Two women designers emerged as the stars of the second week of shows here, in part because they both manage to create the curvy, plaster-of-Paris look without the body-bruising fit of some of their male colleagues' designs.
The easiest way to achieve the new shapelier look is with a belt. For Jacqueline de Ribes, who wowed her audience with a celebration of chic seldom equaled in this city of chic, the belt is really two half belts crossed at the back to make the waist look smaller.
For Sonia Rykiel, who last month was awarded her government's Legion of Honor for her singular fashion achievements, there are two ways to shape a waistline for spring. One is a wide, somewhat stiffened stomach belt that matches the sweater it wraps. The other is not really a belt at all, but a slice of bare skin bisecting the body between drawstring-closing sweater tops and ankle-length knitted skirts.
Rykiel's is a second-skin kind of fit that narrows the body in such new knitwear ideas as split personality sweaters that blouse above the waist and fit snugly from waist through hips.
De Ribes' gift is to be able to walk that fine line separating the tight from the tart. Her long, slender columns of satin crepe fit in a kind of haute sexy way, suggesting and tracing the curves with intricate seaming, draping and inserts. And for those whose curves are less than perfect, she offers gowns with back panels, including her original "return" hemline that doubles back from the ankles to the shoulders to form a floating wind socket.
De Ribes wins the most-beautiful-dress-of-the-season award with a black crepe cocktail number laced at the hips in iridescent black-on-white dotted silk. The same fabric is repeated as a tiny bra-like bow that spans a deep V cleavage.
Nino Cerruti continues to set new standards for tailoring with his spring suits and jackets. One especially effective design is really a shirt with a loose panel in back that's patterned after the storm yokes on raincoats. It's belted at the waist in a glen-plaid version and is worn with a narrow above-the-knee skirt. Cerruti's bright yellow cutaway jacket over a black-and-white-check short skirt looks like it should be a sure-fire winner in the stores, and his new wide-legged cotton pants worn with a gauzy offwhite blazer are the first wide-legged pants of the season that look right with the jackets. This designer obviously knows a thing or two about proportion. There are surprising numbers of above-the-knee skirts at Cerruti -- a sign that even the fashion classicists are ready for a season of bare kneecaps.
The men and women who design couture as well as ready-to-wear -- Hubert de Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, Valentino, Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent -- all presented spring collections that are much in the spirit of their July couture openings. There is little new, but a lot good.
Givenchy comes up with a great idea for achieving the sarong skirt look without the risk of derriere-cupping. Instead of side-draping the skirt, Givenchy side-drapes the tops of two-piece dresses and lets the streamers dangle toward the hemline over narrow skirts. Sunburst pleating is another Givenchy signature for spring -- at its best in a remarkable wisteria blue one-shoulder gown with jeweled straps in back. Most Givenchy daytime dresses end at the knee tops, including the colorful cotton prints with drop waistlines.
Valentino continues to streamline his look, eliminating anything he considers extraneous -- including buttons. Narrow linen jackets zip open, for example, to reveal equally narrow sheath dresses. There is less deluxe sportswear than usual at Valentino and more suits or dress-jacket costume. Because of all the dressmaker detailing, there is a kind of '50s svelte to the collection. As if to point up the fact, Valentino shows many of his clothes with printed, Herme s-like scarves worn looped under the chin, then wrapped around the back and knotted in front the way Grace Kelly used to do. Like other designers this season, Valentino uses godet back insets to make walking easier in the narrow skirts. Both Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld-for-Chanel show a lot of gray for spring -- the Lagerfeld version appearing as taffeta blazers and pants for evening wear.
There have been so many rumors this week about a split between Chanel and Lagerfeld that the house of Chanel finally sent telegrams to the press, dated Oct. 22 from New York. The word: "The House of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld announce that their working relationship continues."
Lagerfeld, who did not take his usual bow at the end of the show, thereby fueling the rumors even more, called his new Chanel offerings "bright, light, tight." There are fewer dimensional tweed suits in the collection, less braiding and a lot more "Chanelisms" in the more modern-looking nautical mood of navy and white. The gold buttons that are everywhere in Paris this season, including Valentino and Rykiel, remain at Chanel, appearing on everything from skirts and jackets to khaki cotton poplin suits with pleated peplums. And for the first time there are Chanels for girls. A young model who looked like she was 8 or 9 years old strolled down the runway wearing a pink wool Chanel suit complete with a quilted shoulder bag.
Emanuel Ungaro, who started the bodice-shirring trend two years ago, continues to refine this look that's now being copied all over the world. As anyone who's ever worn one of these drape-front dresses can tell you, the shirring allows freedom of movement in even the narrowest of dresses. Ungaro's prints -- a melange of florals and scrollworks -- look especially new when combined with tailored woolen -- as in a striped wool blazer over a cowl-necked print blouse and a trumpet skirt with a bigger floral print.
For Saint Laurent, the look for spring is refined sportswear in sensible, no-nonsense proportions softened by matte jersey midriff-baring tops with bustline shirring.
The wool jersey tunic that starred in Saint Laurent's July couture collection only appears once or twice in the spring lineup. Instead of that long and lean look, most of the new YSL jackets are shorter and shapelier. Skirts hover above and below the kneecap, and most clothes, including the classic tailored trousers, are shown with high-heeled reptile sandals.
As at Valentino, the spirit of the '50s is evoked in such ideas as white sharkskin golf dresses with short sleeves, simple silk shirt dresses and full printed cotton skirts with contrast print blouses.
The designer who started the fashion world's fit over fit, Azzedine Alaia, has some new viscose knit dresses for spring that are well on their way to becoming the choicest bondage clothes of the year. They lace up the side of the body in a kind of latticed open work that bares just the right amount of skin in just the right places.
Alaia's new denims have as many curving seams as his leathers, and his knitted tube dresses show every dimple, every vein, every corpuscle.
Right now, Alaia is the most copied designer in Paris, his work influencing even the most famous names. So when he suggests bilevel knit skirts with one side short and one side stair-stepped long, get ready for some new split-level look at the legs.