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PARIS — A packed house waited Monday for the arrival of Madonna & Co. so the Chanel show could begin. The singer may be having image problems back home, but her presence at the spring-summer 1995 fashion shows here have helped keep the glamour quotient as high off the runway as on it.

An hour late--and after a rumbling dirge by impatient photographers--the show got on the road. Sans Madonna. But her influence was everywhere.

Did Karl Lagerfeld have her in mind when he whipped up a group of bondage-inspired cocktail dresses? Or when he created tiny boucle skirts that unzipped from the bottom, permitting a bird's-eye view of the models' sequined panty-covered crotches?

And there's the larger question: Are Chanel's best customers really going to leave the house in sheer black mesh gowns and glittery G-strings?

"I would," said one woman, "if they'd sell me the body to go with it." Wouldn't we all?

Lagerfeld's favorite model, Claudia Schiffer, pranced down the runway in a breathtaking array of sexy, glamorous clothes and under the watchful eye of her fiance, magician David Copperfield. The beautiful Helena Christensen was watched by her rock star boyfriend, Michael Hutchins of INXS. And, as always, Kyle MacLachlan carried the flame for Linda Evangelista--who looked as if she would have preferred to be elsewhere. (Who can blame her? Enough already.)

This much is true: There's nothing casual about a Chanel summer. A woman who cares to live the fantasy wears a sequined bikini, a spray of glitter on her buttocks, rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses and four-inch-high patent leather mules. Sort of gives new meaning to the term "beach bunny."

As usual, the Chanel accessories for spring are irreverent and self-mocking: white leather driving gloves with the double C logo, rhinestone anklets and square quilted handbags. Most outrageous of all, though, were the shoes. Especially the two-tone patent leather gillies, in lemon and fuchsia.

Although the house pays tribute to its long dead founder, Chanel is one of only a few forward-looking collections to be shown here. Lagerfeld emphasized the point musically by playing the theme from "Star Trek."

A song that better summed up the diverse ideas about feminine beauty exhibited during the past seven days was played at no fewer than three fashion shows:

If everybody knew what they wanted.

People would see with clarity.

If everybody knew what they wanted.

There'd be no suffering.

And judging by the collections, the indecision has only just begun.

With the end of the century in sight, designers have shifted into a retrospective mode. So while hemlines have dropped and daytime dressing has gone dressy, everything else about next season's clothes is all over the chronological map.

Hollywood sirens, Gibson girls, Grecian goddesses, Elvis impersonators, corsetted wenches, disco queens and Sabrina wanna-bes have clamored for the spotlight. Only Jean Paul Gaultier managed to mix them up in a way that hinted at our retro future.

Fashion visionary Vivienne Westwood has mined historic reference for years, of course, lampooning ideas about status, class and femininity. She continued to do so this season with a widely theatrical, jam-packed collection that attracted a mob of London fans.

The corset, a staple of the season, has been part of Westwood's fashion vocabulary for the entire decade. Now, her bustle, which in the past struck many as freakish, has made its way into the most mainstream collections.

Even Hermes, known for its saddlery and scarves, finished off its show of classic sportswear with shiny, color-saturated cocktail dresses with cascading layers of fabric accentuating the derriere. And Herve Leger, maker of the form-fitting rubber-band dresses that starlets love, showed waist-nipping silhouettes that flared at the fanny with the help of dense crinolines.

The suddenly-hot-again Paco Rabanne has attracted a second generation of followers. This is partly due to a best-selling book he has written about his experiences with aliens. And partly because he's hired two very good, very young assistant designers who have returned the house of Rabanne to its original hard-edged, hardware-trimmed clothes. Bring on the chain mail.

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