PARIS -- It is raining so hard here this week that water seeps into your shoes when you cross the muddy courtyard of the Louvre to the tents housing the fashion shows. The spotlights above the runways sway constantly from the wind. Outside, the puddled streets are gridlocked from a strike of civil service fonctionnaires that includes traffic cops.
Welcome to Paris in the fall.
This is the third stop for buyers and press scouting new ways to dress for next spring, but despite the weather woes that matched earlier ones in Milan and London, the spirits of the fashion crowd appear undampened.
For the past five years the first day of shows here has been set aside for the avant-garde Japanese designers. Originally intended as a curtain raiser, it is now one of the most important days of the week-long fashion marathon.
Without forfeiting any of the originality that has long marked the cut of her garments, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garc ons introduced a far more decorative look than she has before. Using sequins, Lurex and cascading ruffles, she embellished garments marked by bias cuts and spiral seams to achieve silhouettes always mobile, but close to the body.
"Up to now I have been concentrating on simplifying the shape of clothes and expressing myself with the form," she said after the show. "Now the form is established and I was ready to decorate it."
Kawakubo toyed with some of the themes in the air at other collections in London and Milan, but her interpretation never stepped outside the bounds of her own commitment to cut and form. She does shorts, but pairs them with asymmetrically hemmed cutaway jackets that don't quite close. She does the traditional tiered Spanish fiesta skirt, but in her own way, with seams always on an angle, the fabric tilted on the bias and the cut an intriguing spiral shape. She uses petticoats, but not to reshape the skirt as others do. Instead, her red petticoat showed through a navy skirt to give texture and another angular hemline.
"No one will ever admit the endless resource for creativity in the clothes of these Japanese designers," said an admiring Bernie Ozer, vice president of the Associated Merchandising Corp., after the show.
There were, in fact, several designers taking in the Kawakubo show, including Englishman John Galliano, whose clothes have a distinctly Japanese spirit to them, and Azzedine Alaia, whose clothes are remarkably cut to conform to the figure -- particularly the derrie`re.
Also in the audience was Yohji Yamamoto, whose own show later in the day continued the style that is his signature -- askew hems, clever shaping through the folding more than the cut, some superb jackets and pretty, soft blouses. Yamamoto and Kawakubo, both once believers in the no-makeup, unhappy-model look, have moved on to natural makeup for their models these days. Yamamoto even showed a few pieces of jewelry on his jackets: pins that looked a bit like bent hangers.
Yamamoto continued some themes from the last collection, particularly jumpers with cobbler-apron fronts or overalls, all with soft T-shirtlike blouses or shirts underneath. His best new jackets are decorated with buttons. One has clusters of four buttons to close the jacket and other buttons scattered over the front.
When Yamamoto ventures into the world of trendy fashion, it's a big mistake. Like others, he wanted to show off-the-shoulder styles. But his off-the-shoulder items are jackets, boned to stay up, that show only a T-shirt underneath.
Between the Kawakubo and Yamamoto shows was the presentation of Junko Koshino, whose designs are always a bit wacko.
Koshino designs seem created more for shock value than comfort, unless rubber or vinyl dresses strike you as comfortable. Her vinyl bathing suits would feel like saunas at the beach. Her accessories, however, are always amusing. One costume boasted a collapsible veil like a beekeeper's hat -- the better to keep mosquitoes away. Another looked like a broken umbrella, the plastic ribs covering the head and shoulders.
For a dramatic finale Koshino sent her models out onto a darkened runway wearing fluorescent cage skirts lit by a fluid within the plastic rib designs, proving that the Japanese can always throw a new light on things.