PARIS--If you were a reasonably well-off woman, but a little bit insecure about the way you dressed, and dreamed about being a chic Parisienne, there's really only one place to go: Yves Saint Laurent. The collection he presented Wednesday morning had little news, and certainly fewer trends, but it was an impeccable example of French chic at its best. The suits were elegant, the evening dresses glamorous and the little black dresses perfect. Sure, there were a few missteps here and there, but Saint Laurent has decided he's beyond the ebb and tide of fashion and that the only clothes he'll make are clothes his women can understand and feel safe in. Conservative Chic is right up Yves's alley.
And it was hard to discover any of the old Mitterrand Lefties in Saint Laurent's audience. The seat of honor next to Catherine Deneuve was awarded to Bernadette Chirac, the wife of the Conservative presidential candidate. Pierre Berge seated her himself with a grand flourish. And the photographers went mad.
It was a comparatively short Saint Laurent collection, with 79 passages. Yves opened with suits in all sizes and shapes, often with nipped-in waists and a classic loose-fitting skirt that hung just above the knee. Dresses were short, sweet and simple, except for a crowd-pleasing, if somewhat awkward for real life, series of dresses with jacket tops attached as skirts. Saint Laurent also sent out a lot of pants, practically unseen this season, and offered up a new wonderful rendition of the tuxedo with a tight sequined tank top.
As usual, the color combinations were brilliant. Some of the embroideries, however, were too elaborate, though it was hard not to appreciate Saint Laurent's jackets with flying butterflies, some literally popping off the jacket. Those kinds of fantasies, and the house's tradition of the highest quality, separate Saint Laurent from all the other designers who show fancy ready-to-wear under the couture label.
At Pierre Balmain, it often looked like Oscar de la Renta was presenting a deluxe rtw collection. The house's atelier is still not up to snuff, but Oscar's obviously getting used to things, despite all the rumors he's soon to leave. It was a classic, professional and solid collection that Oscar's front row--easily the best in Paris--will lap up. For day, suits ruled, as they have at almost every other house. Oscar's came in bold solids or houndstooth checks--sleek and smart, with snug, tailored jackets and a skirt length that fell right at the knee. It was oh-so-conservative, with little white gloves, glamorous hats and polkadot prints. And terribly Republican, even if Pamela Harriman was the smiling star of the front row. Maybe her boss Bill's swing to the Right is rubbing off.
There's a very nice, rather fresh spirit to the clothes Michel Klein does for Guy Laroche. They're clearly aimed at a younger couture customer, the kind of woman who likes minimalist pantsuits, trim belted jackets and offbeat evening dresses. It's more likely that this woman is interested in ready-to-wear, but Guy Laroche is using the couture to bolster its image and Klein is doing a very good job of it. From being virtually nothing, the house is now a factor on the scene.
Klein said he was inspired this season by Alfred Hitchcock and his faux femmes froides like Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. That meant black leather driving gloves, tight skirts that fell just below the knee, the occasional pair of HotPants and lots of shrunken tops at night. Like almost every other designer in Paris, Klein wants to see his women in corsets, but he also adds padding to the hips to further curve the silhouette. Not for everyone, but at least an experimental idea--something the couture used to be about.

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