Italian designs take center stage at French shows


The French haute couture shows were predictably either very, very good or horrible. A little less predictable was the fact that the heroes of the showing season were both Italian.

Gianni Versace of Milan and Valentino of Rome went to Paris with lustrous collections. Versace incorporated modern elements in distinguished-looking clothes, while Valentino achieved the requisite couture look in elegant clothes of quiet refinement.

Christian Lacroix upheld the glory of the French with a wildly imaginative collection that brought him the only standing ovation and caused him to be pelted with flowers like an opera diva.

The calendar listing the shows of 20 members of the Chambre Syndicale, the quasi-governmental body that organizes the shows, included five nonmember designers as a service to the viewers.

Four were Italian and one was the Belgian Gerald Watelet, 30, who showed a surprisingly professional collection on the last day of the showings.

Many potential viewers had gone home.

More than half the official shows were staged at Le Carrousel, the space under the Louvre, which is also a giant shopping mall. The other designers showed at the Ritz, the Grand and the Intercontinental hotels, as usual.

Le Carrousel, with three adjacent salons accommodating up to 1,500 people, passed its trial with flying colors.

You could see well from any part of the salons, and there was plenty of technical equipment for media presentations.

Only a few took advantage: Hanae Mori had stars projected on the walls and ceilings, and Gerard Pipart of Ricci flashed scenes from 1930s Astaire-Rogers movies and newsreels of horse races to add another dimension to the shows.

This is obviously just the beginning.

More elaborate effects will undoubtedly be seen at the ready-to-wear shows in March.

The fashion news was in no way as startling or influential as it was last July, when Lagerfeld, Versace and Saint Laurent showed short skirts so confidently they relegated long ones to the backwaters of fashion.

There was no such drama this time, unless you count the ball gown revival.

Ball gowns are a specialty of the couture, and most houses decided to play them up.

The results were often mesmerizing: Oscar de la Renta's big dresses at Balmain had corseted bodices; Gianfranco Ferre updated the bustle in his collection for Christian Dior; Karl Lagerfeld got in trouble for embroidering verses from the Koran on some dresses -- he said he thought they were love poems.

Versace's nontraditional evening dresses were held up by suspenders, and Valentino's beautiful, fragile dresses had surfaces covered lightly with delicate embroideries.

Daytime clothes were still dominated by the suit.

At Chanel, the fingertip-length jackets were longer than the skirts. Versace's suits looked demure with short, lightly fitted jackets. Those at Lacroix were a melange of fabrics, colors and embroideries.

Designers such as Givenchy, Saint Laurent and de la Renta offered tailored dresses that can supplement the suits, but they are not likely to take over fashion immediately.

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