The dressing rooms seem like organized chaos, with little distinction between the hundreds of feet of clothes racks and the almost naked bodies dashing about in search of an outfit. Dresses go darting over heads, and teams of portly black-clad women adjust a waist here and sew a stich there. Glasses of champagne are being downed like water. Life in the fast lane: Hours, even weeks of preparation are smashed into four minutes of dressing time. Shoes are flying through the air, scarves are fixed about necks, bracelets are clamped on. Then it's into the lineup, like the Dallas Cowboys getting ready to run onto the field through the goalposts. A makeup girl touches up the eyes, the rouge. A Stylist coifs the hair. And POW, your number is called and you're out there on the runway for 30 seconds of class exposure, every eye in the room on you and on the clothes you're wearing. A Special Vision
In a town where burlesque shows are seriously reviewed, it is perhaps not unusual that a distinct part of the audience at the collections is compressed of well-dressed men who come to gaze as they might at the louvre.
They love this sense of tease, which is why fully a third of the gazers at the shows presented by 30 designers here this week have been well-starched males. Perhaps the models are not on a pedestal, but they are on a runway - which is elevated. And like all elevated women, the mannequins, as the French call them, in the haute-couture collections are specters of what can't be had, visions of a fantasy too silk-clad to be squeezed.
There's something strange in the applause out there. The same models get it every time. They can be wearing a wedding dress or a bathing suit or a tuxedo or some willowy dress of orange crepe that nobody could possibly like. It's obvious soon that the shows are like finely iced follies. Who of sane brain would spend 12 hours a day for four days straight looking at about 2,500 different outfits, it somehow - every seventh trip down the runway there wasn't that very special vision draped in all those clothes? Mr. Right
"Sometimes," says Jerry Hall, lately a girlfriend of Mick Jagger, "I think to myself, 'Maybe Mr. Right is at the end of the runway, some guy who'll take me away from all this lunacy.'"
But few of the others have fantasies like that.
"The main thing," says Dallas-born Linda Smith, "is not to fall over on those ridiculous high-heeled shoes. You're heading down the runway and you feel your feet sort of sliding around in them and you're saying to yourself, 'Please, God, don't let them go out from under me, just get me back behind the screen.'
"Sometimes I wonder why I do this. I mean, I know why I do it. It's easy money and it's a very fast life, but we're really just acting out men's fantasies. Once you get out there on the runway in some flimsy thing that's binding around your knees and your feet are sliding on you, you can't even let yourself realize that the guy in the back row in the pin-striped Cardin suit smoking that stinky cigar is staring at you. Uh-uh. You do that and you're dead.
"Once I went to call for a Courreges show. I walked in this room and all these girls were standing around perfectly still in nothing but their slips. I mean, they were almost completely naked. No way I was going to do that. He was sitting in the middle of them all, staring at their bodies. Why should I just plop myself into the middle of his fantasy." Fantasy For Fun
"Haute-Couture," says Andre Courreges, the man who introduced shiny white boots and plastic dresses to high fashion 12 years ago, "is done almost purely for the pleasure of the designer. I can create clothes that are not at all functional. I make evening dresses that are extensions of my fantasies about life. I make things that nobody has ever worn and nobody ever will wear-except for my models.
"So of course I stare at bodies for a long time. I need to create things to put on bodies. I love youth, and I need to stare at those bodies to get the feel of what kind of youth they have inside them, and that inspires me to create new things. And when I show my collection, and those girls go out in front of the press and my clients and my friends, they are acting out my ultimate fantasies." IS HE BLUFFING Is He Bluffing?
"There would be no haute-couture," says Courreges, "without the press. The more outrageous your design, the more they love it."
Courreges knows about outrages. He is one of the few Paris designers to wear clothing as outrageous as the stuff he drapes his models in: White pants with elastic cuffs that stop below the knee, shiny white boots that come to within a few inches of his cuffs, a pink-tinged white sweat jacket and a floppy orange hat that might be an Oldenberg version of a baseball cap. He even named his daughter Claufoutie, which is a cherry cake in France.
Says one of his American models: "One of the only reasons I'll wear his stuff is because he's wearing it too. I'd love to see what would happen to couture if every designer in Paris had to wear the stuff he designed for a few weeks. You'd see some radical changes. Sometimes I think Andre is getting outrageous just to see when the press will call his trump. Never happens.
There is a definite coziness between the fashion press and the fashion houses. Designers come up to critics after their shows and ask straighforwardly, "Did you like the collection?" There are hugs and kisses and invariably the superlatives gush out: fantastic, marvelous, tremendous, stunning. When a Women's Wear Daily reporter gets seated behind a row of photographers who occasionally block her view, a press director apoligizes profusely and offers a private showing at the reporter's whim. Free Lunch
Thursday brings the only unorthodox show of the 30 presented, the introduction of Francois Villon's new line of shoes. The event is held at Maxim's, one of Paris' few three-star restaurants, and needles to say the place is packed because the invitation has promised shoes and a free lunch.
Villon begins carrying on teleologically about his new line. Gone are the days, he says, when women will have to tolerate painful feet for the sake of fashion. "This is not really high fashion," he says. "Much more reasonable fashion." He holds up diagrams that display the interior of his new shoes, which have been created, "taking into account all the latest medical information." No more pinched toes and compacted arches.
The first model comes out, in a scanty beige fish-net top and hikes up a pedestal. (Finally one on a pedestal, but now there are few men in the audience. Too declasse to take a free lunch.) There is shouting in the back of the room: The place is so crowded that some people can't see the shoes.
Pas de problem . Villon removes the model's shoe and begins passing it about the room. Another model comes out and walks down an aisle. Once she's made a few steps,there are cries for her to remove her boots, and they too start making the circuit. Villon passes the mike around the room for comments ("splendid, marvelous . . .") and grudgingly announces the price for these wonder shoes: several hundred dollars, but soon he will make a rain boot that is much cheaper. And how high, he asks the audience, should he make the heel on that boot? There are cries ranging from 1 inch to 6 inches, interspersed with demands of "when do we eat lunch?" Flower Power
The greatest fantasy of the hautecouture collections is the idea that they make money. They are decided losers, ways for designers to try out ideas that will be tanslated into ready-to-wear (as opposed to these customfitted) clothes.
"They are the flags for the house." says Courreges. "As in sports, there are victories that have much more value than money. You do not try to win the war with a flag and a national anthem. Just as aspirin was discovered by accident, you would be surprised what we designers learn to adapt from our fantasies."
As one of his models came across the floor Tuesday, in an outfit designed to look like a lily, a woman in the crowd uttered.
"Please don't put your arms down, sweetie. You'll crush the flower."