About an hour before the first model arrived to dress for the Junko Koshino fashion show, the designer and about 20 of her assistants gathered in a circle in the dressing room and, holding hands, began to chant and pray. They bowed, and raised their heads as their chants got louder, ending in English, "My God, my Father, hallelujah."
This ritual, which mixes Buddhism and Christianity, and calls on the spirit for good health and good business, is not the only thing that distinguishes the Japanese designers, who took over the first day of the French ready-to-wear showings here.
The clothes of the Japanese designers, who also include Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Junko Koshino's older sister, Hiroko Koshino, are a cut apart from most of the things being modeled. They are always loose and oversized, mostly black, and appear to be cut and shredded without any relationship to the body. Some look as though the model wiggled into a bolt of black fabric and wrapped it over herself; others look like huge black pillowcases tossed over the body. Hemlines are askew, shapes are often lopsided.
The clothes get their shape from the traditional way the kimono wraps the body, anchored with an obi, or from knots and braids and belts that give the clothes a fascinating, if unexpected and not very feminine, shape.
Adding to the war-torn, ragamuffin look of the clothes is the usual disheveled and even dirty-looking hair and black lipstick of the models. The music often begins with a loud banging of bass drums. Often the collections start off very black and funereal. "I see the pure shape of my clothes when I make them in black," explained Yamamoto after his show. He injected far more color than he has in the past, but the strongest impact came from the black. "I guess it shows I don't feel very good about the future."
Even when the clothes are black they have designs and textures that point out the inventiveness of Japanese fabric makers. The traditional indigo, popular in Japan, and the classic patterns of the old weavers show up in these clothes as well.
There is a heavy dose of punk in the clothes, not only from the blackness but in the raw edges, the silver strips that look a bit like safety pins and the flat shapeless style. Fabrics sometimes look torn and sleeves are unmatched and of uneven lengths. Basting threads hang down intentionally from some of the Yamamoto clothes.
"I can see adaptations of it for Washington," said Eileen Mason Abato, fashion director of Woodward & Lothrop, after the Kawakubo show for Commes des Garc,ons. "We already know black and gray to be popular colors in Washington from the Japanese collections that have sold well. We just have to be careful how we interpret these looks."
"These clothes are very comfortable to wear," said Mounia, Yves Saint Laurent's favorite model, as she was dressing for the Junko Koshino show. "They have no shape and they are not very feminine, but they have a special style that I like to wear during the day."
That certain style has already spun off on the fashion groupies, with their big black coats, black sweaters and pants. And other designers, too, have picked up on the huge kimono sleeves, the oversized fit and the obi wrap belt.
"The Japanese have given . . . the American and the European woman another way of wearing clothes," said Karl Lagerfeld, as he put the final touches on his own collection for Chloe'. "It has influenced everyone," he said, adding quickly, with a grin, "except me, of course."