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THE FALL COLLECTIONS / PARIS

Valley of the Dolls

The Exuberant Dior Collection Celebrates Everywoman From Starlet to Nightclub Hostess

March 13, 1997|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

PARIS — Leg men, rejoice. Your time has come. Or it will next fall, if American women go for the itty-bitty skirts seen on runways here in the first wave of 90 fashion shows to be presented over 10 days.

In his debut ready-to-wear collection for Christian Dior, John Galliano nostalgically celebrated over-the-top glamour girls, naming portions of the collection after species within the genus pinup. There were little sweetheart pinups; haughty, smoldering and venomous pinups; even bohemian muse pinups.

A parade of Technicolor Vargas girls slinked through Shinto arches in an Asian art museum, vamping for the audience in skirts short enough to occasionally expose rear cleavage. Although mixed cultural metaphors lent a lunatic costume party feel to the line, Galliano worked mostly in an Asian mode (with nods to '40s and '50s Hollywood).

Variations on the traditional cheongsam fastened with so many tiny silk buttons that the models couldn't get them all closed before rushing out to the runway on towering suede wedgies.

And what variations! A red silk dress, printed with little imperial yellow daisies, fell from a tall, pearl-encrusted mandarin collar, an asymmetric road of silk buttons holding it close to the body. Its short skirt exploded, ballooning over organdy petticoats.

Even if the heavily rouged and red lacquer-lipped model's pompadour and rolled pageboy hadn't added to the drama, Galliano's rich banquet of details made the clothes more like couture than ready-to-wear. He piled on passementerie fringing and chantilly lace, trimmed hems and sleeves with antique silver balls, and covered shawl collars in lilac-dyed mink.

Imagine the boxy Lady Dior handbag in aqua velvet, festooned with tassels and fringe, and you have a clue to Galliano's exuberant style. In these clothes, one could take on the day dolled-up like a postwar starlet or greet the dawn masquerading as a '20s Shanghai nightclub hostess. In a way, wouldn't it be fun if women really dressed like this, and isn't it nice they don't have to?

But assuming the house of Dior hired the madly talented Galliano away from Givenchy because it's in the business of selling clothes, one has to wonder what the designer offered customers who don't live in front of a camera. Quite a bit, actually.

Galliano took the famous pinched-waist, peplumed Dior jacket, fashioned it in pastel-colored basketweave wool, lengthened it and sometimes made it double-breasted. Although he showed the shapely jackets over miles of bare legs, real women will wear them over matching skirts or trousers, happy to have an alternative to Chanel's popular jackets.

The designer can still deliver the sensuous, bias-cut evening dresses too. Given high side slits and exquisite Chinese-inspired embroidery, the satin gowns trailed generous trains like the assured entrance-makers they were.

*

Although no scientific studies have been conducted, the creative side of Karl Lagerfeld's brain is undoubtedly twice the size of most people's. "Lagerfeld is remarkable," said Jade Hobson Charnin, fashion editor of New York magazine. "I've never seen anyone produce such a constant flow of new ideas." Indeed, he creates the Fendi fur collection, his own Lagerfeld line, Chloe and, of course, Chanel.

At the Chanel show, the models climbed to the peak of an arched bridge, then teetered down a slope toward the sardine pit of photographers. Many of the clothes had a simpler, cleaner edge than those seen in recent collections, defined by broad, square padded shoulders and short, slick A-line skirts.

Black or navy wool crepe suits featured flattering fitted jackets that narrowed at the midriff and waist before curving over the hips. No gold buttons or jewels in sight--just discreet zippers hidden under ribbed seams.

For the Chanel customer who likes her clothes a little tricky, multicolored sweater coats and jackets were paired with short leather skirts. The less successful segment of the collection included Tyrolean embroidery and bright felt and wool cutouts appliqued on jackets or dresses. What sophisticated woman wants to look like Heidi?

Seeing shoulder pads, those misbegotten relics of '80s style, it is easy to remember why we grew to loathe them. Unless constructed properly they tend to bunch up, giving the appearance of an unhealthy appendage. The best shoulders at Chanel stood tough and square, but a few were lumpy, the pads unattractively obvious. The mean trick that designers play on women who keep their clothes too long is tweaking an idea like the shoulder pad just enough to make earlier incarnations look all wrong.

As legend would have it, Coco Chanel's celebrity grew because she was the kind of woman who could borrow an ordinary French navy man's pullover, then drape her neck with pearls to make the whole thing impossibly chic. That spirit permeated a group of slouchy pantsuits that opened the Chanel show.

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