rykiel, for example, follows last season's smash hit with a sizzling sequel that stars capes, skirts that button and unbutton in both front and back, fake fur coats that come with their own stuffed animals and sweaters with their own built-in jewelry.
Rykiel, who was the first designer to turn clothes inside out, back in the '70s, reversed the order of her fall show by starting with the end--the bride. And the bride wore a long, white knitted jacket with hip-line drawstring, a long, calf-covering skirt and a floor-length tulle veil. Her attendants wore the same outfit in blue and yellow. The hip-line drawstring is a technique that runs through her daytime knitwear both in powdered shades of pinks, mushrooms and grays as well as in brighter blues and reds.
Like many designers this season, Rykiel offers a spoof of the British street scene. Her new Rykielized punks have Mohawk hairdos achieved by hats of colored feathers. They wear silver-studded black leather jackets over long, black pleated skirts. And they are sensational. In addition to the studs, she uses rhinestoned belts to punctuate the waistlines of skirts that reach almost to the ankles. The new Rykiel pants are either so long and narrow that they blouse above the ankles or they are cut off below the calf. Most are shown with Maud Frizon's flat-heel shoes.
Rykiel brings back evening pants in a series of black quilted satin versions with matching tops and coats.
Rome's Valentino shares Rykiel's enthusiasm for quilted satin. His thriller collection, which was attended by Joan Collins and Cheryl Tiegs, features quilted satin coats and skirts, often shown with quilted jersey sweaters. Quilted gray flannel pants are another Valentino invention for fall, as are quilted silk foulard blouses, gray Persian lamb sweaters with quilted jersey sleeves, all-over quilted jersey sweaters, sweaters that are quilted to just under the bust line, then narrowly ribbed to wrist length, quilted velvet lapels on plaid coatdresses and, for evening, quilted, black satin fringed scarfs.
Valentino's fashionable quilting bee continues in quilted red satin jackets with perfectly cut, black silk crepe pant-skirts that end at the calf. Valentino strongly endorses evening pants in fabrics that include silk crepe, velvet and taffeta. Some are worn with lace-like black leather blouses or black, quilted satin sweat shirts. The Rome designer also likes the idea of built-in jewelry--as in built-in rhinestoned belts and a built-in jeweled gold tulip on a black-and-gold two-piece dress.
The idea of instant jewelry also appeals to Karl Lagerfeld, whose Chanel designs feature built-in necklaces on long taffeta gowns, built-in gold chain belts on hip-stitched skirts and built-in bracelets on black gloves.
There are far fewer classic Chanels in the collection--a fact that the House of Chanel may come to regret--and far more Lagerfeld designs. The show starts with loden military coats and cuffed ankle-length trousers and ends with bustle-back gray flannel evening gowns. In between are such ideas as long, silk crepe de Chine sailor skirts with three rows of double-breasted gold buttons, white moire taffeta pants with ruffle-edged white chiffon blouses, dresses with illusion yokes and Lagerfeld's homage to Watteau: a black velvet frock coat over narrow pants with gold buttons from mid-calf to hem.
While Lagerfeld keeps Chanel's gold buttons, which he uses lavishly, he deletes her chain necklaces, replacing them either with the built-in variety or chokers with big fake stones.
While Rykiel, Valentino and Lagerfeld-for-Chanel build jewelry into their clothes, Azzedine Alaia continues to build curves into everything from acetate knits to fur coats. His new otter jackets caress the body like silk, and his new cashmere ski pants are perhaps the only ones in the world guaranteed not to flatten the fanny in the long pull from waistline to footline stirrups. The reason: Alaia has seamed the derriere to insure a shape.
Alaia wins the inside-out, upside-down award of the season for his spectacular mink jackets. Technically, they are double-face fur. That means you wear one side out until it begins to look a little tired, and then you reverse it to wear the other side out. Then, just as your collar begins to show a little wear, you turn the entire jacket upside down and the collar becomes a hemline.