Designing clothes, says Paris couturier, Emanuel Ungaro, is like reading Marcel Proust. "Nothing changes very radically. It all comes from "a deep feeling in the soul."
The serious, shy designer, whose client list includes Jacqueline Onassis, Doris Duke, Barone Guy de Rothschild, Deeda Blair, Vicomtesse de Ribes, Madame Hauphouet Boigny and Bianca Jagger, arrived here Sunday on the Concorde to show his spring ready-to-wear collection at Neiman-Marcus this afternoon, giving Washingtonians the first glimpse of the latest round of Paris designs.
Even the switch from last year's costumery to this year's far simpler styles is mostly a matter of changing accessories, says Ungaro. "The structure is always the same. It may be at one time more voluminous or (as in the coming season) more close to the body. But it is always well planned."
Ungaro's sense of moving gently from one season to the next may take him out of the league of the headline makers, but never out of step with the current mood of clothes. His signature is well established with bright and easy clothes, always in carefully planned print mixtures worked out with his associate Sonja Knapp.
"I hate boring clothes," he says. "I hate seeing women dressed in a sad way," he says hunching over as if he were bound in too-snug-fitting clothes.
His prints are tamer at the moment than the flamboyant florals and geometrics for which he is well known. "Everyone can make beautiful prints, so I must find a new way," he says, and his "new way" is with subtler colors, quieter patterns, sometimes mixed with solids. ("Never sad, never dusty, never boring," he insists.)
If it is a quiet period in fashion, it reflects the same in politics, in music and in art.
"We are in a bizarre situation now," says Ungaro, who describes it as like standing at the top of a mountain and having vertigo. "It is the moment of vacuity. We don't have the courage to face up to the future."
Currently, there is no man with the "international knowledge" of a Kennedy, Mao Tse Tung or de Gaulle. No artistic movement strong enough to make a new wave, he says.
If there is an exception. It's the films, he says, particularly those of Martin Scorcese as in "Taxi Driver."
"It's like a man in the street with a camera. Like Fellini did and now Scorcese does with 'a new eye.'"
The punk movement, he says, is "interesting" but will have a short life. "It is a movement born on the garbage of our society," he says. "They (the punks) are so exasperated they want to destroy everything." He compares it to the disillusionment of Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol 10 years ago. But like everything else, punk is one of the influences today.
Hemlines are generally shorter ("It is always younger with shorter hems), usually hovering about mid-knee and just below. And there are many more pants, including sarouels baggy Moroccan pants), which he admits he has had trouble "seducing" customers to try.
Coming next, he says, is a new kind of mannish clothing such as soft blazers in silk or in stripes in a soft mohair. The mannish things are not a statement of femininism - "To me, women have always been equal" - but they are functional styles.
There is no shortage of women in his organization he points out quickly with Knapp, his artistic partner on the prints, Bettina, directrice for the couture operation for more than three years ("She's more than that. She's the charm, the seduction") and Sophie Xuereb who is in charge of the American market.
Added to the ready-to-wear and the couture, the menswear and accessories, Ungaro, has, after smelling 2,000 fragrances, recently put his name on a perfume. The problem was not the perfect smell, but the right partner, he says. "I guess I'm a commercial snob," he says, comparing such a partnership to a marriage, which he now has made with Chanel, the first time that Company has made a perfume ad six Ungaro style for tues cap.
After the fashion show here, Ungaro will make a brief stop in New York, Paris, then on to Klosters, Switzerland, where he will reread Marcel Proust - as he always does before he starts to design - and then get to his next collection.