Francois Mitterrand's belt-tightening is finding a literal translation in the spring collections in Paris this week. Aside from the wide corselet pulling in full and easy silhouettes, many of the clothes look like they belong in Rolls Royces, not on the proposed one-class subway. Other costumes, obviously done with a wink to the French Revolution, may have missed the only appropriate outing this year -- the celebration at Yorktown.
After paring away excesses done in the name of showmanship, worldwide buyers seem pleased to find many vividly colored styles to brighten their selections for spring.
While most of the fashion shows are being held in three tents in an enchanting children's park in the Bois de Boulogne, at least two each day require a cross-town trek en masse, to the Salle Wagram, for example. An old tango palace turned into an ordinary disco, the Salle Wagram is the favorite of some of the younger talents, who prefer to present their new collections in a less expensive setting.
The Jean-Paul Gaulteir show at the Salle Wagram was delayed an hour by models gridlocked in traffic. For entertainment, a group of modern punk Santas -- women in black leather jackets and knickers -- dragged garbage bags filled with colored panty hose onto the runway and tossed them to the screaming crowd.
Young Turks like Gaulteir and France Andrevie made their own political statement with a bow to the workers. At Andrevie, for example, wheat farmers, jockeys and monks are among the main inspirations for her designs. To applaud the modest ways of farmers, Andrevie showed necklaces and earrings made from post-office string. Gaulteir, who is the pet of the New Wave kids, borrowed workers' black denim and painters' pants (which he showed in taffeta, sometimes with nothing underneath) and washable tattoos. He poked fun with bustiers or boned strapless tops decorated with military braiding and gold tassels, worn with pastel tulle tutus.
Across town, luxury was nonstop at the more "establishment" designers. "We resisted the German invaders and we will resist the Socialists. We will go on making elegant luxury clothes," commented Pierre Balmain, elder statesman of French fashion, on the night of the Mitterrand victory. For summer, designers are showing exquisitely printed $300 silk scarves of Emanuel Ungaro, which are a sort of a summer fur. Ungaro's painted silk dresses and beaded jackets, Karl Lagerfeld's silver beaded dresses, and lace-trimmed silks for Chloe are about as luxurious as you can get in warm weather.
This winter everything that was expensive sold like mad. "The French bought the daytime things and the Arabs all the evening dresses," said Lagerfeld. He and other designers showed a group of black widows' dresses. But they are all partial to very bright colors for spring. "When days are sad we need bright colors," said Lagerfeld.
Lagerfeld also has added a nod to the French Revolution by using a heavy dose of stripes. "There were stripes in the last year before the whole thing crumbled," said Lagerfeld, who pegs his revolutionary clothes "late Trianon" or "early Princess de Lamballe," referring to the buddy of Marie Antoinette. He insists his use of silver instead of gold is not politically motivated but simply because "silver is cooler for summer, like ice."
One designer who handsomely straddles all the major themes of the season is Claude Montana, a master showman whose talent seems more fitting to grand opera than department stores. This year his huge shapes are borrowed from storybook crusaders, bullfighters, milkmaids and Marie Antoinette. His football "team" on the runway in dayglow helmets and mouth guards and colorful silk patchwork shirts with the letters C and M and the number 8 1/2 were worn with spikes -- high-heel pumps, that is.
Thierry Mugler, who refuses to take these fashion shows seriously, had his models toddle down the runway in skimpy barmaid costumes -- as butterflies, flowers and even kewpie dolls. In one group the models were wearing very bare organdy-ruffled tops and panties with the skirts wired to stay up over their heads like girlie posters, enough to bring on a world congress of ERA. Mugler doesn't think these dresses are for everyone, at least not any more than his space suits are for everyone. In fact, in his showroom, he sells quite classic styles. "But to be chic today," he says, "you need to be snappy, to have energy and express it with a sense of humor."