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A French New Wave

Surfer scene inspires hot-weather fashions that leave the cliches behind


PARIS--The world capital of fashion has a "Blue Crush" on surfing.

Like the all-girl surfing movie that washed over screens this summer, fashion for the hot months of next year is riding a wave of ocean-inspired fashion. As nine days of nonstop fashion shows end here today, many designers endorsed the "sports" in sportswear but skipped the predictable interpretations.

The California surfer's sleek wetsuit is the latest image to inspire designers, but don't expect to see a revival of Hawaiian-print shirts and board shorts. Spring's trends are an odd assortment of military looks, romantic blouses, punk-rock accents and miniskirts and shorts. Still, the inventor of sexy, neoprene swimwear, Body Glove designer Robin Piccone of Los Angeles, should be feeling confident of her place in fashion history with these Parisian trendsetters following in her sand-and-saltwater footsteps.

When Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld sent out a finale of double-C logo surfboards, kites, swim fins and a host of rubber accessories, fashion needed no other endorsement to jump into the water. Unlike Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga earlier this week, Lagerfeld avoided literal riffs on wetsuits for daytime wear. Instead, he added the surprise of a neoprene jacket to the largely black, white and pale-pink classic sportswear. His new swimwear features cheeky, low-cut boy-shorts and a host of accessories, including rubber Chanel bags and loads of logo-stamped gear--just the thing to aid civil disputes. Maybe if swimmers toted statusy Chanel surfboards and swim fins past Malibu mogul David Geffen's property, he'd never have fought public access to the beach below his home.

Most of those tres chic deep-sea accessories will probably be on the wish lists of Chanel loyalists, said Catherine Kiek, director of the Beverly Hills boutique.

"I hope we'll get a couple of those surfboards," she said, knowing from past experience that the Chanel logo can sell everything from motorcycle helmets to furry apres-ski boots.

The sizable collection played to an international audience of buyers whose biggest challenge will be paring down the choices. They can select from ruffled micro-minis, chiffon gowns with trains and a new high-waist silhouette. After 20 years of tweaking the famous Chanel signatures, Lagerfeld hasn't run out of ways to update the collarless chenille jacket, the swags of pearls and chains and the image of Mademoiselle Coco herself. With a punk-rock bent, he put her image on medallions linked to chain belts slung low and heavy. Coco's silhouette was woven into sweaters and her face printed on the kind of round pins that punkers once stabbed through their motorcycle jackets.

Lagerfeld still cuts a lean, mean Chanel jacket, but he's not about to miss the wave of big shapes that's come ashore. With rows of tucks on each side of the hip, Lagerfeld debuted an extra-wide-leg pant and full miniskirt, along with an up-to-the-bust, high-waist pant and skirt.

Though most jackets and sweaters are narrow and trim, Lagerfeld unveiled a Chanel jacket shape with broad shoulders.

Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent also squared out the shoulders, sometimes in a neat, ladylike jacket, or even in a beaded, square-shoulder cape worthy of Liberace. It wasn't Vegas flash that Ford was after, but the surrealism of Salvador Dali, with a little help from the YSL archives and Sigmund Freud. Ford's sexual preoccupation took on a literal translation that poured right onto the surface of clothes. Jacket fronts were darted and tucked into rosette nipples, silk flowers bloomed from bust lines like giant pasties and seams outlined panty shapes on leather skirts. The blouses with an X-ray spine etched into them were fun in a Halloween kind of way.

But the question of the evening was just what makeup product colored the models' nipples purple, brown or black, which were then intentionally framed by plunging, off-kilter necklines? (Paint, we're told.) Is that why "Purple Haze" rang throughout the show? Though the trapunto stitching that swirled into bosoms on a mauve satin coat was wonderfully wicked, it is the designer equivalent of the classic Harley-Davidson T-shirt that reads, "Put something exciting between your legs." Not subtle, and surely Ford can do better.

At least Ford charted a new direction for the sex obsession that has seen latex skirts, bondage-strap pants, fetish-worthy high heels and bold lingerie pop up on many runways here. If it's latex you want, West Hollywood, not Rodeo Drive, is your destination.

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