PARIS — Couturiers showing their fall-winter collections here this week had a hard act to follow with everyone still raving about Christian Lacroix's sensational couture debut on Sunday.
The challenge was particularly difficult for Marc Bohan, Christian Dior designer since 1960, as both Dior and Lacroix are financed by the Agache group.
Bohan, however, managed to deliver one of his surest collections in several seasons, in front of a packed house that included Bernadette Chirac, wife of the French prime minister; French nightclub owner Regine; Bohan's daughter, Marianne; Countess Marina de Brantes; Houston socialite Lynne Wyatt and Lady Grace Dudley.
Minutes after the show ended, Dior client Wyatt was backstage pulling her favorite numbers. "I loved Dior," Wyatt said, "because it was so wearable and pretty."
She also zeroed in on the fashion revolution that has been happening on the Paris runways these past three days, as the short skirts the couture introduced in January get shorter daily. At Dior, and earlier in the day at Cardin and Jean Louis Scherrer, some hems inched to micromini proportions.
"Short is definitely in," Wyatt said. "But, I'm not going to wear my skirts as short as they are showing them on the runways. I didn't like my knees 20 years ago, and I like them even less now."
Skirts Getting Shorter
"Short is fine but too short isn't," commented Ellin Saltzman, senior vice president and fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue.
At Dior, Bohan consistently kept the hems of his slim straight skirts at least four inches above the knee. Even his swingy tent coats bared knee. Often hems were edged in sable or chinchilla, part of the couture's obsession with fur trim this season.
Bohan had two strong suit stars: short, fitted, high-buttoning jackets in menswear plaids and stripes for days; in satin for evening. Or, a chic, back-buckled version of a motorcyclist's blouson, most vibrant in cyclamen-colored quilted satin and worn with a slim black satin skirt.
There was a hint of the '40s in the jersey Rosie-the-Riveter turbans topped with felt doughnut-like hats; in the fur trim edging even the long trailing stoles; in the pale sheer stockings and the movie-star glamour of the printed taffeta hostess dresses.
Of all the couture houses in Paris, Dior definitely does the biggest business with private customers, selling, according to Bohan, more than 2,000 pieces last year.
Day three of the collections saw two more standing ovations--for Emanuel Ungaro and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel.
As Lynn Manulis, president of Martha's shops said: "It's been one of the most exciting weeks in fashion in years. There's energy, spirit. The couture is very much alive. The mood is extravagant, luxurious, glamorous and elegant and will have enormous repercussions for the entire world of fashion."
Judy Kroll of Henri Bendel was equally enthusiastic. "The collections are very inspirational, with lots of fantasy that can certainly translate into ready-to-wear. More is definitely more this season."
On stage, there was lots of fashion excitement too as Lagerfeld continued to refine the idiom of the Chanel suit to a new spareness and sleekness. The handsomest were the bi-colored wool tweed suits in forest green or navy and black, with jackets and skirts color-blocked vertically. Even Lagerfeld's huge, felt cartwheel hats for daytime were half one color, half the other. With these suits, the newest Chanel accessories: chokers, not ropes of pearls; leather strapped, boxy quilted shoulder bags and soup-plate-size black-and-white camellias.
Other day suits were horizontally banded in color instead of edged in braid. The newest jacket: a snug, small-shouldered cardigan edged in grosgrain or satin ribbon and stopping just at the waist. Skirts were gently rounded at the hip for what Lagerfeld called his "egg" shape. Lengths: short with the length of leg exaggerated by high-heel patent leather pumps.
The evening portion of the collection wandered from Chantilly lace hot pants to beaded short dresses inspired by the decor of the Theatre Royale in the Chateau de Versailles, and then to explosions of satin or taffeta, cut into one of the season's signature strapless or sweetheart necklines--often with a skirt short in front and trailing into a ribbon-bedecked train.
Black velvet, satin and chiffon dominated, frequently mixed with royal blues, reds and greens.
Ungaro's collection was equally extravagant, with the triple-ruffled collars, hula hoop ruffles bursting well above the knees, hip ruffles and flounces going from day through evening.
"So many details," one store executive moaned, while an American fashion editor said: "It's like eating too much whipped cream." Ungaro, so far, is the only Paris couturier to continue width through the shoulders.
But never mind. Ungaro's fans loved every minute of it. And the beauty of some of his creations--especially the gold-lace cardigan banded in fuchsia satin, with a slim black-velvet skirt re-embroidered with roses--pardoned any number of excesses.