Skirts are short, waists nipped in, and evening dresses slither close to, or bare, the body.
That's the message from this week's Paris couture shows, the cr eme de la cr eme of fashion events, which show off French couturiers' best efforts in made-to-order spring clothes for their customers.
Although the shows are pitched to a very specific audience -- women older and far more affluent than boutique customers -- there is little doubt that when the Paris designers show their lower priced lines for fall next month, this same spirit of neater, dressier clothes will be evident in those collections.
For some time, designers in New York and Milan as well as Paris have hinted at a move away from the full-blown, formless and oversized silhouette popular in recent years. "Look at those women on the street corner," said Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel, several seasons back. "Such easy-fitting clothes are making women look sloppy to the point that they are not taking care of themselves. Not even their hair and their makeup," he said at the time.
He was right. In fact, as designers started to swing away from the very full silhouette, women started to seek out trimmer shapes -- belting in the widest dresses, looking for lean, short skirts to wear as an alternative to wide, pleated-top pants and other full-cut styles.
This trim look, which pervaded the presentations in Europe last week, showed up clearly in the new suits for spring from the best of the Paris designers, which are created with fitted jackets, still with width across the shoulder and with nipped-in or belted waistlines and skirts cut off at the knee. There is little chance these will be confused with the popular man-tailored dress-for-success suit, although they are just as appropriate for the office.
Dresses in the Paris couturier collections for spring were also lean and often marked at the natural waistline. Like the suits, they were often shown with gloves and high-heeled shoes, some with ankle straps, and occasionally with serious hats -- a far cry from the casual, sportswear look of loose separates and flat shoes of recent seasons. Many of the models had long hair to make the point of a more glamorous, dressed-up look. If it all sounds very old, like classic Hollywood, that' s probably the best reference point.
The same spirit touched the evening dresses. Some of the best were in the collection of Hubert de Givenchy, inspired by the Indian costume exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many of the new evening designs were very body conscious and snug fitting, in the spirit of the the daytime clothes, but for evening sometimes strapless or with one bared shoulder or a halter neckline. Talk about classic Hollywood . . .