If the fashion showings are a circus, as store buyers always say, then this is the sideshow. It's the time when the so-called innovators have their moment, playing not only to the usual crowd of almost 1,000 members of the press and 500 buyers from all over the world, but also to hundreds of fashion groupies, many in various shades of punk that would make the crowd at the "Rocky Horror Show" look well-dressed.
But this is what brings most American buyers to Paris -- to get some idea of what such avant-gardists as Claude Montana, Jean Claude de Luca and Thierry Mugler think about color and shape, to gain some hint of future fashions. These designers dont't sell many clothes to the Americans but the Americans nevertheless cash in on their ideas when it comes to predicting color, trends, fabrics and accessories.
These young designers, afraid they won't have much of an audience to cheer their shows, paper the house with their followers. Since no one can enter the hall until a big crowd builds up, the eventual crush for seats, which usually number about one-third the crowd, is monumental.
Thierry Mugler moved his showing away from the Les Halles area, where most others presented their collections, to appropriately enough, the Cirque d'Hiver (Winter Circus). He then handed out 2,000 tickets more than his 800-seat limit.
But Mugler tickets were hot items because of his recent collections, which have included many sleek modern knits and jumpsuits, all with the pointy shoulder padding that is his trademark. In one hotel lobby, Mugler tickets were going for $50 each and one buyer reported triumphantly that she had traded a Castelbajac as well as a Dior ticket for one Mugler.
So what did she and others see if, infact, they were able to see the runway?
Saw-toothed, hemmed mini skirts, worthy of the Flintstones; a safari suit with linen jacket and a chiffon skirt that looked clawed; skin-tight skirts with ruffled hems reminiscent of the old fanny-hugging mini; pink satin underwire push-up bras and girdles; jagged, hemmed-lace mini-dresses in bright colors worn over nothing; pants with one leg, tops with one sleeve. Why go on.
Claude Montana, whose shoulders have been bigger and broader than anyone else's for several seasons, and whose black leather jackets are still the favorite here, still likes huge shoulders. But this time they are softer and even dimpled. The man who started the tough military look in black leather two years ago, Montana has now, for warm weather, put waist-length jackets in white and bright colors over pleated peplum tunics, pants and skirts.
Another favorite Montana look was the same shaped jacket worn over a silk print dress with side draping and an uneven hem.
De Luca's preoccupation with the miniskirt period of the 1960s was underscored with accessories that included huge wigs, skinny wraparound glasses sometimes worn as headbands and plastic or vinyl geometric jewelry. Sometimes he decorated the hair with shredded black plastic or tin foil that looked like old hair permanent rods that hairdressers used years ago.
For many of the buyers the problems only began with the show. If they spotted something on the runway they wanted to import, it rarely showed up in the showroom to buy. At Mugler, for example, only one group of knitted dresses was for sale to the Americans.
As a result, most buyers were insulted rather than inspired. "It is a grand indulgence of the ego to do such shows. We waited outside in the rain. We watched crazy clothes on stage to impossible music. And what for?" asked Vicky Ross, head of a buying office for specialty stores across the United States.
But Janet Wallach of Garfinckel's found a bright side. "I think it means that tunics and pants will come and eventually we will have short skirts," she said.
"It's like going to an art show to see a new artist," Wallach said. "There's a lot of hoopla, lot of excitement. It takes a while to accept it, but eventually you do."