PARIS — It's hard to keep a low profile if your petticoats rustle and your skirt is wired in dimensions too wide to fit through the door.
But fashion has a life of its own, and as spring showings got under way here Wednesday night, it was clear that terrorist problems in Paris have not dampened the spirits of those who create this city's most sought-after clothes.
The collections of Kenzo, Comme des Garcons, and Yohji Yamamoto were jubilant in shape and mood--an especial irony for the much-reduced audience of retailers and press who had just been patted down by police at the door for hidden weapons, while their briefcases were electronically penetrated with a bomb-detection device.
The city of Paris right now is like a person with mild flu; not quite sick enough to cease all activity, but cautious enough to stay close to home.
The street people are off the street, restaurants and shops are deserted by all but a fearless few. Even the usually bustling public spaces, like the area of Les Halles, have a cavernous quiet punctuated only by the constant comings and goings of incendiary detective squads in little cream-colored vans.
The Chambre Syndicale, which organizes the bi-annual fashion shows here, claims that U.S. buyer attendance is up over last year, though they haven't produced any figures to prove it.
In the tents at the Louvre, Kenzo started the season with three consecutive shows on Wednesday afternoon and evening, each one set up cabaret style. Instead of a sardine-packed audience of 3,000, candle-lit tables for five were dotted around the floor for a total audience of 300 to 400 people per show. Only four or five photographers were permitted, after intensive searches of their equipment.
Blouses and jackets were simple and shapely, with definite emphasis on pants and skirts that were side-draped, gathered, pouched and flounced in various ways.
As in London and Milan, springtime in Paris will definitely be a season of outfits with inventively soft bottom halves. The lightest-weight knits, jerseys, silks, taffetas, rayons and laces are shaped into fluid gathers, ruffles, bustles, puffs and folds that seem to propel the wearers into more graceful movements than they would otherwise make. Far from being cumbersome, they look as if they would be very liberating to wear.
Fabric waistbands are becoming passe in favor of a relatively new process in which the skirt fabric is ruched with elastic, providing perfect, stretchy fit at waistline or hips.
Kenzo's hip-slung sarong skirts, for example, have what look like more than one foot of elasticized fabric between the waist and the hips, falling from there into soft, drapey folds. Kenzo's colors include black, white, some brights and a series of huge, pale flowers on dark grounds.
Rai Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons continued the stretchy mood with elasticized shirring across the back and sides of sundresses and jackets and on the waistlines of skirts and pants.
You've heard of high-top sneakers?
Kawakubo majors in high-top skirts. They are corset-like affairs, often of denim, that girdle the body from just under the bosom to below the hips. These, along with high-top pants and semi-dresses, are usually shown with thin, cotton T-shirts in white or black that tuck in snugly.
On the low end of the scale, Kawakubo puts fullness at the bottom of skirts by pleating or draping them into newfangled, puffy shapes. She adds width to one miniskirt by stiffening the hem so it stands straight out. From a tailored taffeta jacket, she drops puffed-out side-saddle pockets long enough to touch the bottom of clam-digger pants.
If it's whimsy you're after, nothing can beat what looks like a huge sleeve hanging from the hipline of a dress. It doesn't just dangle, it sticks straight out like a windsock, thanks to a wire hoop that keeps it open at all times. This designer has fulfilled her usual quota of asymmetric pieces flopping out everywhere. But the overall impression of her collection conforms to the general trend: narrow and form-fitting at top, bottomed out with lots of fullness, puffiness and flare.
Her fabrics are amazing. A thin, beige, gauzy cotton-knit suit looks like lace, because it is appliqued with continuous squiggles of hem-finishing tape in the same color and fabric as the suit.
Happy Mood and Crowd
Yohji Yamamoto keeps the mood and the crowd happy with his "damn the torpedos" clothes. Loose, short cropped yellow-and-white plaid tops float over bare midriffs and side-swagged, hip-hugger skirts of black-and-white plaid. Pinstriped, tailored jackets are impeccably normal except for the fact that they often have two different sleeves-- one puffed and one tailored.
A slim, brown, double-breasted coatdress looks traditional except from the rear, where fabric is swagged like Venetian draperies from one hip to the other.
Yamamoto's most extraordinary dress features the major silhouette of the season--the one that's sure to spread from Europe to Pasadena, Palos Verdes and beyond. This version features a long, black, torso-hugging, strapless knit tube top attached to a shimmering, bronzed gauze skirt that is wired to stand away from the body in a graceful sort of bell.
After only three shows in Paris, it is possible to understand why retailers would risk danger in order to scan these clothes that few of their customers can afford. The specifics of the items are not important. But the trends definitely are.
Even in Southern California, where residents are more likely concerned with whether the surf and stock markets are up, rather than waistlines, it will be difficult to ignore the impact of elasticized everything for a more comfortable fit. And a new silhouette that gives a more sculptural feeling to clothes.