Can you hustle in a bustle? Or even sit down in one?
It may sound silly, but that's one of the retro fashions being revived in this week's Paris couture showings for spring.
The shows ended yesterday on a note of sanity, with Yves Saint Laurent's clean confident and restrained suit looks for day and floaty dresses in crepe, taffeta or mouseline for evening.
If the overall thrust of the Paris designers toward silver-screen, glamorgirl clothes, the standout feature is shape. Padding inflates the shoulders, belts cinch in the waistline, skirts often taper to the hem and split wide open for walking ease and a sexy look.
If it all sounds familiar, it's because the basic message recalls the ready-to-wear collections of French designers last October -- only a bit less exaggerated and far more expensive.
Suits are a favorite theme, often with the waistline belted. The YSL designs are only slightly indented at the waist and often teamed with pants. His new version of the safari suit in khaki gabardine is belted an worn over a one-shoulder T-shirt.
Marc Bohan has been the frontrunner in bustling clothes. But nothing returns quite the way it was before, and fortunately Dior has not revived all the contraptions that were used to expand the derriere in the mid-19th century. From all the photos and reports to date, Dior appears to have pushed all the fullness of past seasons to the very back. Tent jackets are tightly belted and the fabric bunched toward the rear, giving the effect of an ole-fashioned riding jacket. And his bud-shaped dresses with tight waistlines appear to be rounded, conveying the sense of a bustle in the back.
At Givenchy, too, the emphasis is on shape, with a fitted suit featuring flyaway peplums and narrow skirts. (Two reviewers in the trade press call his work "one of the best couture collections Paris has ever seen.") His suit jackets often resemble the basque jackets fitted through the midriff.
"Spring and summer are times when it's demode to be chichi," Givenchy said before his showing. Things get cleaned up. Fabric is flat. Shapes are clear. And the silhouette is now a triangle descending into a straight line through a jacket with a skirt."
But considering the astronomical prices of these garments, who buys them? Many fewer customers than in the past -- although new Middle Eastern customers are picking up the slack.
In fact, despite the price tags, haute couture garments are no longer big moneymakers for the French fashion houses. Monique de Faucon in the New York Daily News scouted out the cost breakdown on a $2,790 Dior dress from last season this way: After labor ($1,112.62), tax ( $312), fabric ($495.60). overhead ($619.50), workroom costs ($99.12) and sales commission ($123.90), Dior's profit was $27.26.