PARIS — Except for the high-rise hemline the big news here is that there is no news. This city, traditionally the world's fashion pacesetter, is limping along for fall.
Buyers troop from show to show, hoping for that foot-stomping, heart-throbbing feeling that translates into consumer sales. But no feet have stomped and few hearts have throbbed. Except for Issey Miyake's show, which thrilled many in the audience, the traditional boffo box-office design stars have failed to excite. Spring shows held here six months ago were far more intriguing, and this week's offerings for fall seem pale continuations of the same. Worse yet, the whole setup of these Paris fashion shows seems suddenly passe. The idea of waiting up to an hour for each show to begin, then watching models parade on a distant stage, usually to the accompaniment of old Hit Parade tunes, is beginning to pall for many buyers and press who didn't seem to mind the wait when shows turned out to be more exciting.
After waiting a bit more than an hour for a show to begin the other morning, Women's Wear Daily Publisher John Fairchild walked out before it started. He probably had a pressing appointment. Many U.S. retailers, whose budgets are as tight as their schedules, also say these shows don't provide a long enough (or a close enough) look at the clothes for them to make an intelligent appraisal. The real work of purchasing is done during arduous hours in a designer's studio after the show. And if an overall view of each designer's work is in order, these buyers say they would prefer to watch it on videotape in a hotel room.
Despite all this down-talk, retailers are not unhappy with the overall French ready-to-wear scene. In fact, some predict a long-term increase in sales of these expensive clothes, as more and more women achieve high professional status and begin to recognize the image-enhancing value of smart tailoring.
In fact, Nordstrom is reportedly planning to carry European ready-to-wear in great depth at two new stores it is opening in the Washington, D.C., area and to increase the depth of European ready-to-wear stock in West Coast outlets. And some specialty shop executives, here for fall shows, say they already see their customer profile slowly changing. Instead of just rich businessmen's wives, heiresses and entertainment figures, their client list is expanding to include female corporate executives, legislators, dentists, doctors and lawyers.
Issey Miyake, for one, has such a following. His show was one of the season's best.
Working in pale, lustrous, monotone color schemes, which Miyake says were inspired by the colors of stones, the designer shapes suede, sweater knits, jerseys, stretch wool, stretch flannel and stretch corduroy into narrow shoulder jackets and coats that follow the body line but fall free of it. These were shown over short skirts, divided skirts, pants patterned on jogging or golfing styles, all with legwear in the same shades. The visual effect of these one-color, softly shaped outfits (in pale grays, beiges, peach, green and blue) is one of commanding simplicity and ease.
One rather long, flowing jersey dress derives its shape simply by wrapping a volume of fabric around the body, front to back, and buttoning it on the opposite hip. An amazing, puffy, reversible coat is of featherweight napa leather on one side, nylon that looks like silk on the other. The two sides zip apart, so that either can be worn alone. And the entire garment fits into a zippered pocket contained in the nylon part of the coat. It will retail for about $2,600 in the United States, as will Miyake's synthetic mink and beaver coat, which may look better to animal lovers than the real thing. Miyake, working with Rado, a Japanese chemical firm, places fabric development and new technology high on his list of priorities. It is possible, his spokeswoman Jun Kanai said, that soon new manufacturing methods will enable the designer to make a collection without benefit of needle and thread.
Karl Lagerfeld's fall collection for his own label looked appropriate for this new executive market. Along with the season's ubiquitous minis, micro-minis and long tunic sweaters worn with tights, he showed handsome jumpsuits, pant suits, and skirted suits, all with impeccably tailored jackets, many of which had peplums. These were in checks, bright solid colors, or red or blue pinstripes on gray flannel. Evening wear included strapless, side-buttoned princess-line coat dresses, simple navy chiffons and some wonderful take-offs on men's tuxedo styles. One black jacket with satin shawl collar could be worn with a slim matching skirt as a cocktail suit, or with a short, tiered black organdy dress for more dressy occasions.
Lagerfeld's show for Chanel was long and unfocused. But the designer's usual nuggets of genius kept popping up among the dozens of different styles.