PARIS — As spring designer collections continue here it's the individualists who stand out in the crowd, the ones who ignore passing fads.
One of these designers is Sonia Rykiel, who ought to take her spring fashion show on the road. Californians, especially, would love the wearable drama of her clothes, as did the international audience here, which stood and cheered at the end of the designer's Sunday night production.
Rykiel's strong suit is knitwear that glides over the body with the greatest of ease. And her spring sweater dressing continues to be soft and graceful in spite of the overwhelming trend here to do either boring but pretty clothes or eye-popping body bindings. But tight is not right for Rykiel. And her clothes are too free-spirited to be boring.
She puts little emphasis on the shoulders or on any other single part of the body. Instead, she focuses on a long, fluid silhouette that cozies over the torso. It's composed of gently fitted surplice, blouson or T-shirt tops that stop at the waistline or wrap around the hips above easy-fit matching skirts that often end near the ankle.
Her newest skirt is really pants, a fool-the-eye gimmick that may not please conservative women. She also showed many of her long, fanny-hugging sweaters with skinny, Bermuda-length shorts. That's another impractical idea that many designers seem to be pushing this season. But aside from these two contrivances, almost every outfit she offers has a tranquil grace to its shaping. They're the kind of clothes in which women look and feel comfortable. Their medium weight makes them appropriate for wear most of the year in Los Angeles. And the colors--plenty of white along with black and pastels--are not seasonal, either.
Rykiel offers a variety of ankle-length and top-of-the shoe pants, which range from straight leg to wide. None of them are skintight.
Issey Miyake is another giant who follows his own muse. One of the most talented fabric designers in the world, he presented a show that looked more like an art collection than a style parade. His colors and prints are so delicate, pretty and unusual that they almost make you forget they are meant to be worn rather than looked at.
Miyake's models were swathed, draped and cloaked in all sorts of baggy, enveloping garments for which the Japanese school of fashion is famous. But many of these items peeled down to exquisitely printed cotton jersey body stockings beneath. This pairing of a skinny fit under a voluminous garment in some instances made the models look like sylphs about to be airborne. It is not an easy look for most women to wear.
But the show was brilliant, progressing from the oversized, wrap-and-drape look to a more controlled and lean look. Miyake gave shape to an oversized, white cotton dress, for example, by confining it under an asymmetrical, low-slung light blue cotton jumper. He also showed long, vast, cowl-neck white cotton shirts with tights, miniskirts with leggings and a floor-length hooded cocoon woven of what the program said was 22-karat gold.
Designer Karl Lagerfeld does his own thing under his own label. But for the house of Chanel, he has revived an image. And he has been so successful at it that he is reportedly paid $1 million for each Chanel collection he designs.
On Wednesday morning, buyers and press jammed the barricades at the Tuileries, eager to see what Lagerfeld had come up with. He gave them a bit more than they bargained for, providing the first juicy gossip that has circulated since these shows began. Rumors traveled through the audience that he was miffed with management and about to resign. It didn't seem likely, since all the New York and Paris-based Chanel bigwigs were in their appointed chairs, smiling contentedly, waiting for show time.
When Kitty d'Alessio, president of Chanel U.S.A., was asked about the rift, she laughed and said "Don't believe it."
Show Goes On
The show went on. It was good but not great. Trying to update Chanel is, after all, like trying to modernize the Bible. There is only so far one can stray from the Scripture.
Lagerfeld's major contribution to Chanel for spring is probably the small, pleated peplum. This may seem trivial to folks who spend their fashion dollars in all the usual places. But to those who shop at the Chanel boutique on Rodeo Drive, and can catalogue every nuance of change since Mademoiselle Chanel herself designed the collection, the peplum is an event--a departure from tradition. It showed up on some suits, on a black, strapless, belted, short sheath and on a long, black, strapless, shirred-bosom, skinny gown.
There were other departures, as well. Lagerfeld went light on the familiar braid trimmings, invented a curvier suit silhouette and offered lighter-weight fabrics, such as cotton poplin and jersey. He even presented a long, loose, duster that looked terrific over pants or short dresses. The crowd loved the show. They applauded mightily. But in the biggest departure from tradition of all, Monsieur Lagerfeld did not come out and take a bow to acknowledge their appreciation. Thus, the rumor mill started up all over again.