n the Jardin d'Acclimatation, the children's park where the spring fashion shows are taking place this week, there is a little house with mirrors that distort the figure. The children jump up and down in front of them, laughing hysterically.
Nearby, without the help of mirrors, clothes that make women look awfully funny are being paraded on the runways. Some models look like Little Bo Peep and Little Miss Muffet. There are pants that look like shower caps, pants with one pant leg and one skirt leg, pants with a train.
But like the kids and the mirrors, this is not the only game in town. Fortunately, there are beautiful clothes being shown, too, most of them not startlingly new, which is probably why many designers have felt it necessary to pep up their showings with all the nonsense.
"French designers have shown a lot of ridiculous clothes this season but a lot that are wearable," says Marjorie Deane, chairman of Tobe and Association, which publishes a weekly report on world fashion trends for stores. "And they probably will cost far more than they're worth."
Among those fashion ideas coming from the current collections are:
* The belted waistline, falling in easy, loose shapes with skirts or pants that are both long and short (belts can be very wide or narrow).
* Clear floral tones, like bright pastels, but there's also widow's black in most collections.
* The sailor influence, with middy blouses and white collars.
* Stripes in varying widths and colors on soft fabrics.
* Skirts divided like culottes, both long and short, and sometimes doubled up as skirts over pants or one skirt over another.
* Silver rather than gold as a clean, bold accent with jewelry.
Many designers are testing underwear as outerwear, showing petticoats as skirts, merry widow bras as tops with pants or skirts, even camisoles over dresses. The likely result is that clothes in general will be more feminine, with lace edging or appliques adding a fragile look.
Karl Lagerfeld is sure that the very wide corselet, which he first hinted at two years ago and has shown with everything this season, will catch on. "Two of the models who tried them on at the fittings tried to slip them into their model bags so I know they like them," said Lagerfeld, laughing.
Saks Fifth Avenue's fashion director, Ellin Saltzman, tried the corselet belts on herself at Chloe, where Lagerfeld designs. "They are comfortable and flattering," she said.
"It is great to show the body again," said Garfinckel's president, Hanne Merriman, in praise of the new belts. Merriman, who played hooky from the collections one afternoon to walk in the gardens of Monet at Giverny, welcomed the return of bright, clear colors.
"We have been over-beiged," she said, referring to the beiges and tans that have dominated warm-weather clothes for years.
Merriman also applauded the less-layered, less-complicated look of such designers as Emanuel Ungaro and Lagerfeld.
"It makes it easier to dress, with fewer layers," she said. "It's also less expensive."
With designers showing both long and short skirts, the hemline debate has been put on hold. "If you are young and rich and have good legs, go short," advised Saks Fifth Avenue's Saltzman. "If not, there are plenty of longer lengths."
According to Saltzman, women are ready to buy any length that is in proportion. "We sold out of the long skirts that stop mid-calf immediately this fall, and we also sold short culottes and Bermuda shorts," she said.
"Ladies should start looking for a good exercise class so they can wear the cinched-in waists and short flippy skirts," said Val Cook of Saks-Jandel.
"A good figure is more important than ever for these clothes. But just in case a customer hasn't found the right instructor, there are plenty of tent-like baby doll dresses around as well."