There were hats that looked like overstuffed chairs, jewelry-like pulls on a chest of drawers and gold embroidery in the shape of candlesticks on the sleeves of some dresses in the Karl Lagerfeld show.
At the Jean-Paul Gaultier collection, some models were wrapped in rugs, complete with fringe, others in dresses decorated with passementerie (drapery and upholstery fringe), and creations made from fabric used in satin bedcovers.
It is midway in the French ready-to-wear shows and the preoccupation of many of the designers with household things is just one recurring theme. Through snow and rain and cold, thousands of buyers from around the world -- thought to number about 2,000, plus almost as many journalists and television crews -- have made the rounds of three tents in the Tuileries Gardens to see the creations of Paris designers for next fall.
"Women are away from their homes so much, working and traveling, they want to take their houses with them," joked Lagerfeld before his show. Lagerfeld has been redecorating his homes in Monte Carlo and Rome recently, which may have a lot to do with his new-found focus on household things.
Gaultier has an equally legitimate claim on the theme. When he got started in this business he could only afford to buy upholstery fabrics in the flea market. Now he uses them in his irreverent yet expensive and trendy clothes, which are a big hit here and a tremendous influence everywhere. In fact, the tapestry sweater he made this fall sold well and sparked many designers to pick up the same theme and coloring.
But this is hardly the only subject in these or other collections. While some designers use their last collections (particularly those things that sold well) as the starting point for the next, Lagerfeld challenges himself to do something quite different each season. It is no small task for him because he also designs the fur and fashion collections for Fendi in Milan and Chanel in Paris each season. The Fendi and Chanel collections are curbed by the signatures of those house. At Lagerfeld's own year-old house, there are no such limitations. He lets his ideas and humor run wild.
"A woman can be as tall as a man today," says the designer, turning that viewpoint into "giants" as he calls his models, with towering hats and shoes with thick crepe soles. The brim of a mannish hat is turned up at the back, lapels are big and pointy, and jackets and coats have blouson-shaped backs and rounded sleeves, all adding to this look, he explains. Lean skirts and stretch pants heighten the towering effect. Many of his jackets and coats have rounded shoulders without the familiar shoulder pads of the past couple of seasons. "When you are very tall you don't need such broad shoulders," said Lagerfeld. "Besides, even the most ordinary house has adopted the broad shoulders so I must do something else."
He always does something apart from others with his embroidered evening dresses. Humorous themes and beautiful hand-embroidered dresses are juxtaposed to undermine their seriousness, in spite of the whoppingly high price tags -- usually the same price as your basic automobile. One year he used a plumbing theme with running faucets embroidered on dresses and jewelry; last year it was embroidery like brilliantly colored Hawaiian shirts.
This year he remembered his trips to Texas -- perhaps prompted by the success here of the film "Paris, Texas" -- and used silver embroidery like the tooling on cowboy boots and huge embroidered griffins on a dress that had the shape of a boot. On another there was the image of a city complete with factories and smoke, and on others, the household furnishings.
Even though Lagerfeld continues with large coats, what is underneath is usually slim and tight -- a look that most designers agree on this season.
Claude Montana is a master of big coats, which he often designs without shoulder pads as well. Like Lagerfeld he has fiddled with the shape of the sleeve. Lagerfeld ingeniously has cut the sleeve so it appears to twist around the arm. Montana, very effectively, has put gathers on the outside seam to give it shape.
But Montana's strongest cards for next fall are his fabulous color sense and color combinations, sometimes showing up as several colors in each part of one costume, other times with color combined in one sweater or coat. He uses pale pastels in some groups, bold pastels other times, often putting them over long, skinny, ribbed black turtleneck sweaters and black stirrup pants that only heighten the brilliance of the color.
"Have I got a yellow mink sweater for you," David Cohen, the fur buyer for Bergdorf Goodman, shouted to Dawn Mello, the store's president, outside the tent after the Montana show. Mello obviously liked Montana's colored furs -- in fact, the entire collection. "Now I know why I came to Europe," said Mello.
Anne-Marie Beretta used bright color silks for a group of ski clothes and quilted coats that could generate a return to down coats next season. And her big raincoats in iridescent fabrics will no doubt inspire others to revive that look, too. But the strongest impact will be from her more fitted suits, the shoulders less broad than previous seasons, and jackets with big lapels, eased through the top for comfort, then tight over the hips with a narrow skirt or pants. Her jackets and coats often had huge pocket flaps.
Issey Miyake's clothes are narrower this season, too. "I like to betray what people expect," said Miyake after his show. Last season he surprised everyone by introducing a tailored jacket "because no one thought I knew how to make one," he said at the time. And that jacket, with a pointed cutaway hem, worn with a soft skirt, became one of the season's most copied designs.
While he has narrowed some clothes, he has managed to hold on to his staunch theme for his 15 years in business -- comfortable clothes. He has developed a gray flannel fabric with a two-way stretch, which he uses in trousers for just that reason.
He has looked to new and old for fabrics. "Because people always tell me my clothes aren't very wintery," Miyake said, he discovered a new way to make a fake fur, which is, in fact, the artisanship used in costumes for the Kabuki theater. And he has taken a silicone fiber used to protect doctors and patients from the harm of X-rays and a high-tech material used in computers for some of his designs. (The computer fabric, which has a metallic sheen, won't actually be used in the clothes that get to the stores, Miyake said sadly. It would make the clothes too expensive.)
After Miyake's show, Boy George was the first to get backstage to offer congratulations. He wanted to take Miyake's beekeeper hat, an ideal disguise, right back to London but the designer needs it for his show in Tokyo next month.
Boy George, hardly disguised by his new short, spiky haircut, was also at the Gaultier show. Sitting nearby, slumped down into her seat, chewing gum and wearing a black leather jacket with silvery zippers, was a rather shy Princess Stephanie of Monaco. She, too, had a very short haircut, which made her look charmingly boyish.
It was hard to distinguish the boys from the girls by their haircuts or their clothes in the Gaultier show held in the Cirque d'hiver, the small circular theater that is the home of the winter circus. But because his last show was an outrageous circus, Gaultier got more serious and conservative this round.
With background noises that often sounded like someone quickly switching channels on a television set, Gaultier created his own soap opera. Gaultier, who makes a good living and has attracted a huge following with his irreverent treatment of classics -- including shrunken vests, oversize shirts, backless jackets -- has simply taken on the whole bourgeoisie with his show and his clothes for fall.
He titled his presentation "The Charming Hangups of the Bourgeoisie" -- a play on the popular "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." (He calls them the Bourg and the Super Bourg.) With the models sometimes in speaking parts, unheard of in fashion shows, he satirized the Bourg penchant for status items, like Herme s scarves and Chanel handbags and chignons, with his lopsided interpretations, including braided chignons worn as earmuffs. Picture a female model with a platinum flattop wearing braided hair earmuffs. The audience loved it.
His own collection was fairly conservative, but always with a twist. His variation on the Irish fisherman's knit sweater, for example, was a skinny-fit white cable-knit vest over a short white cable-knit sweater and tight pants, also in the same heavy knit of that classic sweater from the Aran Islands. The suspenders that held up his high-rise pants were like a belt that went over the shoulder and around the back of the neck rather than being hitched to the front and back of the pants.
Gaultier underscored the point of the new tight fit in clothes by zipping a brocade girdle over some of his designs. His obsession with bosom has gone on through all his collections, this time with pointed breasts knitted into sweaters and metal breasts sometimes shaped like elephant heads worn as jewelry. That joke was not considered funny by many in the audience.
In a sequence he called "Guess Who Wears the Pants in the Family," set to the song "Whose Side Are You On," male models, including a young man with long hair and a falsetto voice, appeared in long pleated skirts. Other times the men walked around the stage in brocade dresses with velvet caps or in coat-dresses. Even though the fuzzing of the sex lines was a major theme of Gaultier's last collection -- even though several other shows including John Galliano in London and Kansai Yamamoto in Paris showed men in skirts, and even though art students and Gaultier groupies have been wearing skirts all week -- it still was a shock to the eye.
It was not his reverse sex styles for men but his reversible styles for women that really roused the audience. Near the end of his show three female models took off their black dresses, skirts and even a hat in front of the crowd and turned them inside out to change them to ruffled, Lurex styles. The audience approved.
"It's two for the same money," said a model in commentary during the show, adding, "Even life is reversible -- one side comic, one side dramatique."
There was little question which side Gaultier prefers.