PARIS — Forget the hemline issue. After a weekend of spring showings by the French designers whose genius still fuels the entire fashion world, it's clear that most dresses iS. stores for spring--no matter where they are made--will be a few inches shorter than they were last year.
But length is not the crucial issue here. It's merely part of the new proportion presented by the Paris dream weavers, who have decided to liberate women's legs and raise the focal point of style to an area somewhere between the shoulders and the waist.
Even pants outfits--and there are many here--are designed so that the viewer's eye is drawn to the top of the torso rather than the bottom. Waistlines are high on almost everything, including summer shorts. And necklines are low.
Christian Lacroix, who changed the course of fashion with his doll-shaped custom clothes three months back, will have his formal spring showings today. But for some days he has been previewing his collection, called Luxe, to small groups of retailers and journalists. It is overwhelmingly pretty, witty and gay. And after viewing 53 outfits with microscopic skirts, one really gets the feeling that a miniaturized America is on the way.
From the brilliant colors and lavishly ruffled and ruched details to the wasp-waist torsos and tiny tulle-buttressed skirts, Lacroix's is a look that stands apart. His small, zippered jackets snuggle down to the waist, where they marry invisibly with thigh-high full or slim skirts. The emphasis is on a tiny rib cage, a tinier middle and rounded hips.
Some slim skirts take long jackets with sleeves puffed at the shoulders but narrow from there to the wrist. Dazzling solid shades of fuchsia, yellow, red, green and purple alternate with bright, huge flower prints. Frills, embroidery, dots and squiggles decorate damask silk, linen, taffeta, organza and lace. Lacroix will launch his line Nov. 4 at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills.
Tears of Delight
Jean-Paul Gaultier's show Friday night brought cheers and even some tears of delight from an audience that began in an irritable snit because the show was an hour late. The payoff was worth the wait, many retailers later agreed.
The smartly tailored long jackets for which Gaultier is famous have turned into minidresses or rompers for spring. In double-breasted pin stripe styles, they have wide necklines and long shiny satin or iridescent taffeta lapels. The jackets contour over the body and end a few inches below the rump. They were shown with wide leg trousers and sheer chiffon skirts for those who refuse to bare too much leg.
Some long jackets were cut off at the top to bare the shoulders, which were swathed in silk scarfs for a portrait neckline effect. Other jackets had sleeves and part of the bodice cut off, leaving the lapels to form a halter neckline.
In the most radical surgery of all, Gaultier cut the entire jacket from shoulders to just below the bust. Bras or little chiffon shrugs covered the models' shoulders and bosoms, below which the remainder of the jacket curved over the hips above wide-leg pants.
Gaultier's look, despite the gimmicks, is being hailed as his softest, prettiest and most wearable in years. A classic wide-lapel smoking jacket, for example, is elongated into a jump suit with flowing pants.
Lace skirts flutter below tailored tops. Chiffon, printed and tinted the colors of ancient tapestries, is shaped into aprons, jump suits and skirts. There are no brilliant colors here, no harsh shapes. It is a languid look that harks back to the '30s and '40s, with a playful nod to the future.
Most fun of all were Gaultier's rumba dresses, worn with small tilted hats with cheerful little gardens sprouting on top and birds or flowers twirling above on wires. These may not be on the average working woman's shopping list, but as one retailer said after the show: "We come here for inspiration and ideas. What we got from Gaultier could feed our souls (and our private label designers back home) for quite a while."
Thierry Mugler's African-themed show at the Museum of African Art offered another kind of drama. Scheduled immediately after the Gaultier show, it was perhaps a bit too much for the audience to ingest in a single evening.
Mugler's suits and dresses are shaped with such precision they sometimes look carved or molded rather than cut and sewn.
White linen outfits, each adorned with a single bone ornament in place of a button, were well-received, as were his chocolate brown leather peplum dresses and Capri suits. The silver and gold rings which imprisoned the models' swan-like necks and midsections were, presumably, just for runway effect.