At one point during the five-day marathon of fall ready-to-wear shows, Robert Sakowitz, president of Sakowitz (Houston), asked Val Cook of Saks-Jandel, "Do you know a good book store in Paris?"
"Can't say I do," answered Cook. "What are you looking for?"
"I want to buy a stack of Bibles," he explained. "I think we will all need to do a lot of praying to sell these clothes."
Retailers here are talking a lot to each other. In past seasons, they usually have kept their chats superficial. But this week they have been commiserating on the current state of Paris fashion, caring less about protecting their opinions-since many of the opinions are not high.
By the last lap of the shows yesterday, however, some stores which carry Yves Saint Laurent finally had something to cheer about. The good news, they claimed, was that Saint Laurent had done nothing new. He reran some now-classic shapes and styles of the past 10 years, like his silk quilted jackets, piped jackets and coats, blazers, kilts and straight-leg pants, with little change other than fabric and color.
He showed his jackets ith pleated panne-velvet skirts instead of silk, for example, and his kilts no longerwith piping, but decorated with a feather-trimmed kilt pin. Huge scarves are now tied across the chest and knotted at the hip, Scottish-style-a theme carried through the collection. Even last season's sailor cap is back, now in velvet with a feather to make it look a bit Scottish.
Loose-belted tunic shirts, another YSL old favorite, abound for day and evening. And for evening, he has taken a Chinese theme, starting with his familiar quilted jackets, pajamas and kimonos, and added skinny Anna May Wong-style dresses, wonderful laquered-look jacquard fabrics and prints-plus some taffeta dresses and printed satin blouses to wear with ski pants or knickers.
Not everyone loved the 10-year retrospective. One leading store executive said that, "If Sally Jones on Seventh Avenue showed these clohes, we'd think they were pretty undistinguished."
"He could have broken the mold if he wanted to," said Geraldine Stutz, president of Henri Bendel and a longtime YSL fan, "but he decided to take everything he's done before and do it in a better fabric."
"He really understands women today," said Val Cook after the show. "He makes his customers feel they've made a good investment in a bad economic time. And the $600 jacket they bought last year will be good this year and the next couple as well. Nothing has to be thrown away."
If buyers were discouraged by many of the other shows, there was still some admiration and applause. At Claude Montana's showing last Saturday, there was wild cheering and rhythmic clapping by the end. But for the buyers, many of whom had trouble selling exaggerated shoulders last season, the question remained, who would buy it? And where could she wear it"
"I can't see women getting into cars with shoulders so broad," said Wendall Ward, vice president of Garfinckel's, "it is no more sensible than the very early, very exaggerated maxi styles." (Ward plans to review the collection in the showroom, hoping to find the shoulders more "controlled" for the Washington customer.)
"What has been appearing on stage has nothing to do with women today," said a very distressed Koko Hashim of John Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, before the YSL shown. "Customers will be so turned off by the pictures they see they will retreat happily back to their blazers. And that is not good for business."
But many buyers are finding that the clothes on the runway are not the same in the showrooms. At Thierry Mugler, a master of space-age looks, it is not necessary to buy the skinny dresses with the padded bra cups at the tip of the shoulders, which he showed in the tent. Claude Montana shows his clothes in their largest size on small models, and plans to scale down his huge shoulders before they are shipped to america. "They are made this way for the spectacle, not for people to wear," he said.
Bernie Ozer of Associated Merchandising Corp. says this experimentation has put Paris at the peak of its inventiveness. "There's everything from turn-of-the-century to the year 2020, all pulled together for today," he said. He pinpoints the wide range of suits, the rainbow colors and geometrics, the various independent dresses, the "sorority sister" tartans with their "French sauciness rather than preppy classic look" and the variety of coat shapes as the boldest statements.
Ozer thinks these accessories will show up in various ways in the U.S.: solar saucer hats, projectile earrings, sparkle hose, patent legwarmers, and pumps in every color with coneshaped heels.
Ellin Saltzman of Saks Fifth Avenue said that, "If it wasn't my business I wouldn't put up with all this craziness. What works best for modern women is jogging suits which I would wear if I wasn't a fashion director." she said laughing.
"We look to Europe not for practicality but for frosting and sparkle," Saltzman said. "We buy things to make our stores look different from the rest, to show our customers some of the new ideas. And hopefully, we'll sell some of them, too."
Meanwhile several store owners from Europe have been checking with American stores about the New York designers. Uta Casper, a consultant to top German stores (and an adviser on German fashion to Bergdorf-Good-man) has already scouted the Pinky and Dianne private label collection in Milan and says it is selling well in Germany. Now she is ready to take on Seventh Avenue. "Amerian clothes, compared to what is shown here, are so easy to wear," she said. "Who the German woman really wants to wear is Calvin Klein." CAPTION: Picture 1, Givenchy's wide-shouldered plaid coat; Picture 2, silk pajamas, left, with tunic and braid-edged jacket by Yves Saint Laurent, AP photos; Sketch, Laurent's Scottish plaid blouse and scarf with piped velvet jacket and skirt, sketch by Yves Saint Laurent for The Washington Post