PARIS — A standing ovation for Yves Saint Laurent and whistles, bravos and the stamping of lady-like feet for Hubert de Givenchy ended one of the strongest haute couture seasons in years.
"A wonderful week," said Liza Minnelli, who had a front-row seat at all the major shows. "Couture is a real art form," she added, while racing backstage to congratulate Givenchy.
For Rose Marie Bravo--the chairman and chief executive officer of I. Magnin and Bullocks Wilshire who has been attending the shows with her senior vice president, Andrea Jung--"It was a week filled with thought-provoking, stimulating ideas. The Saint Laurent collection was the fashion experience of a lifetime. The absolute ultimate."
Ellin Saltzman, Saks Fifth Avenue's senior vice president and fashion director, said: "It's been a strong couture week, putting everything into perspective. There's no longer a length controversy, and pants, while out there, were certainly not overemphasized."
The couture was at its most authoritative at Yves Saint Laurent, where skirt lengths were always just above the knee. Pants were thrown in casually, the way any woman would add them to her wardrobe. They were often shown with sweaters, and often under raincoats.
In front of an audience that included France's first lady, Danielle Mitterrand, as well as Catherine Deneuve, Paloma Picasso, Blaine Trump, Patricia Kennedy and Minnelli, Saint Laurent pulled off what he described after the show as: "My best collection in years."
The classic Y.S.L. suits, in the past tailored often in mannish pinstripes or checks, are cut for fall in bright woolens that make them look totally new. There's a mustard flannel number with a one-button jacket and a back-wrapped skirt. And a violet flannel with double rows of gold buttons on the elongated jacket, worn over an amethyst satin blouse.
Many suits were shown with ribbed, wool tights in another color, and suede "Pilgrim" shoes in what was often the fifth or sixth shade in one outfit.
Inspired by Grape Harvest
Between the designer's colorful day looks and his extravagant evening wear was a group of 29 black and white ensembles, variations on what the French call "le smoking, " or, the tuxedo look. Saint Laurent has always considered himself the rightful heir to Coco Chanel, and he reclaimed his legacy with this group, where the strictest statements were relieved with ropes of pearls mixed with rubies and emeralds, oversized Maltese crosses, gold chain belts--in short, everything but quilted handbags.
For fall evenings, Saint Laurent and French embroiderer Lesage outdid themselves with a theme inspired by the grape harvest. Life-sized clusters of grapes trellised down the shoulder of vivid satin jackets or trailed across the hem of stiff, little evening capes.
Less showy were long chiffon dresses with bodice draping and a simple gold lame jacket over a white satin blouse and a floor length black wool skirt. "We may never see anything this perfect again," said Lynn Manulis of the Martha stores.
Hubert de Givenchy also stuck to above-the-knee lengths on Thursday, along with just enough pants to keep his private customers happy. The designer, who usually stays with tailored suits for daytime, opted for easy, wool jersey dresses this season. These are either widely belted in suede or draped through the midriff to button on the hip. Suits here, too, were of bright wool. One of the best had a scarlet wool, double-breasted jacket and slim black skirt.
Colors in Collection
Givenchy's theme for this collection was color, as in orange satin jackets on purple satin skirts; green satin short dresses sashed in fuchsia or sunshine-yellow satin draped over cyclamen satin for late day.
One long dress that had American designer Victor Costa madly sketching was the marigold satin, long-sleeved shirt cuffed in mink, sashed in brown velvet and paired with a floor length bronze taffeta full skirt.
The emphasis at Givenchy, as everywhere this season, was on simpler evening dresses. Given the amount of jewelry in other collections this week, Givenchy looked almost under-accessorized. But then, his ladies have the real things.