PARIS, OCT. 18 -- Give a man a bit of vinyl, a panty girdle and a pair of camouflage fishnet tights and what does he do? Put them on a woman.
Leave it to Thierry Mugler, robo-cop of high fashion, to tease the ultra chic with bondage aprons and go-go boots for spring. Mugler's show tonight at the Palais de Tokyo, a sweat tank of designer-suited bodies and wilting hairdos, would make an all-girl revue seem like suburban dinner theater. He had Diana Ross wiggling down the runway, breasts bared under a fishnet T-shirt, and Lauren Hutton trying to inject some sex appeal into pointy chrome bra cups. New York party girl Dianne Brill performed her seasonal strut in a rubber bodysuit, waving like a beauty queen to the photographers. Even Jade Jagger, daughter of Mick and Bianca, put in an appearance as a fledgling model.
Not that anyone would wear a robot's beeping breastplate or do the dishes in a pink gingham romper with a white patent leather apron. It's all just a joke. But not to worry. The serious stuff -- the curvy suits that retailers buy -- was there too, aptly described in the program as "Store Suits." The rest was in the showroom.
In a long, rain-soaked day that began with wood nymphs at Comme des Garcons, moved on to skipping vixens at Angelo Tarlazzi and ended before midnight with Vegas drag from Mugler, the Paris spring collections so far imply that fashion is far too personal to locate a consistent theme. Where one designer espouses hot pants and oxfords, another seems to be floating off in a dream world of slender, long dresses designed for women who walk with tiny steps. Still another re-creates the brittle textures of dry leaves in the form of primitive tunics for his modern-day disciples. So, as with decayed foliage, there is little to grasp at the moment.
For reasons that have nothing to do with practicality, the most interesting clothes seem to reject the present. They are not inspired by the '60s. They do not redress the '70s to the groove beat of Deee-lite. They certainly do not fulfill the functional needs of working women. If anything, they offer a sartorial escape for people tired of clothes with attitude.
After several relentless years of tricky fashions with slashed seams and lopsided hems, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons seems at peace with a simple dress. "Because of the times we live in, Rei wanted the collection to have more fantasy," said her spokeswoman, Marion Greenberg, who conveys the designer's often enigmatic statements. One year it was "red is the new black."
And fantasy is what Kawakubo delivered: gauzy dresses that float past the knees; chiffon coats that drift over lime-sherbet bodysuits; the simple splendor of a columnar gown whose only detail is a pinch-pleated gather of the snow-white jersey at the back, followed by a long train. For once, her models actually looked pretty -- no more frumpy wigs, kohl-smudged eyes and clunky shoes for them. Just put on a happy face for the recession.
Kawakubo's choice of music -- bird chirps and a walk in the woods -- would have put an insomniac to sleep. But never mind. She achieved something pleasant, something that didn't shout or require a perfect derriere. After all, a lace chemise muted with an overlayer of georgette needn't be provocative to get noticed.
Angelo Tarlazzi doesn't bother with such subtleties. He launched into his show with the Greatest Runway Hits, as the photographers moaned loudly and the models hit the catwalk in white stretch minis and hot pants. Isn't life just a beach?
With Tarlazzi, everything is up front and out there. Nautical striped T-shirts are spritzed with sequins. Tiny play shorts are jazzed up with tiny jackets and tiny halter tops. A dishy little white dress gets an extra splash of ruffles down the front. Heels are high, legs are long and, as the Beatles crooned over the sound system, "nothing is real." One has the feeling, though, that a woman for these clothes exists -- a woman who likes sportive sex appeal and a feminine flounce with that necessary touch of vulgarity. She would never go to a unisex hair salon, but can always be found in St. Tropez in June.
Yohji Yamamoto is another story. A master of artful cuts, he preaches to the converted -- those who eschew the practical for the experimental. But even Yamamoto seems in a simpler frame of mind, favoring long plain dresses in quiet (dull?) colors. His models, their hair bound up, walked as though they were carrying the burdens of these difficult times.
Far more riveting are his fabric explorations -- the spidery, openwork patterns of knits over bodysuits and the parchment tunics that resemble the veins of dried leaves. This appears to be an organic idea whose time has come. John Galliano, the British maverick who now shows in Paris, offered sweaters that looked as though they had sprouted, bloomed and decayed on the models. Friday, when Romeo Gigli presents his collection, the earth will open up again. Out will step models in raffia coats and blouses spun from pineapple leaves. Their legs will be wound in vines, their necks in twine stoles. And all because the designer, who always sees things in a different light, was inspired by "the colors at sunset in a wood."
Earth girls. Robots. Big blondes. Fragile creatures. Ah, the times we live in.