Neither Yves Saint Laurent nor his audience seemed prepared for the outpouring of emotion Wednesday at the end of the designer’s show. Not hoots and hollers, but earnest, sustained applause from retailers who had just trekked through three countries in one month of watching fall fashion shows, yet responded to this one as though they were starved for clothes.
In a sense, they were. The shows have provided an endless sea of ankle-length pleats, too many tunics that barely reach mid-thigh and a barrage of long jackets so similar they look like they’ve been cloned.
Saint Laurent offered none of the above. His skirts are just above the knee. His jackets are comparatively short. His styles are young and shapely, but wearably so. Colors here are not the by-now hackneyed palette of either subdued spice colors or riotous brights. And he did not espouse just one look but got behind what Hollywood calls a “high concept.”
The designer’s fall look is a virtual Rubik’s Cube of wardrobe possibilities, which elevates the old, mix-and-match sportswear idea to an elegant, new sphere.
Starting with a simple, black cape above an office-worthy black skirt and high-neck blouse, he proceeded with jackets, pants, skirts, dresses and sweaters that can switch from dressy to sporty depending on the other elements with which they are worn.
Jackets in suede, calfskin or wool, for example, are shaped to work with cropped wool pants as well as daytime or cocktail dresses and evening gowns.
One cropped black calf jacket would look just as good with blue jeans as it did the way Saint Laurent showed it--with a slim, black formal dress.
Some jackets, in bright wool or black, have wide, black faille lapels. These were shown not with the matching slim knee-length skirts that undoubtedly lurked backstage, but with cinnamon or wine-colored wool pants. And with long black evening skirts as well.
Simple jewel-neck daytime sweaters, which most women already own, were teamed with gold belts and glittery brocade evening skirts. These same brocade skirts became ball gowns when models wore them with matching, fitted jackets that had huge ruffled peplums jutting out from waistline to hip.
For daytime, his dresses are simple and side-swept, shaped to fit easily over the body and look feminine as well. For evening, they’re slim and black but never boring. One slim velvet coat dress has gold pyramid buttons marching down the front and a neckline cut out in free-form swirls.
It was a virtuoso display, after which many retailers said there was more to this collection than meets the untutored eye. Young women who have grown up wearing sportswear are starting to look for dresses as an interesting alternative. But most designers don’t make dresses that young women would wear these days and Saint Laurent’s styles might fill the bill.
Equally important, retailers said, is the whole concept of intermingling important pieces of clothing the way women normally mix and match their weekend T-shirts and pants.
Kal Ruttenstein of Bloomingdale’s in New York said he particularly liked “the ease and grace of all Saint Laurent’s shapes and the whole idea of mixing everything up in a new way.” Colors were lively cinnamon, wine, yellow, hunter green, white or black.
Backstage after the show, the designer wept and hugged almost everyone who came his way. Slightly portly now and somewhat stooped, he is one of the Old Guard in Paris who has found a new way.