PARIS — The final days of spring designer showings here were filled with highs and lows and a significant amount of intrigue.
Sonia Rykiel's show was a high. The red-haired designer has reverted to a small and curvy silhouette featuring natural shoulders, rib-tickling sweaters and suit jackets, and skirts meant for women on the move. Her slim skirts often have hemlines that curve up at the rear, making the back slightly shorter than the front. This is a new little twist that shows up at other design houses, too. But Rykiel equips hers with the 1980s equivalent of a kick pleat. It is a low-insert of flaring fabric that gives a perky look to the hemline and allows a woman to take long strides.
Other skirts dip longer in back than in front. Either way, Rykiel's business suits and sporty outfits in black, white and brights were extremely well received. Bullocks Wilshire fashion director Rosemarie Troy said, "There's a sauciness going on in fashion and Rykiel has perfectly captured the mood." Herb Fink, who owns the Rykiel boutique in Beverly Hills, was also at the show.
Azzedine Alaia, considered the hottest property in the avant-garde fashion world, did not fare so well. Four days before his show, the fashion trade publication Women's Wear Daily ran an article called "The Rise and Fall of Azzedine Alaia." The paper reported that "the tiny, non-English-speaking Tunisian" has alienated American retailers with such antics as ignoring a dinner date with Bergdorf Goodman's management because the restaurant refused to let his little dog Patapouf come in.
Worse yet, on the day Alaia scheduled three shows in his small studio, a general strike all but paralyzed Paris, forcing him to cancel one show. But Alaia's friends and retail contacts rallied around, packing the showroom for the other two shows and applauding mightily every time a model came into view.
Alaia's spring collection ranged from the impractical to the divine. His short, body-clutching dresses are so tight that only bodies beautiful such as Alaia clients Tina Turner and Grace Jones could wear them gracefully. The sublime showed up in wearable shapes so pure, they were almost Grecian in design. Shirts shaped somewhat like the classic LaCoste, only longer and looser, fell gently over gathered skirts that ended above the knee and were perfect in length and proportion.
Alaia's beachwear was brilliant, featuring dark brown velour bolero jackets with print lining and drawstring necklines and swimsuits made street worthy by the addition of chiffon circle skirts that tied on like aprons. Leather shorts and a khaki poplin shorts-suit were so classic, they looked positively preppie. His trench coat dresses with circle skirts and wheat-color leather jackets, had some of the most beautiful shaping seen in Paris this season.
An executive of Filene's in Boston said Alaia is an "image setter" for the store and that the clothes continue to sell. Charles Gallay, who owns the Alaia shop in Beverly Hills, told an audience member that he will open a new shop on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where he will sell clothes by Alaia and by Romeo Gigli of Milan.
Spirits were high as some of the world's most prestigious retailers hopped cabs and chauffeured limousines to see the Valentino show, held in a Bois de Boulogne pavilion out of deference to those who feared terrorism in the Louvre tents. Valentino's program said he dedicated the show to world peace. He even had a dove fly out from under a model's hat to prove it. But after so many days of seeing mobile clothes for modern women, Valentino's long, garden-party silk prints and broad-shouldered, belted suit jackets seemed somewhat out of touch with the times.
His below-the-knee-length, gently flaring skirts with solid or argyle sweaters were very graceful and his colors magnificently bright. But the mood of those leaving the show had visibly deflated compared to when they walked in.
The lowest ebb of all came at Yves Saint Laurent's collection, where he showed some very elegant little two-piece knit dresses at what seemed like an auspicious start. But aside from his corselet-style denim tops and strapless evening dresses with pouffed or ruffled short skirts, it was all downhill from there. A seemingly endless variety of silk prints with almost no shape at all were sashed like sacks at the waist. Many in the audience looked depressed at this show, and it was especially sad for those who had visited the retrospective exhibit of Saint Laurent's brilliant previous work now on view at the Louvre.
Things Are Changing
Traditionally, the Saint Laurent show marks the end of the season's collections. But things are changing in the fashion world, and for many, the show of Patrick Kelly a few hours later was an event not to be missed.