In Paris, designers spring into action PARIS COLLECTIONS


Paris -- Some of the big fashion houses are setting off explosions that will be heard round the world with their spring ready-to-wear collections.

The best designers here, like Christian Lacroix, mix practicality with imagination. He has toned down the creative blast that brought him to the head of the fashion column five years ago, but his clothes haven't lost their fizz.

The colors still sizzle, and the patterns grab the eye with their mixtures of checks, stripes, heart shapes, ornate frills and flowers. With all this surface excitement he has had the good sense to keep his styling simple. And he has dealt sensibly with the question of changing hemlines.

Some designers and some retailers are ignoring it, but a tendency to lengthen clothes is definitely under way. Mr. Lacroix has handled the problem in a very reasonable manner. He shows culottes or divided skirts that end below the calf and are sometimes split at the sides. This introduces the longer look in an acceptable manner without appearing dowdy.

He demonstrates his common-sense approach with two white crepe shirt dresses buttoned down the front. One has the familiar short skirt, the other is midcalf length. They prove that long and short can coexist.

A sweet high-waisted navy crepe dress with a wrapped bosom drew applause, proving that Mr. Lacroix does not need wild prints to be effective. His collection has just the right mixture of exuberance and familiarity to make viewers comfortable.

Claude Montana also works with quiet confidence. His spring collection is already ranked among the best here for its neatness and modernity.

Short clothes like navy coats and suits that stay close to the body, and crystal-beaded evening dresses are sure winners. He makes a stab at longer length as well, experimenting with styles that are short in front and long in back.

By keeping the line clean, he makes the idea work. His clothes are always on the calm side, with the emphasis on navy blue. His short organza trench coats are among the prettiest styles on the runways this season.

Gabrielle Chanel was famous for keeping her hemlines two inches below the knees, no matter where fashion wandered. Not Karl Lagerfeld, who designs the collection today. He takes the standard Chanel coats and suits and adjusts the length anywhere from midthigh to below-calf. Almost everything works. Fashion is less rigid than it used to be.

More amusing is the development of his tulle skirt story. Now his big bouffant tulle skirts are worn with knitted cotton tops that look like men's white undershirts but are really bodysuits.

On the chest, he pins a camellia on a black ribbon, the Chanel trademark, and predicts that young women will be wearing these styles to parties the way they now wear motorcycle jackets with evening clothes.

Traditional Chanel jackets made in terry cloth with matching quilted handbags follow his preoccupation with serious tailoring for denim. He still uses denim, but now it's in colors like aqua and orange. Mr. Lagerfeld continues to capture the spirit of the moment in his Chanel clothes.

Valentino also manages to attack the hemline issue with lightness and wit. He simply adds a longer skirt to a simple bodysuit or short dress. The model unfastens the long skirt and is left wearing a bodysuit or slip, a two-for-one approach that he manages with some charm.

Issey Miyake's clothes were simple, inventive and unpretentious.

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