Ready for Paris ready-to-wear? France dresses for fall as the rest of the world thinks spring


PARIS - Black is back.

That most basic and, some say, most chic color, left for dead the last several seasons, has been revived by the Parisians.

In the fall ready-to-wear collections, black dominated the runway: black velvet gowns, black satin dresses, black silk skirts, black nylon blouses, black cotton catsuits, black chenille jackets, and on and on and on.

All this black seems quite appropriate given that war, recession and skyrocketing prices have put the fashion trade here into a prolonged period of mourning.

Perhaps the designers know that their expensive and often outrageous creations may well price them out of existence. What better way to eulogize themselves than with fabulous black ensembles?

But one can never count these French craftsmen out. They have survived worse times. It seemed appropriate that the man who put the "S" in "Survival" should be there.

Sylvester Stallone attended two shows, setting off a frenzy as the "paparazzi" swooped in to photograph him. Stallone attended the collections of Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl &r; Lagerfeld. Jennifer Flavin, Stallone's current girlfriend, was a model in the Lagerfeld show.

Lagerfeld is modernizing the timeless Chanel look in a manner that owes much to cutting-edge fashion.

Last season, he paired classic Chanel jackets with biker shorts or leggings. Now it is washed-denim jeans and skirts, some ripped, worn with know-it-on-sight Chanel tweed jackets embroidered with sequined trim. Then there were his stretch-wool suits in bright colors. Accessorizing the suits were multiple thick gold chains, including one huge chain that hung below the bodice and featured a big gold license plate emblazoned with the word "Chanel."

This gaudy gold look is favored by street drug dealers and some rap artists. No one can accuse Lagerfeld of not finding his fashion inspiration everywhere.

Other odd ensembles that probably had Coco Chanel spinning in her grave included colorful jackets with signature gold buttons, worn with sheer smoke-colored tiered skirts, in mini and midi lengths. There were also multi-colored jackets styled like those worn by jockeys. The jackets were worn atop chiffon halter dresses.

To Curtis Mayfield's 1970s hit, "Shaft," models stepped on the runway in gowns with black velvet bodices and diaphanous skirts. Dark tights preserved decency.

Vinyl was key in the Comme des Garcons collection. An endless parade of suits and dresses of wool and other fabrics featured vinyl lapels, hems, collars and belts. Perhaps the oddest cuts of all were long plastic skirts with a portion of the front panel cut away to reveal fishnet pants and leggings.

There also were clear plastic maxi-length skirts, cellophane gloves and dresses of pink velvet with patches of black vinyl mixed in. Written on some of the models' garments and shoes were phrases such as "Don't conform" and "Rebel." Unfortunately, many probably will rebel against the outfits.

The real king of vinyl is Mugler, who beat the rush by showing vinyl in his spring collection, which debuted in October. This season, Mugler did not mount a fashion show. Instead, he invited only photographers to view his collection, which continued the path he took for spring with flesh-binding vinyl pants, unitards and dresses.

If making women look ridiculous were a felony, Jean Paul Gaultier could easily be sentenced to life.

But to the uninitiated, most high fashion is ridiculous. That said, it must be noted that Gaultier, who fashioned Madonna's much-photographed cone-bra costumes, is the most popular of avant-garde designers.

He held his show in an arena in which he erected a circus ring.

And what a circus it was.

Hundreds of his avid fans thronged the entrance, preventing those with invitations from getting inside. This delayed the show a full hour as they pleaded for permission to enter the arena.

Inside it was just as frenzied, as attendees fought for seats. During the show, they were treated to unisex Lycra jumpsuits with built-in shoes; a coat that converted to a gown when the model slipped her arms out of the sleeves, and models sporting cartoonish fake eyelashes and hair spraypainted yellow, red or green.

With its circus theme, the audience certainly expected death-defying feats of fashion ingenuity. But no one expected the weirdest sight of all a model enveloped in head-to-toe black-and-white plaid. She wore a plaid jumpsuit, which featured a ski-mask-like fabric that covered her head. It gave new meaning to the phrase "fashion cover-up."

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