PARIS -- Ordinarily, le weekend means dressing up les enfants and going for a stroll. Young lovers kiss passionately in sweaty Metro cars, and along the sidewalk cafes of St. Germain the fashionable hide behind dark glasses and practice nonchalance. Old men in caps and brown sweaters pitch leaden balls across the hard-packed dirt in the Bois de Boulogne, where, not far away, a model in a white Fendi bathing suit poses in a rowboat for an American magazine.
While Parisians went about the business of being French on an Indian summer weekend, the business of fashion moved forward. Showrooms were open, the curbs lined with the hired cars of retailers. Since Friday, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Katharine Hamnett, Claude Montana, Issey Miyake, Romeo Gigli and Christian Lacroix have shown their spring clothes. Madonna turned up at the Gaultier show Friday night wearing a black baby-doll dress and matching headband. She is a trend in progress. And just in case anyone couldn't find the Kenzo party last night, the designer had his grinning portrait illuminated in the windows of the Beaux-Arts school on the left bank of the Seine.
But fashion is not so self-absorbed this season. Whether because of economic jitters, weaker currencies or a dose of reality, designers seemed to have settled down a bit. Clothes are looser, with the big, fly-away shirt or jacket epitomizing the new mood. Lacroix presented a collection yesterday that was so straightforward -- suits in every wearable description -- that one could accuse him of minting money. Montana, on the other hand, made his point the way a cook makes gravy: by reducing his collection to a handful of powerful, post-'60s shapes in just five colors.
And how long has it been since anyone called a Gaultier show "adorable," as one observer did? His lovefest on a scarlet runway doused with potpourri looked like a reunion of Diane Arbus characters: a white-haired grandmother in red granny boots; a Spanish film star in a skirt that fastened like a droopy diaper; a pregnant model in drawstring romper shorts. But even in the extreme, there were enough ideas to keep fashion moving merrily forward.
Friday: Lagerfeld. Irreverent. Tuned to the street. "I know exactly what is required at Balmain, Lanvin and Dior," he told the International Herald Tribune. "Don't you think maybe I should open a style bureau and do them all?"
Why not? He has an eye that adjusts to the moment, a knack for creating style out of spare parts. Once again he uses leggings, only now they are cropped at mid-calf and worn under boxy pleated skirts and fly-away silky blouses. Sling-back go-go boots suggest the '60s, but this is not a retro collection. The idea of wearing a clunky heel, a black bodysuit under a short-sleeved fitted jacket and a skirt with opened pleats over leggings is destined to return to the streets -- but at a higher price.
Someone once said that the reason the fashionable poor dress better than the fashionable rich is because they can't afford designer prices. The poor have to improvise, as a group of male university students did near the Gaultier show Friday night. They were wearing shower caps and Attends, the adult diaper, over their briefs. Unlike the groupies gathered at Gaultier's door, however, they were protesting the high cost of education.
As a stylist, Gaultier draws on the novel ways people arrange themselves for his shows. His love children, emerging from his Garden of Eden in pairs (both the homosexual and heterosexual kind), wore intoxicated expressions and thrift-shop chic. In sequined muscle shirts and vinyl leggings, they defied official fashion. One model wore a gray tailored jacket -- safe enough -- over a springy white-and-gray tutu. Under that she had on white vinyl shorts. Pin-stripe jackets pulled like balloon curtains at the hemline, and crinkled elastic skirts resembled the tissue-paper skin of parade floats. Guys wore droopy diaper skirts and vinyl footies. There were lots of see-through, zip-off and tie-on things for people who think Paradise is the name of a club.
But fashion is forever on the move, always transmutable. In a noisy cafe on the Left Bank, late into Friday night, another group of young men caroused in blond wigs and played Slavic folk tunes on dented brass horns.
Saturday: Montana and Miyake. Though Hamnett began the day with club funwear, the only noteworthy pieces were spandex bodysuits and minis paneled with sheer strips of stretch fabric. The best examples strategically covered the body with blotches of fern-printed spandex.
A lot more was happening at Montana. This was a faultless performance: pristine white swallow-tail jackets cinched at the waist and notched in the front to expose a short skirt; simple white dresses with square necklines and a line that flared over the hips in crisp points; billowy organza blouses in navy gathered with gold mesh belts. The shapes suggested triangles meeting at the waist, a geometric hourglass that vaguely hints at the '60s.
But where other designers have aped that decade with Pucci prints and hot pants, Montana is firmly detached from it. This collection will send out new signals: the flared mini rather than the tight one; the big shirt, belted, as a jacket; the decorative touch of silver; and the simple tennis-style dress.
Miyake has ideas for the '90s too. His slim-fitting pantsuits printed in two-tone turtle-shell patterns bring color into focus, especially black-light neon. This season his experiments in pleated fabrics are drastically simplified -- knee-length dresses with flat, razor-sharp sleeves that resembled curls when the models twisted their arms akimbo. For a spoof, he made flat envelope purses with a molded glove attached. The models looked like buyers clutching their Filofaxes to their chests.
Afterward, Miyake was encircled by a backstage crush of admirers. Champagne corks popped. An elderly woman wearing mirrored glasses pointed like pyramids cocked her head so the designer, drenched in sweat, could kiss her under her duck-billed visor. She looked perfectly dry.
Meanwhile in the Marais, Romeo Gigli was greeting guests at his fashion "exhibition." The designer decided not to have a runway show in favor of creating the illusion of a forest in his store. Raffia jackets and embroidered bustiers were suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by silos of fishing net. Models wandered aimlessly in beautiful chiffon shirts cloaked in mesh capes, their feet bound in tapestry booties.
The designer, who was present for several showings throughout the weekend, said this approach was easier than mounting an elaborate runway show. "There are two hundred people running around and all hysteric," he said. "This is much calmer."
Sunday: Little boys in gray flannel shorts. Sisters arm in arm. The fresh scent of morning in Paris. Lacroix for breakfast.
The fashionable gathered chez Lacroix, where the walls are sponged the color of fresh salmon, to watch marcelled models glide by in orange smock coats with wide cuffs and big gold buttons. Buyers looked indifferent, as they often do at shows. Programs fluttered into fans. Kalman Ruttenstein, fashion director of Bloomingdale's, switched on his portable fan and held it under his chin.
Everything that Lacroix has done in previous seasons is here -- the golden brocades mismatched with Irish tweeds, the broad stripes, the hippie deluxe knits -- only now the ideas are more defined, somehow less extravagant.
The longer jackets, in two and three tones, convey the dandy but with ease over plain gabardine pants. The abstract prints in vivid green, red, orange and black are confused with splashes of dots -- the way kids do it on the street -- but are made simple over skinny chartreuse pants.
The only flubs are peasant skirts worn with ribbed sweaters trimmed in black lace. In a season of the confident hand, these looked like effort.