The crazies are back," said the guard at the entrance to the Louvre, as he watched a wildly dressed herd sweep across the muddy courtyard in front of him. He gasped as he caught full view of a man in a black turban and long, black coat patched with leather join similarly dressed friends, all of them moving like whirling dervishes into the huge crowd.
The fashion-mad have gathered again in Paris as they do every six months to look, buy or report on fashion trends from the week-long, ready-to-wear shows by designers for next spring's wardrobe. This year, the crowd is mad for black and for hats, and crazy about funny colored panty hose -- sometimes a different color on each leg.
And inside the showtents they are mad for many of the designers, particularly Claude Montana, Karl Lagerfeld, Thierry Mugler and Issey Miyake.
If Parisians are discouraged by the socialist economy and nervous about the tax accounting now in progress, it is not blatantly obvious on the runway--unless you consider the retreat to styles of the 1940s, with skinny, sexy and sexist clothes, or the indulgence in escapist Hollywood fantasies by several of the designers, or the profusion of black again for spring.
Other headlines seem to have captured the designers' imaginations. Claude Montana's naval salute might have been inspired by Prince Andrew's efforts in the Falkland Islands, and the sexy, sailorette garb of the models was a likely bow to his escapade with movie star Koo Stark in Mustique. The sequins in the same show, with models in long, white, fitted gowns and billed in the program as "The Philadelphia Story," were clearly homage to Grace Kelly. And the military inspirations at Montana and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac may reflect concern for the Middle East.
The increased number of working women has influenced many of the designers. But the success suit a la Franc,aise has nothing to do with the John Malloy "dress for success" variety in gray flannel. Mugler's police women, traffic cops, female architects and the like wear fanny-grabbing dresses or suits, often with deep slits at the back. His white sailor suits are slit so high that he has put navy stripes at the top of the white panty hose to show through the slits.
Montana's view of the working woman is far more international, with an obvious salute to the Chinese and Polish workers.
Even the traditional bridal gowns show a new view of women. At Montana, the bride is obviously not making her first trip down the aisle in a second-time-around gown in pink. At Mugler, it's the groom, dressed all in white, who carries and tosses the bouquet.
If there's a recurring theme among the French designers it's the return of body-conscious clothes in the spirit of old movie pinups. Mugler's fascination with Cyd Charisse, in particular, and Hollywood in general, shows up throughout his collection. Lagerfeld, in his collection for Chloe', has embroidered the back of a slinky, black dress with a violin or guitar in sequins and beads. In fact, when he first designed his shapely collection, he had in mind to call the whole thing "violine."
Designers use every technique possible to spotlight the slim, sexy body. Many have used bare midriff styles, but none sexier than Montana's versions done in black suede, often with the skirt cut dangerously high in the back (and on the sides and everywhere else as well). Mugler does drastic cutouts and slits that reveal the body in a very sexy way. Castelbajac and Angelo Tarlazzi have revived the bare midriff as well.
It would barely seem possible, but the bathing suits for next summer are even skimpier, with more derrie re revealed than ever before. The swimsuit for next summer will surely be the strapless maillot cut high on the thigh and very deep in the back.
To get the shapeliest look of them all, Lagerfeld has redesigned the girdle. It looks a bit like those back-support girdles sold by mail order from the backs of magazines. But these are often leather and stretch combined. Lagerfeld's girdle, which he puts over everything, including evening dresses, rises a bit above the waist but the emphasis is clearly over the hips. Often they are paired with narrow skirts and huge, open-collar blouses, which Lagerfeld calls his Schiller-inspired blouses. "I wouldn't mind wearing one of these girdles myself," said Lagerfeld, who hasn't found time to make himself one yet. "They make you stand very straight and give you a good secure feeling as well."
Why all the emphasis on the hips? "Nobody knows," said Lagerfeld, whose girdle treatment may prove as influential as his corselets of a year ago. "You do it, and nobody knows why. If you do something else, nobody wants it," he said, as he put down his pen on his sketchbook for a moment, looked up with a smile and said, "that's fashion, my dear."