Some of the best of French fashion was saved for last.
After a week of dismal, rainy weather and a calendar of mostly disappointing shows, Yves Saint Laurent scored with a worthy collection that not only picked up spirits but undoubtedly will pick up many dollars as well.
"Thank God. We really needed it," said Robert Sakowitz of the Sakowitz stores as he grabbed the arm of Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's business partner, after the show.
"I was crying, and I rarely cry at shows," Sonia Caproni, fashion director of I. Magnin, told the designer.
What had moved Caproni to tears, and others to a standing ovation, was a spring collection that was feminine without being tarty, colorful but not garish. It included elements for which Saint Laurent is known, from jumpsuits to bustiers and draped dresses, refined and without the gimmicks that had burdened so many of the other collections shown this week.
"Purity. Purity. That is what I want," said Saint Laurent as admirers raced backstage to greet him.
It was a far more confident designer than in past seasons who, unsmiling, walked the length of the runway by himself after the show, then burst into a huge grin and waved to the audience that stood to cheer him. He turned and applauded the models, then leisurely returned, kissing his favorite models as he went. Behind the stage he posed with his models before meeting the well-wishers.
It has not been a brilliant week in Paris. Following the presentation of several more than satisfactory collections in Milan by Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi, Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferre, and a spirited mix from a great number of designers in London, buyers and press have been disappointed in much that they have been seeing in the designs of the heavy hitters here, with the exception of the collections by Lagerfeld and Issey Miyake.
Emanuel Ungaro showed a very short, draped, tight collection that had a can-can flavor in the evening wear but was far more ladylike for daytime. Except for one segment of the show, in which the colors were dark and the lengths long, he played with a mix of vibrant colors and patterns, gussied up with bold necklaces, bows and headpieces.
Jacqueline de Ribes was far more gentle than Ungaro in the way she draped and wrapped the body in her best collection so far. For daytime she opted for suits that slipped easily over the body, with nicely shaped jackets in color blocks. Her daytime clothes are very good, but her slim evening dresses are better still, with several points to be given for her invention of a new kind of skirt -- one that develops into a coat in the same fabric. Remove the coat and tie the sleeves around the waist and it becomes an extra skirt panel. That doesn't really work, but lots of her simply draped styles and rich color combinations or fabric mixes in untricky shapes work splendidly. De Ribes also designs jewelry, which stores have tried to buy but which is available only to customers for the clothes.
Saint Laurent borrowed Valentino's idea of laying down a carpeted boardwalk and canopy -- in case of rain -- leading to the tent in which he showed. But beyond that the morning show was characteristically Saint Laurent. Though he picked up themes being played by other designers, he played them skillfully without being dull. Witness:
*Prints. Clearly taken from the popular show of Le Douanier Rousseau paintings at the Grand Palais, Saint Laurent's prints are understandable, summery and colorful.
*Short hems. While he includes many long, swinging skirts, most of the collection is at the knee -- where many of the hemlines of other designers will eventually end up, even though they were shown on the runway much shorter.
*Silhouette. Sticking with the comfort of roominess on the top, he showed a slimmer silhouette below in skirts or pants. His draped dresses are uncomplicated and flattering.
*Bareness. Shoulders are bared in bustier tops; shorts show the legs and an occasional bare midriff, sometimes worn with long, bantamweight printed silk coats.
*Short jackets. Like other designers, Saint Laurent uses the bolero jacket as an alternative to longer, fitted styles.
*Colors. Using gentler colors than many other designers, he sometimes combines shades that almost match but don't really -- two shades of navy, or two pale blues or two beiges. Often he anchors his colors with pants or skirts in black.
*Pants. Like others, Saint Laurent shows a lot of them. The way to wear them is with short jackets.
His most popular dress (and most copied style) is likely to be the knee-length red draped silk crepe anchored at the waist with jeweled embroidery. With it, the model wore violet satin shoes. And for those who keep score on the new YSL smoking jacket, this year's version is a jumpsuit, typical of the designer's intent to keep things as simple as possible for spring.
The dollar also has perked up the fashion crowd here. According to Didier Grumbach, who heads the YSL business in America, when buyers start placing orders on the line, they will find prices down as much as 20 percent from those of a year ago.
That alone has made it worth the trip.