Paris' "new wave" designers are generating much of the excitement and the crowds at the Paris ready-to-wear shows. And while their names are hardly familiar in Washington, their fresh ideas will likely be absorbed in the fashion mainstream after they move on to something else.
The best of them Thierry Mugler, Jean Claude de Luca and Claude Montana - presented their collections for spring this weekend. De Luca's audience jammed the sedate Palais de Chillot, while Mugler and Montana each staged their spectacles in separate circus tents unsafely crowded with more than 3,000 people each.
Taking their cue from Kenzo, the Japanese designer - who once created fantastic extravaganzas to show his clothes but has gone establishment this season with tea and television - the new designers seem to feel the need for extravaganzas and extremes to get their message across.
Their message this season is shape: the clothes started with big shoulders, are usually fitted at the waist, and end in a silm line. And as graphic as the shapes - are the colors and prints in various fabrics.
"I don't understand why women, when they get up in the morning, don't want to put on something that is totally modern fashion. It takes no more time," says Mugler, 32, reflecting on his glimpse of Washington women during a recent visit here.
When Mugler - who is being touted as the next St. Laurent - says "modern," he means broad shoulders, a tight waist, and often a skirt with deep slits to reveal matching pedal pushers or dancer's tights fitting like gloves on the leg.
And it applies whether he's using knits, chamois, leather, silk or even flesh-colored sequined mermaid beading.
Mugler's showing Saturday brought out the biggest crush of the current shows. One buyer waiting near the door for a colleague was simply dragged in by the crowd while others scampered under the tent to get some view of the collection.
Mugler's English is nearly perfect. He picked it up while designing for two way-out boutiques in London - Mr. Freedom and Mother Wouldn't Like It - in the mid-1960s. He explains clearly why he chooses this silhouette: "Big shoulders give a woman a sense of grandeur and height and presence." He says that his pants, too, give an elongating effect.
Pants under dresses are essential to give women freedom to walk in such narrow skirts, he says, admitting that some prefer not to wear them despite the deep slits in the dresses. He's even surprised how quickly they sold out in his Paris boutique.
He wears white sweaters with his own style of dress - a broad-shouldered jumpsuit with a marching-band costume look. "People stopped me at the Golden Temple restaurant in Washington to tell me they liked what I wore, particularly the clear blue color," he recalls.
A version of this outfit, which he calls "the new uniform," is the garb of men who work at Le Palace, the popular Paris disco, and Bloomingdale's has already placed an order for the look, which is now in production.
For both men's and women's wear, Mugler insists that the important thing is purity: the simplest shapes and color without any elaboration. "That's the future of fashion," he says.
Color, or the lack of it, got Mugler started designing. A ballet dancer with a company in Alsace, he made his own clothes "to make up for all the sad colors people were wearing in the streets. I was like a rainbow all the time."
At age 18 he took off for Paris, knowing no one there, and got a job with the Left Bank boutique Gudule. He says they still use the graphics he created for them.
There were short-term jobs with firms in London and Paris, with limited success until six years ago, when he designed a raincoat with a full skirt that sold by the thousands.
He's still paying off the debt to his father, a doctor, who helped him scrape up the money to finance his own business four years ago. But now he operates his own boutique in the Place des Victories - where Bianca Jagger and the Empress of Iran have bought his clothes, and is having increasing success with stores like Neiman-Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf-Goodman.
"The best clothes have not been done by designers," he says, "they just came, like jeans and Lacoste shirts. People work on them, and they develop year by year."
In light of these views, it comes as no surprise that among the most popular entries in Mugler's spring collection are a group of denim Jeans and a new version of the "Lacoste" cotton knit shirt.