It's a bit early to announce the end of the century. But the spring fashion collections being shown here are so wacky and wild, decadent and even demented at times that it looks like the Fin de Siecle Follies are in full swing here--if nowhere else.
The first sign of slippage came Thursday night at the Thierry Mugler Western Round Up, when Ivana Trump, recently exed from the Donald, stepped along the runway dressed like Miss Kitty from "Gunsmoke."
Since then, there have been men in corsets, women in butt-baring body suits, dogs in fishnet stockings, a candle-lit fashion show in a subway station and a fashion riot in a rainstorm.
It's what foreigners have both loved and hated about this city since the days of Marie Antoinette. Americans may grimace and grind their teeth over financial ruin, social injustice and the end of fresh air as we know it. The French say: "Let them eat cake." If the world is going to hell in a handbag, Parisians want it festooned with flowers and embroidered to death.
Mugler's show was a burlesque, filled with kitchy cowboys and cowboy bikers. Gold-metal dresses dangling with crystals looked like something from a gaudy gold rush saloon. Steer horns jutted from the hips of a black sheath. Cowboys wore bullwhip belts or chaps over hot pants, the bikers stripped down to black leather bikinis.
Burlesque has always been Mugler's stock in trade on the runway. But this time the S&M; undertones and the gaudy excesses were out of sync with America's more conservative attitude. Mixed in with the costumes were some curvily cut gabardine jackets, pony-skin print stretch pants, sculptural dresses and suits. But not enough.
Jean Paul Gaultier's Friday night show came dangerously close to creating a riot. Gate-crashers, a driving rain and rivers of mud led to shouts and shoves as people tried to get into the tent at the edge of the Louvre's Tuileries Garden where he showed.
Inside, a camera crew from the BBC, making a fashion documentary, rushed to the door to film crashers as they hurled themselves into the room. That made getting past the door even harder.
With the extravagant costumes and nonstop antics, the crashers all but upstaged the real show. Ironically, the theme of the show was circus performers off for a day at the park with Dalmatians, Afghans and standard-size poodles in tow.
The shapes of the clothes echoed the Edwardian era, but the fabrics were Gaultier modern: denim, fishnet, stretch velvet and lingerie all worn with high tops, wrestler's boots, platform heels or wedgies.
Awning-striped denim jackets with handkerchief-point hems went over skinny ankle grazing skirts. Denim is a definite fashion ingredient for spring. So are long skirts.
"Long is OK if it's slightly sheer and flowing," said Tommy Perse, owner of the Maxfield Boutique in Los Angeles. "Long and strictly tailored sounds a lot more difficult."
Long, sheer circle skirts veiled short shorts--a new proportion in several collections this season. Lingerie-lace-trimmed corset tops and almost-sheer leggings--for men as well as women--were a look. Feather duster hats with stick handles shooting into the sky were not reserved for women only. Men wore them, too.
The poodles in corsets and Afghans in fishnets seemed a bit too much--even for Gaultier.
One of his ex-employees, designer Martin Margiela, held his show in the Paris Metro.
Claude Montana keeps moving his ready-to-wear collection closer to couture. He has recently learned more about that art form since he started to design the Lanvan couture collection several seasons ago.
The Montana colors for spring are icy pink, peach and blue. The newest ingredients are sheer, oversized shirts worn above Capri-length stretch pants, sheer trench coats, glove-fitting pantsuits, and ankle-length skirts over shorter skirts if not short shorts.
The best things Karl Lagerfeld put in his spring collection were evening dresses. Black, short, silk and usually spliced with black lace, or skimmed with chiffon that floated just past the edges of the denser silk, they suggested lingerie without shouting it, and they moved like graceful breezes.
His white shirts for day were mini length layered with a veil of sheer chiffon that extended to mid-calf. Contouring seams across the hips suggested whalebone corset. But the sheer-over-dense fabric combinations was one of the best solutions to the long-versus-short skirt-length dilemma raging here.
Issey Miyake's Saturday evening show made more sense than most others last week. He put crystal pleated, synthetic fabric dresses, wide-cut tops, narrow-leg pants together with backpacks or bags that resembled archer's cases to suggest travel to exotic mountains, rain forests or even the urban jungle.
Brown body suits had deeper brown stitching that suggested tree bark. Miyake showed them with leggings and archer's cases. Other suggestions of exotic travel were clear hats that seemed cut from ice formations, worn with dresses that appeared to be made from recycled plastic bags.
"The condition of our environment is a big problem right now," said Miyake after his show. "The beauty of nature needs to be preserved. I wanted to show that in my collection."
Romeo Gigli has gone so far as to weave tree bark into fabric for his collections. This season he made three-dimensional evening dresses from layers of fabric cut in leaf shapes.
He showed evening gowns this time, having all but ignored them in the past. And they stole the show--maybe even saved it.