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And the Band Plays On: Oscar Hits the Right Notes at Balmain, While Ungaro Does a Soft Number

<STRONG>Emanuel's Soft Appeal</STRONG><BR><BR>Emanuel Ungaro likes to say how sauvage and violent he is, when in fact he's just an old softy. Tuesday morning at the Carrousel, he showed the softest collection Paris has seen this season. His fabrics...

Emanuel’s Soft Appeal

Emanuel Ungaro likes to say how sauvage and violent he is, when in fact he’s just an old softy. Tuesday morning at the Carrousel, he showed the softest collection Paris has seen this season. His fabrics fluttered, his cuts were delicate, his colors exquisite, and there was enough lace to seduce a whole convent of fashion nuns. In fact, seduction was what Emanuel’s collection was all about.

“I want to return to a primitive spirit,” said Ungaro before his show, “to peasants who just pick up scraps of fabric and sling them on themselves. I’m taking pieces of fabric and throwing them on the body.”

Accordingly, his pants were soft and sheer, while his supple long and short cocktail dresses grazed the models’ bodies. It all drifted out in the most alluring silk mousseline — sometimes crinkled and with a tie-dye effect. His Power Suit has become the Sensitive Suit — liquid layers of mousseline wrapped into filmy pants and jackets. After all, Ungaro is the drape-master of Paris, and though his superopulence weighed him down toward the end, essentially this was a wonderful collection — Emanuel’s second big success in a row.

Cheering him on was one of the best front-row turnouts yet this week: Alain Delon, Anouk Aimee, Lilianne Bettencourt, Lynn Wyatt, Nan Kempner, Susan Gutfreund, Marisa Berenson, Isabelle d’Ornano, Sao Schlumberger — at her first Emanuel Ungaro couture show — and the ever-present Robert Altman, with his faithful entourage.

Classic Act

Hubert de Givenchy may have parted with some of his treasured 18th-century furniture recently, but he hasn’t disposed of any of his classic ideas about how to dress women. For spring, Mercedes and Bunny will be wearing Hubert’s pantsuits with short jackets — Givenchy is right on that big Paris wavelength — crisp navy dresses trimmed in white, flower prints with a bit of ruffle and, bien sur, polkadots. For evening, he showed shimmery gazar that was just transparent enough, and the best number was the simplest: a fitted white guipure blouse over big black gazar pants.

Michel Clean

Such fun. Such fantasy. Such froufrou. NOT! Michel Klein is a serious designer, and serious is the word to describe his debut couture collection Tuesday evening for the house of Guy Laroche. Just in terms of fashion attitude, Klein’s severity makes Claude Montana look like Christian Lacroix (who sat in the Laroche front row at the first of two Ritz shows).

The house of Guy Laroche wanted something to turn its image around, and this collection should definitely do that. These are clothes for women who haven’t discovered couture yet — intellectuals, gallery owners, book editors with big trust funds. These are not outfits for ladies who lunch, unless the menu is macrobiotic, and if Klein’s girls head south for the sun, it’s more likely to be Marrakech than Palm Beach. These clothes are all about minimal shapes, minimal fabrics and minimal colors, and many of Klein’s things were quite beautiful.

But whether Mao suits, harem pants, pajamas, smocks and djellabahs, even in the most exquisite fabrics, are the natural province of couture rather than ultra-luxe ready-to-wear, is open to argument. Like other Paris designers, Klein is taken with the romance of Orientalism, though his take on it is considerably more sober than, say, Emanuel Ungaro’s or Oscar de la Renta’s. But it is remarkably consistent, from the flowing capes many of his models wore over dresses and suits to the escarpin-inspired shoes whose turned-up toes were on everything from slippers to high-heeled mules to the velvet caps with fez-like tassels. Too bad he broke the mood with hairdos that haven’t been seen since the heyday of Harpo Marx.

The Feraud Factor

Paris couture may have gone short, but Louis Feraud did his best to keep long alive Tuesday afternoon, showing long dresses and skirts from morning to night. Feraud, who watched most of his show from the control booth, also sent out some nicely tailored pantsuits with long jackets in silk toile, and some elegant navy evening sheaths. The designer had said he would feature lots of lace to give a boost to the beleaguered lacemakers of Calais, and made good on his word with lace-trimmed jackets and skirts and some sexy lingerie numbers. But for his finale, he served up enough pearl embroidery to make an oyster weep.

Oscar Winner

Oscar de la Renta is getting comfortable with Paris, and Paris is getting comfortable with Oscar. He showed a fine collection for the house of Balmain Tuesday afternoon, and one that proved he has whipped the Balmain atelier into shape. He also struck a truly classy note when he listed his three design assistants in the program. Gone was the prissiness of the previous season and in its place was a newfound sophistication for day and evening.

De la Renta showed sexy suits with vest-point jackets or fitted cardigans and crisply tailored pantsuits for day. Some of Oscar’s evening dresses were as beautiful as any in Paris, especially a short draped black crepe-over-black-lace number. Karen Mulder looked like a Pepto-pink bombshell in his chiffon column; the O-Ladies will have to give up even celery to wear this one. But for those who want to have their cake and eat it, too, Oscar sent out a lot of caftans, most worn with fluid, skinny pants. There was only one egg laid in the show, at the end, when Oscar did an homage to Mother Goose with a series of Little Bo Peep dresses. But bombed-out evening dresses seem to be the only way to end shows this season for the couture fraternite.

And certainly, no one turned out a more haute front-row than Oscar. Irene Amic, Madame Pompidou, Lady Dudley, Isabelle d’Ornano, Doris Brynner, Gaby van Zuylen, Jackie de Ravenel, Deeda Blair and Susan Gutfreund all showed up for their boy. But Pammi Harriman couldn’t make it — she had to fly to Stuttgart. An ambassador’s work is never done.