PARIS — It took terrorist threats to bring about much-needed changes in the organization of French fashion showings, which until now exerted a kind of terror of their own upon those who assembled here twice each year to view top designers' clothes.
For the first time in memory, a mood of serenity and safety prevails at the shows, a result of the triple-tier security precautions that now include a body frisk, two searches of purses and parcels and presentation of a passport to guarantee that each show invitation is used by the person for whom it was meant.
Representatives of some of the world's top retail clothing stores say they like the new approach, as do journalists and many of the designers themselves. Until now, most agree, the shows had been populated by too many people with no legitimate reason for being there, including zonked-out designer groupies, fashion counterfeiters equipped with cameras or sketch pads and shopkeepers who never buy the high-price clothes but simply want to know what trends are in the wind. Security, till this season, was limited to a kind of Gestapo-like crowd control, which consisted mainly of keeping the frenzied throngs behind metal barriers until moments before the show, at which time almost everyone was permitted in.
Despite the improved mood, Americans have not been highly visible at the tents, with many preferring to see the collections in designer showrooms. Small groups from Saks Fifth Avenue, Bullocks Wilshire, JW Robinson, I. Magnin, Neiman-Marcus, Torie Steele, Giorgio and Charles Gallay have been spotted at shows in the tents, and Robinson's Vice President Sarah Worman, a daily visitor to the tents so far, says she feels "absolutely no qualms" and, in fact, thinks the show organization is the best it has ever been.
The fashions being offered are certainly more wearable and realistic than in many seasons past--and therefore infinitely more commercial. The feeling of softness continues, with designers shaping and draping fabrics into flared or bubble-shaped skirts and pants. These are teamed with blouses and jackets which flare gently from the shoulder or with empire-styled, high-waisted tops that fit snugly from the waist right up to the bosom.
Skirts hover at the knee, often with perky flares at the bottom or hemlines that dip slightly lower in back or at the sides.
There are loads of long, well-tailored jackets that slide right down past the hip to cover a multitude of figure flaws. And even the shorter jackets give a width to the top portion of the body that invariably makes the bottom part look slimmer.
Claude Montana, who showed on Wednesday at the Louvre courtyard, offered a variety of these looks for career and casual wear.
His yellow, brown and black combinations include black linen jackets that swing out from the shoulders, yellow wrap jersey blouses that tie at the waist and wide brown linen pants.
Montana's more daring design efforts include a long brown linen jacket with elasticized waist that puffs out in a bubble shape to the thigh, where it ends in another elasticized band. This was shown with opaque tights for a sort of court-jester effect.
He also showed lots of short, fringed suede jackets, some elasticized just above the waist and at the bottom of long, full sleeves.
Jean Paul Gaultier's show, in a suburban Paris auditorium, was the usual zany affair, this season featuring tattooed models in an assortment of shiny stretch and rubberized clothes, often with beehive and lacquered hair. Gaultier, once considered the wild man of French fashion, delights in shows that shock. But his fashion feet are planted firmly on the ground, and a survey published this week in the French Journal du Textile ranks him as the best-selling designer in European boutiques.
Minus the theatrics, his collection offers some very commercial looks, the best being a black cutaway, princess-shape tunic that fits over a gently shaped, bubble-style skirt. He also offered long, elegant jackets over miniskirts, body-hugging, long-torso tops over bubble skirts and some honey-colored, transparent, rubberized jean jackets to wear with short gold dresses and everything else.
Thierry Mugler, who used to show in the tents outside the Louvre, switched to his own showroom this time around. The more intimate environment gave audiences a closer look at the clothes, mostly white or delicate pastels and shaped unlike his usual curvy, sex-goddess styles. In fact, they seemed straight out of the Heidi tales, with Tyrolean lacing at the front, sides and backs. Evening looks were reminiscent of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," featuring single layers of sheer pastel chiffon that floated over the very perfect bodies of models who seemed to be wearing nothing underneath. In a concession to practicality, he placed stiffened, pleated tulle panels over some of the sheer styles, thereby mitigating the X-rated effect.