It was a robust and confident Yves Saint Laurent who bounded down the runway after showing his fall collection today. With good reason. He was recently presented with the Legion d'Honneur by President Mitterrand himself at the Elysee Palace. He has been invited to exhibit a retrospective of his clothes -- the same one shown last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York -- next summer in Peking.
And he had just presented a very strong collection, which could well have been called "All About Yves." A development and refinement of things he has done well in the past, it was also spiced with enough new ideas to keep Saint Laurent faithfuls content with what they own and yet tempt them to add some new pieces.
In fact, this fall the clever woman might add a wool jersey tunic (to wear with the short black skirt she probably already owns), a hooded shawl, gauntlet gloves and a dressing gown and be very well outfitted in Saint Laurents.
From the opening of his show, the designer established his preference for short skirts, cut off above the knee or shorter. He likes them worn with lean wool jersey tunics, best with a cowl neck in front and buttoned down the back. Take your pick of colors -- Saint Laurent deftly mixes them all, adding accents in hooded stoles or shawls and gauntlet gloves. Black suits him just fine as well, and black hose and shoes -- with instep straps and high heels -- are shown with everything.
You've got to look closely to catch the change in his trousers. They frequently have contrast bands at the hem and a row of buttons at the ankle. A signature of the designer this year, the buttons also appear on skirts, dresses and cuffs, as shiny decorations by day, jeweled for evening.
While others are designing only for the super-skinny customer, Saint Laurent knows there is an equally rich woman with a slightly larger waistline. For her he has continued with unfitted dresses in paisley, floral or tapestry patterns. His three-quarter coats and jackets well cover the derriere, and a nifty cocoon-shaped jacket hides a multitude of figure problems.
But if you are reed thin, he also provides ways to show it off, with short bolero jackets and skirts that rise above the waist. It's bound to be a very influential silhouette, and Saint Laurent carries it over from daytime to evening.
Although he ended his show with a group of short black dresses showered with rhinestones -- as the speakers blared "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" -- he knows that many women need less splashy evening attire. The options are as easy as a lilac silk shirt and long brown tuxedo skirt, or a pastel pink moire jacket edged in rhinestones paired with black crepe pants. Or, most relaxed of all, the bathrobe dress or dressing gown in red panne velvet.
Azzedine Alaia is another designer who stayed true to form this week -- and truer to the female form. In fact, his carefully carved-out dresses and skirts -- fitted so close to the body that there's barely enough room for underwear underneath -- have been a major influence on many other designers this season.
Alaia poured his models into snug stretch pants for fall, topping them with wonderful full, shapely sweaters, sometimes waist length but often longer, with fringed shawl collars and front belts. His skirts are as form-fitting as his pants, sometimes just a white tubular ribbed knit.
But over it all he likes big coats, such as a superb chocolate brown leather version with nipped-in waistline shown with a big circle skirt. He cuts shearling with great ease and makes it reversible, along with his fur coats. It doesn't matter that his minks don't seem to be the best quality around -- who will notice when you can turn them inside out? That gives you two mink coats in one, although it doesn't really explain why anyone needs two mink coats.
It's clear, though, that women do want his figure-tracing dresses. "If I could have any of the dresses I've worn all this week," New York model Tara Shannon admitted to the audience of more than 100 that had crowded into Alaia's small showroom in the Marais section of Paris, "it would be this one." The thin jersey dress she wore seemed glued onto her body.
Her colleague Debbie Dickenson, wearing a long jersey dress that fit like a second skin, didn't need to say. She simply drew a deep breath and pressed in her almost invisible tummy with her hand. The audience understood perfectly, applauding both model and designer.
Earlier this week, Joan Collins sat in the front row of the Valentino show, furiously scribbling notes. No wonder. There were enough skinny, sexy, rich, even tarty clothes on the runway for Collins, her chums on "Dynasty" and lots of "Dynasty" aficionados as well.
Valentino's fall collection was one of the high points of the round of French ready-to-wear shows, which wrapped up today. It has not been a banner season, marked by lengthy, late-starting shows and collections filled with scattered ideas rather than focused points of view, and not much news.
The persistent intermittent downpours that the French call "giboule es de mars" (March showers) haven't helped much, either. In fact, at the Emanuel Ungaro show, the tent started to leak. Ellin Saltzman, Saks Fifth Avenue's vice president, had to wear a scarf for the duration and Burt Tansky, the store's president, put his raincoat back on. But in spite of the cold damp weather, the audience stood up and cheered the designer.
With Valentino, what you see is what you get -- nothing is subtle. With Ungaro, what you see when you get up close is extraordinary patterns, carefully combined and ingeniously tailored. It was clear from the audience response to these shows that there is plenty of room for both.
As usual, Valentino has upped the glamor quotient for fall, showing suits that fit close to the body, the jackets often closed with zippers rather than buttons. He continues to show plaid suits (his penchant for plaids a year back helped stimulate a run on them worldwide), but fresher are his ensembles in gray flannel and camel's hair, often paired.
He uses generous doses of Persian lamb in luxurious suits and coats, and lots of quilting -- even in skirts and pants, which is tough on skinny models and should be disastrous on anyone with padding of their own. "I'm not sure how much added quilting I need on my hips," laughed Val Cook, vice president of Saks Jandel, when a model in quilted trousers passed on the runway. Yet a black quilted satin sweatshirt over silk crepe pants for evening is guaranteed to become a popular look.
Valentino's evening look, at which he excels, is often as casual as a sweater and skirt. But such a sweater -- long and lean, with fine tucking or ribbing over the hips for a very svelte look. One can't be too thin for these clothes.
He is also adept with color, catching the draping of a super-skinny black dress with a red bow, or a red dress with a black bow, and finishing the look with a touch of red on the backs of high heels. He brightens black velvet with dashes of brilliant satin, heavy gold applique' embroidery or, as a surprise, punched-out leather lace.
Ungaro, who may have been the first with the most draping a few seasons back, has eased up a bit, and he's abandoned his miniskirts for above-the-knee or very long, lean styles. The real show stoppers were the draped, overprinted silk jacquard knee-length dresses in pastels and the long-skirted suits combining fractionally different prints in murkier tones. Another winner was the group of off-white satin jackets paired with jacquarded silk T-shirts and slim pants.
Although it was the patterns -- Kandinsky-like prints, paisleys and florals -- that everyone will remember, Ungaro works successfully without pattern, too, as in his black leather dresses and short black velvet draped dinner dresses.
Karl Lagerfeld, in his Chanel collection, had great success fiddling with the old formula. There are more short jackets this season, often with a longer layer, such as a sweater, underneath. The big hit for daytime was a vicun a-colored boy coat with back belt, worn over a navy sweater and pants. Looking for another way to show off his sweaters, Lagerfeld simply hung an extra one from the back belt of the coat.
He also loves having fun with the Chanel signatures. An iridescent raincoat was lined in tweed and braid with lots of pockets, just like a Chanel jacket, and a group of long, lean dresses he calls "the chain gang" were embroidered and applique'd in chains over the hip. From the audience it looked as though Lagerfeld had added a few real chain belts for good luck.
The only major print in the collection was of coins -- appropriate, since Chanel is virtually minting money with its collections everywhere, including Washington. The Chanel boutique on the Rue Cambon here has done twice the business of a year ago, the volume boosted by American dollars so strong that tourists can buy a suit in Paris for what they would pay for a dress in America.
In his couture collection shown here in January for clients of made-to-order clothes, Lagerfeld paid homage to the Watteau paintings on exhibition at the Grand Palais. For this ready-to-wear collection, he adapted several of the Watteau-inspired styles in white, with ruffled necklines. The audience loved them.
After several seasons of lackluster collections, the Christian Dior show attracted back many buyers looking for some new vigor from the four designers identified only as being from France, London and the United States. And some came with hopes of seeing Princess Caroline, a Dior faithful.
She was in the front row with Dior artistic director Marc Bohan, but the show was a huge disappointment. Following an undistinguished group of white sportswear, it bounced from contrived miniskirts to Venetian carnival costumes complete with lace masks. The slow, sad music made it all the worse.
"You must always look at the bright side," said one American buyer as she left the show. "It made everything else look better."