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THE SPRING COLLECTIONS / PARIS : Tres Sleek

October 13, 1994|DEBRA GENDEL / TIMES FASHION EDITOR

PARIS — Like a scene from the horror classic "Night of the Living Dead," clusters of somber, pale-skinned wraiths, their eyes ablaze, latch onto people arriving at this week's spring '95 fashion shows. "Please, mad ame," pleads one of the young groupies, "do you have an extra ticket?"

Few of the journalists and buyers here do. Invitations to one of the 75-plus shows, which started Monday and continue through next Tuesday, are painstakingly allocated and slipped mysteriously under hotel room doors each day--to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

Still, ticket-hungry hipsters managed to crash Monday's Dries Van Noten show at the Hotel George V and Tuesday evening's presentation of the Ann Demeulemeester collection at the Ecole de Beaux Arts. All for the chance to see slightly demented, impeccably tailored clothes that graze the knee and look so ladylike that models must rue the day they got tattoos. (Nose and navel rings have vanished.)

"Highly groomed" is how Karl Lagerfeld describes the trend. "Femininity, glamour, never really went anywhere," he said, fanning himself backstage at Le Carrousel du Louvre after the unveiling of his pretty-girl collection for Chloe. "It just changes its form. It evolves."

So, deconstructionist Demeulemeester does a speed-metal version of Jil Sander. Junko Shimada reinvents the sun dress, with a '60s spin to mercifully stamp out last year's granny gown. Van Noten sends out his version of Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day and Joan Crawford in muted pastels.

And, as always, the audience wears black.

In a setting where your daily paper--the International Herald Tribune--comes "Compliments from Giorgio Armani" and speculation over whether Madonna will model at the Jean Paul Gaultier show on Friday dominates conversation, some things never change. And when change does happen, at least on the runway, it is immediately digested by journalists with laptop computers and tiny video playback monitors and served up as trends, such as:

Most Criminal Styles Perpetrated on Models by Designers: Neck corsets, courtesy of Rifat Ozbek; toplessness for toplessness' sake at Ann Demeulemeester (is there such a thing as collective embarrassment?); the transformation of the now-red-haired Kristen McMenamy from Angular Enigma to a high-fashion version of Nurse Ratched in Claude Montana's white shirtwaist dress, white stockings, white Famolare-style platforms. Colonic irrigation, anyone?

Soundtrack Selections: The fashion world's current fascination with disco has apparently stopped at the Italian border. Instead, designers such as Karl Lagerfeld envision their customers bouncing along to Archie Bell & the Drells' "Tighten Up." ("We not only sing, but we dance just as good as we walk.") Claude Montana choreographed his glamorous show at a theater-in-the-round near the Bastille to "The Marriage of Figaro," prompting photographers to warble "Figaro, Figaro, Fi-ga-ro!" at the top of their lungs.

Moment in the Sun: Nadja Auermann has been burning a hole in the runway with her intensity, not to mention her stiletto heels--from which her little toe keeps popping out. "Nadja! Nadja!" the photographers yell. She amiably returned their attention with one supervixen pose after another. Bridget Hall's chest-thrusting walk and pouty mouth have been greeted with appreciative groans and wolf whistles, reminders that the photographers are mostly straight and that the best clothes (wearable, discreet, untheatrical) go unphotographed.

Most Thought-Provoking Accessories: Bracelets-cum-flotation devices at Claude Montana; licorice-whip ties hanging from nearly every piece in the Rifat Ozbek collection; a navy-and-white polka-dot scarp that obscured the head of a model at Dior.

Freshest Clothes: Junko Shimada, a name unfamiliar to most Americans, showed a line of alternately spare and witty dresses that come the closest so far to what women in Los Angeles like to wear when it's hot.

No, Really: Except in the collections of such fashion purists as Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester, shoulder pads are creeping back into jackets, blouses, dresses and jump suits. Rifat Ozbek made them obvious, in neon orange or covered with sequins. Did they ever disappear from Claude Montana's line? Anyway, the padding seems to balance the longer skirts, and it either looks very '80s a la Montana or very '40s. Of course, some women never gave them up.

Celebrity Sightings: Last season, the Paris shows were packed with celebrities, thanks to the filming of Robert Altman's forthcoming fashion satire, "Pret-a-Porter." But so far, the only star to stop by has been Sophia Loren, front-row center at Gianfranco Ferre's line for Christian Dior. This season, the designers and their clothes have to generate their own star power and there's a distinct sense among fashion veterans here that Altman would be welcome back--soon.

* Next: The collections of Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.

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