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FASHION : It’s <i> Haute Couture</i> Time in Paris

Compiled from Times wire services

At the spring haute couture collections, which end today in Paris, there was no great fanfare. But during the five days of shows, there were hints that a changing of the guard may be at hand.

Hubert de Givenchy presented what many observers suspect will be his last couture show, and Pierre Cardin refused to show at all. He claims he’s tired of being copied and will present his collection to his customers in February.

Then there was speculation that Yves Saint Laurent’s couture collection might be his last.

All of which left Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld to happily hog the remaining spotlight. And right behind them, a phalanx of hard-working youngsters just waiting for them to trip.

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With all the action happening at the top echelons, there was little direction on the runways. Neither were there gimmicks or an infusion of street style, which left what is best about couture--pretty feminine design.

“People are looking back because there is no new street fashion,” Lagerfeld told Women’s Wear Daily. “It’s the right moment to do haute couture.

Givenchy showed a collection of his greatest hits, reminding everyone just who was responsible for Audrey Hepburn’s style, plus a group that paid homage to Madame Gres.

Lagerfeld’s cocktail clothes were superb and varied, from ribboned organza dresses with full skirts to an occasional tulle or feathered bubble below a sequined, fitted top. They received the best endorsement--the models actually looked happy wearing them.

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Versace’s collections stressed feminine voluptuousness, from his pastel suits with gripping 1950s-style skirts hemmed below the knee to the stretchy translucent evening sheaths.

Some critics hissed that the clothes were not up to couture level, which is the best in artisan workmanship, great cut, beading, pleating and so on. And others complained that couture doesn’t really set any new trends, but recycles beloved old favorites. It’s true the collections contained more that was familiar than new, but everything was handled in glorious form.

Anyone looking for explosions of creativity should cast an eye toward Michel Klein, who presented his third couture collection for Guy Laroche on Tuesday night.

The simplicity of Klein’s designs and his aversion to the glitz and glitter of traditional couture have helped point fashion in a new direction.

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Klein’s take on this season’s 1950s suits, with sensuous yet razor-sharp tailoring, was not revolutionary in itself. But the no-frills elegance of white Shantung Mao pajamas, a rose-pink sheath of cut velvet on chiffon, or an ecru sequined bolero worn over dark crepe trousers is the way of the future.


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