Byline: Heidi Lender

Paris--It's the great fashion laboratory of Europe, where designer wannabes flock from all over the world to test unknown concoctions or just observe the fashion giants. To make a name for yourself takes talent, commitment and the hope that the fashion winds are blowing in your direction. Some people prosper, others don't even pass go.
This season is hot for something new. And it just so happens that young blood is pulsing all over Paris with an energy the city hasn't seen in years. It's seeping out of every crevice--from shop-front ateliers around the Bastille and arts-and-crafts apartments in Montmartre to makeshift studios on the Left Bank. Working on shoestring budgets and often sewing entire collections right out of their living rooms, a roster of new names (and some not-so-new) from Germany, Brazil, Norway and France is popping up from underground and they are worth a look.
Everyone's talking about Ocimar Versolato. The Italian-Brazilian designer--ex-assistant to Hervé Leger--seems to have a fresh antidote for evening. Forget the bland black cocktail dress; Versolato is all about intricately pleated gowns made from one piece of fabric and cut strategically for haute sex-appeal and fairy-tale dreams. For his second-ever presentation, the 33-year-old designer promises, "Angels from hell--delicate looks with a strong cut and always a bit Thirties and Forties." He uses soft candy-striper colors or vibrant acids, and all the work is hand-done in his atelier.
In this artisan's season, anything fait a la main is hitting the spotlight. Designers like Fred Sathal and Marc Le Bihan, for example, are crafting away in their respective salons--dyeing, tearing, resewing, rewashing and refabricating. Sathal, a 28-year-old former theatrical costume designer, is concentrating on her dramatic piece unique this season in a 50-piece collection inspired by fairies. Le Bihan, also 28, who transforms old materials, including his grandfather's army pants or mother's bed linens, has worked out a new latex A-line dress for spring, into which he's embroidered thread or human hair, kindly donated by his friends and acquaintances.
Also working on the forgotten fabric front is Polish designer Daniel Jasiak, who has been on the underground fashion scene for 10 years. "It never worked, and now it's the latest craze," says the 29-year-old artisan, referring to his exotic, piecemeal garments. This season he'll present 100 dresses cut exactly the same, doubled so they can be worn inside out. The garments will be patchworked with the most stunning rare fabrics, including a 1920s hand-embroidered wool from India, material found on a street in Istanbul, Indian dishcloths and ancient Japanese kimonos.
Sybil, a press attaché at Michel Montaigne (the hippest fashion public relations company in Paris), designs her own piece unique line on the side. She says she wants to "reinvent couture--but without its affected quality." Inspired by antique lingerie and her grandmother's Thirties boudoir, Sybil magically turns a cheap lace material into a saucy slipdress embroidered with crystals and pearls or a long frock coat into a fabulous creation by reembroidering it with feathers in faded pastels.
Still making noise are XULY BET--who is now designing a line of clothes and shoes for Puma--and GR 816, headed up by Gilles Rosier and Claude Sabbah (who also do Tati's private label, La Rue Est A Nous). GR 816, the masters of Paris streetwear who call their clothes "deep-street couture," just opened a boutique in front of their new atelier in the 10th arrondissement. Get ready for Hollywood Thirties and Forties glamour, says Sabbah of the spring collection, "but not an over-padded Hollywood." There will be silk jeans, neon taffeta army fatigues and their signature kitschy checks.
Spinning with a more elegant edge is Andrew GN, a 29-year-old Singaporean who specializes in high-quality knitwear. After a run with Rati, Basile and Emanuel Ungaro, GN (pronounced ghen) decided to go out on his own, he says, "to make something very simple, well finished and in a good fabric." T-shirts were his target: "Everyone has one, but no one has a really good one," he says. After researching collar finishes and searching for a high-quality fabric that wouldn't turn with washing, GN developed a fine collection of Egyptian cotton T-shirts that were quickly snagged by the hip Paris retailer Maria Luisa. For spring, GN has expanded his collection to 58 spare, sophisticated pieces--suits, jackets, pants and sweaters--in rayon crepes and silk or cotton knits.
Also in a refined frame of mind is Sibilla Pavenstedt. The German designer splashed onto the Paris scene a few years ago with a fantasy-filled collection reeking of poised elegance and a good dose of imagination. For spring, her collection revolves around a water theme, with shimmering fabrics in colors and textures of fish. There will be twinkling Japanese-inspired crop tops, organza dresses with metallic pink accents and polished "cleaning-woman dresses," named for their dowdy-chic length.
Hanno Wessel, another self-financed German émigré based in Paris, offers a raw-fabric, funky collection--Hannoh--with influences that range from the 18th century to Heidi. With a somber color palette and unusual materials, the designer gives life to his offbeat forms with unexpected pleats and wraps. This season, for example, in a workwear theme, he converts flea-market found linen sheets into shirts and shorts and presents dresses inspired by 1940s nurse uniforms that are "cut on the body and very sexy," he said.
Julie Skarland takes her cue from fairy-tale fantasy mixed with the old traditional clothing of her native Norway. For spring, she continues to deck her sweet princesses in linen dresses, decorated with her signature crown handembroideries. This time, though, she also looks East, with long and short kimono dresses and seaworthy little striped sweaters.
If beautiful bugs are your buzz, Frederic Molenac is your man. The 30-year-old Frenchman, who has been on and off the fashion track for eight years--sidestepping to design furniture--cuts an unusual shape, not far from an insect's. It spins around one big geometric form, spouting short cylinder sleeves for a cocooned look. His calls his bias-cut, banana-shaped skirts and tunics "instant-drop" as they automatically drape in all the right places.

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