PARIS: SHAPE CITY

Yves leads the Fit Parade, while Valentino laps up luxury.

LOUIS FERAUD: A GONDOLA RIDE
It was a trip down the Grand Canal, as Louis Feraud looked to Venice for inspiration. Jeweled masks, Fortuny pleats, panne velvets and the dark, festive colors of a Venetian ball set the tone. The collection was strongest when it stayed simple, as in a short, kicky transparent chiffon dress worn over a lace teddy or a high-waisted, floor-length black velvet sheath with a beaded white bodice. But the dresses with bunches of jeweled fruit at the back would have been too much even at Carnival.

VALENTINO: IT'S TOO DARN HAUTE
Usually Valentino is the richest and sleekest designer in Paris, but this season he's just the richest. Not even his front row of admiring Ladies really understood where the Chic was headed with this overcomplicated collection. Of course, when Val kept it simple, as he did in the evening section, he was superb. There were two or three mousseline dresses that were among the most beautiful in Paris. And his simple A-line suits had all the elegance and verve that have made Valentino one of the world's most successful designers.
As for the rest, the finest of details overwhelmed the collection. There was too much of everything: paillettes, sequins, faux fur everywhere, even on top of boots. One or two collars weren't good enough--there had to be three, and so much makeup the girls looked like zombies. But the biggest misstep was Valentino's unfathomable fascination with camouflage: He used it on mohair, evening dresses, suits, pantsuits, day dresses, gloves and hats. It made even the most dedicated soldier want to desert the fashion trenches.

YVES SAINT LAURENT: BACK IN THE GROOVE
Shape is the news from Paris, and that odd couple of La Mode--Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent--is leading the charge. In the collection he presented Wednesday morning, Saint Laurent put his imprimatur on the key trend this season: the fitted torso. A woman's waist is once again an object of obsession in the fashion world. And no more so than in this collection, which was a beautiful reminder of what the couture is all about--clothes that are supposed to make women chic.
The collection was sent down the runway to the music of Berlioz and Wagner (as arranged by Pierre BergÄ) and was amazingly focused: tight, feminine silhouettes; smart, elegant suits, and the kind of refined evening dresses found only in the couture. So what if the copyists won't be burning up the wires? (And just in case, the house printed a warning against plagiarism on the invitations.) But that's not what Paris is about this season. The days of kinetic hipness are over: It's all about the slow fashion statement.
Saint Laurent opened the show with a series of sassy minidresses, some with extra-wide belts slung on the hips, wacky hats and thigh boots so high they looked like tights. His classic suit jackets, which were nipped at the waist and trim at the shoulders, underlined the decline of the men's wear influence this season.
"Bring on the feminine figure," Saint Laurent seemed to be saying. Unlike other couturiers, Yves's skirt hemlines were bobbing up and down like the troubled dollar. He likes to go back and forth to satisfy his clients--with everything from knee-skimming skirts and short bell shapes to long columns. But he also gave his audience a jolt, which he hasn't done in a long time, when he sent out three smashing black tuxedo suits with the shortest, shortest skirts imaginable. They brought the house down.
For evening, Saint Laurent headed East. He showed the most ravishing evening coats in electric colors fit for the chicest Mandarin empress. They were worn over straight satin or velvet gowns--simple, yet divine. At the finale, Yves, beefier but steadier than ever, lapped up the standing ovation. For the first time in years, it seems he's in love with fashion again.

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