PARIS — Trendy women will have a heyday with some of the new spring fashions shown here this week. But the rest of the female population will have to stop and think. Do they really want to wear conservative, elegantly tailored suit jackets over skin-tight cyclist shorts? Could they comfortably go to dinner in dresses stitched at the bosom to look like heavy-duty bras? Is there any value to a skirt that has a back, but looks like hot pants in front?
The answer for most women will be no. But that's beside the point for some top designers who use the seasonal shows here as a forum for their thoughts on fashion's future.
Into the Future
Many designers, in fact, have two collections per season. One is made for the runway, the other is made to sell.
The most unusual show this week, for example, was that of Jean Paul Gaultier, who packed 3,000 people into a suburban auditorium to offer his view of the shape of things to come. Gaultier presented men in petticoats, girls in trousers and brassieres and a generally chaotic mix of underwear with outerwear and male with female.
Many in the audience didn't understand. But Gaultier's vision probably isn't all that much off course. Whether the folks on Main Street like it or not, clothes are becoming more genderless each year. And underwear has as much cachet for young people these days as the styles traditionally worn above it. And neither of these two factors has anything to do with sexual preference.
The morning after the show, Gaultier's Paris selling offices were jammed with American and European buyers who ignored the craziness of the night before and were ordering the designer's beautiful new suits for spring.
The jackets in cotton, gabardine, taffeta or sheer silk organza are long and often tightly fitted through the waistline or hips. They are in classic colors, such as gray and beige, and aren't usually sold with petticoats but with classic slim skirts that hit mid-calf, or with Gaultier's new slim pant that fits like a stretch ski pant and has zippers at the tapered ankles. Or with wide-legged trousers, which are having a renaissance this season. All these pieces had been shown the night before but in a way that was hardly recognizable.
Gaultier does indeed offer petticoats for those who want to buy them; he suggests wearing them with his long, tailored suit jacket for an elegant, if oddball, effect. But the young people who would respond to such an idea could hardly afford the price tags. One such petticoat is of pure silk organza, with miles of ruching at the bottom--about $800 wholesale.
The message from Karl Lagerfeld's for spring is also a mixed one. Long is as good as short. Wide is as good as narrow. Yesterday is as good as tomorrow.
The show got off to a roaring start with big band music and dresses that echoed Dior's "new look" of 1947. They had demure, fitted bodices, tiny waistlines and almost-to-the-ankle full skirts with lightly padded hips--the kind of dresses Audrey Hepburn wore in her Hollywood heyday.
These dresses kept popping up throughout the show in lightweight prints, pastel suedes or black for evening. And they were always shown among Lagerfeld's more futuristic styles: crisply tailored, plain or peplumed suit jackets in black or navy, worn with thigh-hugging Bermuda-length shorts, or with very long or very short straight skirts.
Did the Dior-style dresses look out of date? Not at all. Like good old friends, their appeal seems untarnished.
The designer's concession to the underwear rage was a simple black dinner dress with unusual stitching to emphasize the bosom. His shoes for almost everything were mile-high wedgies.
Women who want a single "right look" for spring will not get it from Claude Montana, either. Like the other master designers mentioned here, Montana plays with many different proportions this season.
He teams long, belted sweaters, long, straight linen jackets or long, fitted, back-peplumed jackets with all sorts of cyclist-style pants, some of them in shiny Lycra. He teams some of these same jackets with wide-legged, softly draped trousers or short, straight skirts.
And he also offers roomy bi-color pantsuits that are totally classic in style: blazer jackets in soft, sheer linen layered over shirts and wide-legged pants of the same fabric. The colors are extraordinarily subtle and beautiful. One pantsuit is vertically divided into half saffron and half violet, another is tan and taupe.
Montana is at his best when his sense of humor is showing. This season he spoofs the Hells Angels look with gray leather motorcycle jackets studded with silver. And he redefines the cowgirl with above-the-knee, tight-fitting black suede dresses that have godets at the side or back of the skirts. Montana's cowgirls wear their spurs on their upper arms, and their broad-brimmed hats are see-through black mesh.
His production was so successful that he was brought back on stage two times.