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Paris Fashions Follow the Dollar Signs to Success

October 23, 1986|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Fashion Editor

PARIS — The pace has picked up considerably here as more of the world's fashion big shots brave Louvre tents, more Parisians brave the streets and more of the world's top designers present their versions of spring style.

At the best shows, the atmosphere has been young, fun and rich. In fact, given a certain greedy perspective, it is possible to imagine dollar signs popping from pockets of the more commercial outfits that models wore down the runway and glinting in the eyes of sober-suited businessmen and -women who, more and more, seem to frequent these shows.

Second Thoughts

Those who think that the twice-yearly fashion triathlon (Milan, London, Paris) is irrelevant except for retailers who cater to the rich had better think again.

Big business and big money are increasingly the name of the fashion game. The world's changing economic realities and way of life dictate a change in the way the fashion industry is run.

Karl Lagerfeld, who showed his collection for Chanel on Monday, is the best case in point. Lagerfeld, who reportedly rakes in $6 million per year of personal income, recently said that his two signature lines of clothes, produced in the United States and Europe by Bidermann Industries, account for a negligible portion of that income. His fees for designing the Chanel and Fendi lines, however, are more than $1 million each. And in both cases, his personal liability is non-existent. His only responsibility is to design the lines and collect the fees.

Rejuvenation of Chanel

Whatever Chanel pays him, he's worth it. He has rejuvenated the name of the house of Chanel, giving it a youthful image that even two 20-year-olds from Kansas (who tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the show) can understand. They say they have visited the Chanel boutique in Paris constantly since they've come here, waiting for the day they can afford his clothes. They can and do buy Chanel No. 5 perfume, the classic old-line fragrance.

Scented With Wit

Lagerfeld showed clothes these kids would love. Strapless, short trim denims with white pique bands across the chest, sweater-like jackets with push-up sleeves, quilted cotton short baseball jackets in a primary color print over black sequinned minidresses--all with the exact exuberance of the era we're in, where everybody wants to look healthy and stylish but few people take fashion very seriously anymore. Lagerfeld certainly has a sense of humor about it all. He showed, for example, a shiny black evening suit totally sequinned in a pattern that looked like quilting. The jacket was open to reveal a simple white cotton T-shirt that read Chanel No. 5.

His disco dress has a sequinned bodice that simulates the look of the Chanel handbag. And his version of the popular fringed Western-style suede jacket is in black leather, but with black ruffled lace where the fringe would normally be.

Classical Suits

Among all this wittiness are enough classical suits to satisfy those who want more conservative Chanel style. But not even the suits are sacred. His newest version buttons down the front but one side of the jacket is squared off at the bottom, the other side is curved and hangs lower. This, no doubt, is Lagerfeld's comment on the Japanese designers who specialize in asymmetrical looks.

Back to money. Chanel invested heavily on the day of the show, coming out with a four-page, full-color advertising supplement in the International Herald Tribune. It featured essays by Roger Vadim on perfume, by Diana Vreeland on Madame Chanel and articles about the new TV ad campaign directed by the award-winning British film maker Ridley Scott, who masterminded "The Duellists," "Blade Runner" and "Alien."

An '80s Face Launch

The multimillion-dollar ad campaign stars Chanel's new face for the '80s, Carole Bouquet, who was presented at the Lagerfeld show while models dressed like newsgirls handed out copies of the Tribune.

Here too the dollar was evident. Chanel presented the audience with copies of the Tribune, with one difference. That day's regular issue carried a lead article on rebel warfare in Manila, but the show's promotional edition contained a picture of Bouquet in its place.

Chain of Stores

Another way to make a killing in fashion these days is to do what Italy's Giorgio Armani has done: start a chain of retail stores that offer moderate-priced copies of the designer's higher-priced styles. Armani's Emporios are a big hit in Europe and will soon open in the United States.

Even the most brilliant designers can eke out only a decent living if all they do is sell their costly ready-to-wear to the world's upper-crust fashion stores. But they can earn multiple millions by linking up with a firm that produces something the masses can afford.

Wexner's Secret

They can, for example, link up with someone like Leslie H. Wexner, whose Ohio-based stores, The Limited and Victoria's Secret, reportedly have sold $3.5 billion worth of women's apparel so far this year. Wexner, whose shops already sell moderate-priced clothes by Kenzo and Krizia, turned up at the Enrico Coveri show in the Louvre tent this week and pronounced Coveri "an important designer."

Wexner checked out of Paris without revealing whether he would ask Coveri to be the next designer featured in his stores. Coveri's clothes for spring are simple, sexy and colorful, with lots of emphasis on natural body shape.

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