MOVING DAY IN PARIS IT WAS AN EMOTIONAL FAREWELL TO GIVENCHY, WHILE LAGERFELD AND UNGARO SHIFTED INTO A SLOWER -- AND LONGER -- GEAR.
PARIS--It was a high-fashion moment. Paris loves a sentimental occasion just as much as Hollywood, and Hubert de Givenchy, for his final haute couture collection, pulled out all the emotional stops. At the end of the runway sat one of the most impressive lineups in years. Front-row designers included Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, Paco Rabanne, Oscar de la Renta and Philippe Venet, while the second row was packed with high-profile, big-haired Ladies, including Pamela Harriman, Mercedes Bass, Susan Gutfreund, Mary Wells Lawrence, Lynn Wyatt, Deeda Blair and Princess Firyal--and that was just the first show. Smack in the middle was Bernard Arnault, the aloof tycoon behind this dramatic changing of the haute couture guard. Givenchy, whose career began when Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior were at their peaks, seemed a bit ill at ease with all the attention. He shyly accepted the standing ovation, and then went backstage and sent out all the white-coated workers from his couture atelier. Then Givenchy, also in a white smock, emerged once again, his arms wrapped around his long-time assistant, Jeannette. That's when many people, including Madame Arnault, Lynn Wyatt and even Mercedes Bass started to cry. "It was so moving," declared Yves Saint Laurent. "It's the end of an era," said Christian Lacroix. "This marks a turning point in Paris fashion." Yet more designers showed up at Givenchy's second show, including Sonia Rykiel, Claude Montana and Emanuel Ungaro, who rushed across town from his own presentation to be there, then dashed right up onto the runway to pay his respects to Givenchy. "I feel very nostalgic--we are from the same school," Ungaro said. Also at the second show were the designer's brother, Jean-Claude de Givenchy, founder of Parfums Givenchy, and his nephews--including one named after Hubert. Givenchy's successor, John Galliano, was not present. According to sources, the two designers are scheduled to meet--for the first time --in September. Givenchy's clients are certainly going to miss him and his oh-so-wearable clothes. The collection was full of his signature snappy suits, tailored chemises and the kind of black cocktail dresses women always complain they can't find. There were also some flights of fantasy for evening--not all of which took off, but, by and large, it was the kind of elegant collection Paris couture used to be about.PARIS--A few minutes before the end of the Chanel collection, when the hundreds of journalists in the audience were puzzling about what their next-day leads would be, Karl Lagerfeld, ever helpful to the press, gave them a hint. As the world's richest supermodels paraded down the runway in his new cardigan dresses, the sound of ringing cash registers filled the Carrousel du Louvre and a voice bellowed, "I want money!" This is probably the most deliberately commercial--and concise--collection Lagerfeld has ever produced for the house. In addition to the cardigan dress, which is going to be an instant hit, Lagerfeld's day suits and dresses had an elegance that they have sometimes lacked in the past. Whereas most of the front row Ladies usually sit in utter disbelief at a Chanel couture show, this season they were actually scribbling away. Lagerfeld's new silhouette is long and lean, assisted by his new corset slip with a slightly dropped waist. Skirt lengths fall at the knee or just below. Gimmicks, with the exception of the Lady Godiva ponytails, are gone. So too are accessories, since Karl said he wanted to show this collection, "without any French garniture." What Karl calls cardigan dresses, others might mistake for coatdresses. But don't call them that around Lagerfeld. "I hate that expression," he said the day before the show, as he proudly showed how the new cardigan dresses look like suits but don't have any of the overlap. They do, however, come in nubby tweed, have the traditional piping, and boast a long line of those status symbol buttons. There wasn't the torrent of new ideas that usually floods a Chanel runway, but Karl did manage to come up with some fresh goods. His new capri pantsuits and navy satin kimono dress had the kind of hipness not seen much this season. After all, making "real clothes" --which is Paris's byword these days and which most couturiers have taken to with the fervor of born-again Christians--is not always conducive to moving fashion forward.The hits of the evening portion of the Chanel collection were the sheer chiffon handkerchief cocktail dresses. They too had a jeune fille feeling without being too cute or too dowdy. There was the occasional heavy-handedness with sequins and crystals, and some of the fit was not always flattering. But by and large, Lagerfeld has improved his night choices and has dropped most of the color for black.As usual, the problem with Chanel is one of Karl's own making. He has so revved up the couture machine, that when he takes his foot off the gas--as he has the last couple of seasons--the fashion audience misses the rush of speed. But while some thought this show lacked Karl's usual vim and vigor, sometimes driving slowly is the surest way to get ahead--not to mention rich. Earlier in the day, Emanuel Ungaro, who is celebrating his 30th year as a couturier, also showed his collection at the Carrousel du Louvre. It opened spectacularly, with the chicest embroidered silk tunics over pants--a look that is carefree, easy and sexy. Ungaro followed with long tweed jackets and strict black and white tweed suits. Under the sober but crisply tailored jackets, crushed velvet blouses and wrapped silk bustiers provided bursts of color. The big news is that Ungaro has finally abandoned the short skirts he has championed for so long. His new length begins just below the knee and occasionally drops to midcalf. Virtually all his skirts have slits up the back, topped by little bows. Sexy or not, it remains to be seen whether his clients will accept the longer look. Ungaro used a backdrop plastered with old newspapers and his name spray-painted across like a bandit graffiti artist might do. And the fragmented soundtrack was fresh and hip. Ungaro, even if he has been in business for 30 years, is obviously showing that he wants to keep up with the times. And at least the first half of the collection did. But by the time he got to the evening, he went overboard. The same lady who wears his divine pants and tunics just won't feel right in a tulle ballgown. Still, you've got to applaud Ungaro for trying. Too much Reality Couture can make for a Boring Couture. "You can risk everything with couture. You can't risk anything with a bridge collection," Ungaro said the other day. And who's going to argue with him?
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