The spring 2000 shows here wound down with a sputter, with Claude Montana presenting a lackluster collection Saturday morning and American Jeremy Scott mounting a humorous but aesthetically clunky show that evening. Paris really should have closed the curtain on this season Friday night with the presentation by designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who put on a show filled with humor, theatrics and fine clothes. The memory of his work is the one worth clinging to.
When the lights went up at his presentation in the Musee des Arts d'Afrique et d'Oceanie, the theme from "The Love Boat" blasted over the sound system and one knew that something irresistible was on the way. The models emerged wearing bouffant wigs as big as sombreros. Their talonlike nails were painted in scandalous colors. In the imagination, one could almost hear the cloying dialogue of bourgeois tourists.
But the sweat-suit-and-fanny-pack set could only dream of looking as chic as Gaultier's models. They were dressed in form-fitting, photo-print tops featuring hot forms and faces that seemed to swirl and writhe across the torso.
There were ankle-length skirts with the sleek tailoring of a pair of trousers. Gaultier's theme of stranded tourists on an exotic island was carried through on romantic pirate shirts with tiers of ruffles along the sleeves and distressed hot pants slit open into micro-miniskirts. There were pleated skirts worn with cap-sleeve tops, fluid gathered skirts in silk jersey, tropical floral-print jersey dresses, and blazers with detachable sleeves.
It was an enormous presentation interspersed with wry humor, as when two star-crossed lovers ran--in dramatic slow motion--toward each other from opposite ends of the runway. But instead of a long embrace, he charged headlong into her outstretched arms and then tumbled down the catwalk. The models were equipped with cigarette holders and other kitsch props, a small "pond" was built into the sand-covered runway, and assorted sailor boys stood ready to escort the models down the runway.
In this wild mix of "The Love Boat" meets the Village People, Gaultier plundered the '80s for fashion inspiration, extracting from that decade a sense of playfulness and goofy abandon.
The collection had its sour patches and awkward silhouettes, and the presentation dragged on about twice as long as it should have. But Gaultier's shipwrecked-cruise theme skillfully blended thematic fantasy with blissfully wearable clothes.
Gaultier and Scott were the highlights in the final hours of the spring fashion shows here. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Scott presented a collection of beautifully designed clothes Saturday night. It would be hyperbole even to say he showed vaguely pretty clothes. But Scott had the perfect sense of ironic humor that the fashion industry desperately needs. (He also had British stylist and fashion's biggest fan, Isabella Blow, in his audience wearing a stylized geodesic dome on her head and what looked like a red plastic garbage bag on her body. And that's always entertaining.)
In a scene out of a Catskills country club, Scott stood at a lectern as his models ambled down the catwalk. He offered running commentary throughout the presentation, wryly describing his coat dresses, wrap coats, khaki jumpsuits and tennis dresses.
As one model pranced along the catwalk, Scott noted that she was "wearing the working girl's best friend, the wrap dress. Notice the bow tie detailing." Describing another garment, Scott said, "From power lunches to PTA meetings, this trench coat knows what it means to be a double agent."
Scott's work isn't particularly provocative, although he does cut a smart trench coat in logo-covered khaki. In fact, most of his silhouettes are extremely awkward. Jackets are cut from stiff fabrics and have hulking, squared-off shoulders. And his finale of chiffon dresses consisted of little more than scarves, G-strings and glorified wedgies.
But Scott makes shameless and necessary fun of the notion, so often espoused by the fashion industry, that a garment can transform one's life and that confidence can be found in a jumpsuit with "pocket detailing."
Christian Lacroix continues to struggle to find his way. While he has said he'd applaud the woman who would pair one of his printed, embroidered coats with jeans, it is hard to imagine a woman who feels equally at home in denim and in Lacroix's grand tapestry jackets. It is not that his silhouettes are consistently unwieldy; indeed, many of his skirts have a lean line and flirtatious slits and flounces. But they often are stitched up in printed fabrics with a leaden quality that seems to bog everything down.
All the elements of a frock--cut, fabric, color--never seem in sync with Lacroix. When his prints have verve and energy, as with bold flowers reminiscent of Henri Matisse's childlike cutouts, the silhouettes fall short. Slim trousers flare to unwieldy proportions. Lacroix's love for color, pattern and strong silhouette can be a volatile mix.
But occasionally, when the proportions are just right, Lacroix produces clothes as tempting as extravagantly rich desserts. The tiniest taste is plenty. He creates dainty open-weave sweaters decorated with floral applique. Flowers dance around the sheer hemline of a slim skirt like dried pansies pressed between sheets of translucent vellum.
One hopes that Lacroix, who established himself in the 1980s with his luscious, voluminous party dresses, hits upon that delicate balance of controlled extravagance. As the rest of fashion turns to the '80s for inspiration, celebrates color, rejoices over patterns and returns volume and grandeur to skirts and dresses, Lacroix must seize the day. It should, by all rights, be his moment.
Claude Montana offered one of the week's most uninspired presentations. The models plodded out on Saturday morning in the most perfunctory way. Why should they have been excited? They were wearing linen tank dresses, nylon sweat pants and windbreakers, khaki skirts, brown knit camisoles and slim skirts. Slashes of fuchsia eye shadow marred their eyelids, and they were clutching little battery packs to keep their carnival-light necklaces and bracelets aglow.
To say the collection was bad would assume that great effort had been exerted to make it good. Instead, the line was bland, unremarkable, forgettable. One couldn't help but wonder what would possess a woman to spend designer dollars on a line that bore no markings of a unique point of view.
As the designer marched down the runway--the usual sullen glare on his face--it was unclear whether he was taking a bow or coming out to reprimand the audience for its lackluster response. Trailing behind him was one of his models, dutifully attempting to lead the traditional finale parade.
After Montana blithely ignored her--no peck on the cheek to say thanks for turning up and wearing these dreadful clothes--she turned to discover she was alone on the runway. No other models had followed. The designer had disappeared backstage. She could only chuckle to herself and wonder why things had gone so terribly wrong. The audience was undoubtedly pondering the same question.
Beyond the news about ruffles, fuller skirts, '80s disco and neo-romantics, these Paris collections marked the retirement of Kenzo Takada from the house of Kenzo. After 30 years, the designer stepped down from the line that was noted for its bold use of color and its embrace of world culture. Takada celebrated with a retrospective fashion presentation and a party full of pomp and elephants.
Issey Miyake turned over his signature collection to his longtime assistant Naoki Takizawa.
Givenchy Parfums announced that the American designer Michael Kors, thanks to an investment by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, will launch a new fragrance. The highly lucrative perfume market will help Kors expand his business significantly.
It also seemed that lesser-known names stepped into the limelight with some of the season's best collections. Josephus Thimister captivated audiences with his shadowy collection of singed skirts and lace-front blouses. Junya Watanabe presented a charming collection of waterproof clothes.
But if anything became clear as the presentations wore on, it was that, more than theater and spectacle, the folks here were searching for money-making clothes. Their patience had worn thin with histrionics. Audiences applauded extreme vision when it was applied to fabric manipulation or an astute investigation of how clothes are constructed.
Today, John Galliano's glamorous bikers and Emanuel Ungaro's disco queens can't compare with the more captivating topics of Gucci's attempt to purchase Yves Saint Laurent, the speculation on LVMH's next acquisition and the laying of bets on who will build the biggest luxury goods conglomerate of all.