Paris Couture Houses Outdo Each Other in Fall Collections

Times Fashion Editor

French fashion designers played "Can You Top This?" last weekend, as fall showings got down to serious business.

Karl Lagerfeld, possibly the hottest ticket in high fashion, was in the odd position of having to top himself. He showed his own collection on Saturday, his collection for Chanel on Monday.

This man obviously enjoys working overtime; his exuberance popped out everywhere.

For the Lagerfeld label, shapes were long, narrow and buoyant. Jackets and blouses dominated, lifting the eye upward from long, relaxed skirts to curvy, peplumed short jackets or longer, petal-shaped loose ones. These were often in pink, blue, red or purple, and many had tall, Mandarin collars.

Peplums and Princess Lines

Princess-line coats have long, swirling skirts, but all eyes gravitated to the shapely upper portion. Lagerfeld's basic skirt for winter drops straight down to the knee, where it flares out on a gentle bias to the boot top. It was shown with a variety of jackets and a very beautiful group of full-sleeve, white silk blouses, some with front peplums.

Most waistlines were gently emphasized with Lagerfeld's medium-wide signature belt, which sits on the hip top and curves down in front to a wide gold, fan-shape clasp. The belt appeared with skirts and blouses, suits and dresses in silk prints, solid-color crepe or black suede.

Women who can't afford big fashion investments for fall ought to consider a belt like this. It could pep up shifts or skirts and blouses already in the closet.

For evening, ballerinas drawn in rhinestones or beaded in shiny, bright colors pranced on black velvet and black crepe dresses. A ballet-length, full taffeta skirt was topped by a matching gray coat that curved up in front, down in back. Such swoops and dips throughout the collection, from belts to ball gowns, gave the impression of clothes floating independent of the women who wore them. A single hat best expressed Lagerfeld's upbeat mood for fall. It was a Frisbee-size disk of black tulle, with a small ballerina poised on top waving a tiny red feather at the heavens.

Lagerfeld's offering for Chanel was a bit more earthbound, but no less successful. Amid what seemed like zillions of Chanel gold buttons and masses of Chanel gold chains, he sounded quite a few new notes. These included longer skirts and dresses (some very full and almost to the ankle), shorter skirts (some above the knee), tweed-lined, iridescent silk raincoats over matching tweed suits, corduroy, flannel and leather. Wide-leg pants gave a soft, sporty look to typical jackets, and the new Chanel cashmere sweater set has a cardigan that's been lengthened to mid-thigh.

Lagerfeld's wit surfaced here too. A quilted miniskirt was shaped to look like the Chanel handbag, with the handbag chains serving as suspenders. And a pooch, wearing a quilted Chanel coat with gold buttons, was led out on a Chanel chain leash. If the designer ever merchandises these items to pet lovers, he'll probably earn another million.

Claude Montana also had a five-star show. His look is opulently sporty, sculpted out of cashmere, fur and leather. Jackets with broad shoulders and wide sleeves flare out from the neckline or curve down to a fitted waist, often ending in a peplum.

Pants with high waistlines are full through the leg but taper into wide, knitted, fabric or leather cuffs. Wool battle jackets have tall, ribbed leather collars and ribbed leather patches on the sleeves. Long and short skirts are all overshadowed by the more-important-looking jackets.

Buyers cheered for his monotone outfits, consisting of long coats or jackets over slim leather pants and cashmere turtleneck sweaters. The three pieces were all in one shade of either red, plum, green or gray.

The designer's accessories included gloves made of what looked like leather fish scales, eyeglasses with very small lenses set in very big frames and jewelry that resembled clear plastic icicles, which dripped down from the shoulders onto sleeves.

Some designers who showed this week didn't fare as well as Lagerfeld and Montana.

Peter O'Brien for Chloe proved that no news is not necessarily good news. His lugubrious gray outfits overwhelmed the bright spots in his collection, one of which was a very-well-designed, navy blue princess-shape coat.

Marc Bohan for Dior offered up an unappealing salmon shade as one of his bright colors, some slim black knits perked with blocks of color and a group of what unfortunately looked like white satin nightshirts that were too hastily made.

Dorothy Bis wasn't just a no-news show. Worse yet, it was yesterday's news, composed of halter neck, turtleneck and off-the-shoulder knits, mostly tight and short, some with rhinestones outlining the seams.

Issey Miyake, a genius at textile design, cannot be grouped with other designers. His textures and colors are extraordinary, his clothing complicated and obscure. This time around, his models wore darling stocking caps, which appeared to be stuffed with cotton to make them stand tall. And his most comprehensible styles were the long, handsome sweater dresses and sweater coats, which started the show. A brown-and-black furry coat was charming, because it looked as if it were made of fabric resurrected from children's worn-out teddy bears. It was an interesting presentation, especially the ending, which featured dozens of mummy-wrapped models wearing different tonalities of color, from cream to yellow to orange.

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