THE FALL COLLECTION / PARIS : Glamour, Perfection, Triumph


At the end of what critics from around the world are calling a diffuse, directionless season, the big guns of Paris fashion blew their more radically inclined lessers out of the water.

No surprise there.

Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Sonia Rykiel understand the lingua franca of modern classicism. Given the world's social climate, what better time to walk that particular walk and talk that talk?

One reason designers here didn't push the fashion envelope was that most were too busy refining the work that began last season.

After years of deconstruction and grunge, fashion had swung so hard back to glamour and ladylike dressing that this season, many designers needed to stop and catch their breath. They also needed to renegotiate the terms of this new/old movement. Find ways to make it fresh--and palatable. Like shedding the fussy details and constriction that marked last season's retro-happy offerings. And doing away with the ubiquitous Wonderbra look. (Parting is such sweet sorrow.)

With Mom beaming from the third row (a far better seat for viewing than the celebrity- studded, overrated front row), Saint Laurent presented one perfectly cut, perfectly minimalist suit, cocktail dress or coat after another. All it takes to wear any of it is one perfect figure.

A pink silk anorak over a black mini-dress was young and luxe. Not so the cocktail dresses and evening suits with the pouffed hems and peplums. "Do you stuff it with tissue paper or what?" asked one disrespectful observer.

Before the show, a veteran of the fashion circuit pronounced: "Everyone will say the show was a triumph. But privately they'll tell you it's the same one he's been doing for years. Then everyone will give him a standing ovation." The ovation was deserved.

Lagerfeld scored a triumph, though not an ovation, with his fall '95 collection for Chanel on Monday and his own collection on Saturday.

He threw everyone here for a loop by replacing last season's Chanel woman--a rhinestone-panty-wearing hot tamale--with a beautiful but decidedly bourgeois homemaker dressed in a knee-length chemise, a loose and useful jacket, matching fringed babushka and low-heeled oxfords.

" Quel dowdy," some residents of fashion's pinnacle complained. Weren't these the people just decrying the dearth of "clothes for real women"? A guy can't win.

Rykiel was taken to task by her old friend Lagerfeld for participating in "that film" (a.k.a. "Ready to Wear"), but she and he were on the same wavelength with long, narrow slit skirts and fitted jackets for day. Except for a few lapses in taste (thank God), such as a drunken bride and a sweater with trompe l'oeil breasts, Rykiel, too, stayed on the safe side. Oh, except for a shrunken T-shirt that spelled out in rhinestones: "I hate the movies." Get it?

Valentino, the high priest of high-end glamour, won the race for most super-models on the runway. Of course, off the runway, it's glitzy as well, with Tony Curtis assessing each model--er, gown-- alongside his strikingly young, beautiful, blond and bosomy wife. Hollywood loves Valentino, and why not? His bias-cut gowns and dramatic silhouettes are way, way over the top.

Romeo Gigli, who was swirling in a sea of delicate and sensual ethnic-inspired designs last season, came down-to-earth--well, sort of--with a Victorian dandy look that bordered at times on a Jimi Hendrix redux. "The revolution will not be televised," announced a soundtrack before the show began. But it will certainly look fab, if Gigli is the costumer.

One tall-haired, small-boned beauty after another trotted out in dozens of beautifully tailored cutaway jackets over hip-hugging trousers. Beneath the jackets, Gigli showed striped mannish shirts with long, angled cuffs that easily held three ornate cuff links each. Buckled suede pumps and boots finished the look.

Gigli closed with velvet double-breasted coats and evening dresses that combined long, torso-hugging velvet bustiers with skinny chiffon skirts that ended in a cascade of undulating flares.

Gigli, along with Jean Paul Gautier, showcased the models in this season's newest way, which is as angry young girls--possibly dangerous, and indisputably in control. And woe to the photographer who asks one of them to smile.

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