By and  on February 2, 1994

PARIS -- The Porte de Versailles Pret-a-Porter show, which ended its four-day stint Tuesday, was bustling with interested buyers and energized vendors, all heralding an unexpectedly upbeat mood for the fall-winter 1994-95 season.

Color and shape appear to be making a solid comeback after a quiet spring-summer spell of drapey white and ecru clothes.

An array of rich autumnal hues, sexy and refined silhouettes and innovative fabric mixes were the show's strongest trends.

Jack Bernard, general commissioner of the Federation du Pret-a-Porter Feminine, said, "We were tense, expecting a difficult, morose show. But Saturday at noon we noted a marked increase in traffic."

Attendance figures were not available at press time.

Foreign visitors accounted for 50 percent of total attendance, mainly from Europe. The event usually attracts 50,000 buyers.

There were 840 exhibitors this season, an increase of 4 percent over last year's salon. Despite the solid attendance, buyers were not necessarily spending, vendors said.

"Though customers came back, they are suffering from the early dates. They are still in the middle of sales from last winter and they just came to look," said Laurent de Blegiers, an organizer of Groupe des Halles, one of a half-dozen sections in the Pret.

"People are more enthusiastic than last winter," continued de Blegiers. "They want something new, more refined and feminine. They're through with the basics; they want fashion again."

And in the more fashion-forward sections -- Groupe des Halles and Atmosphere -- that's just what they found: Mao jackets and Chinese dresses; short A-line skirts and softly fitted jackets; silver, stretch wool, satin and crinkled synthetics; sassy tartan kilts; colorful mohair, and enough knits to keep any granny smiling.

The winter warmers came every which way -- ribbed and roomy, nubby and snug or speckled and Lurexed in jumbo cardigans, swingy dresses, pleated skirts, V-necks, vests and jackets.

"It's a good fair," said designer Corinne Cobson, whose cabled turtlenecks and sexy knit dresses came in an array of soft purples. Knits have been selling best, along with "anything dressy," she said."We are feeling a true return to mode," said Cobson's husband and partner, Tanguy Loyzance.

Jean-Charles Fresnel, sales manager at Myrene de Premonville, which made its first appearance at Atmosphere this season, was pleased with the show. "It's the first time we are here, and though we're a little imbalanced -- better quality, more designer -- here we are able to show our "sporty" side. Coats and jackets are 30 percent less -- and it's working very well."

De Premonville's skirts are short and jackets long -- some of them so long they can be worn as dresses. "We usually do long coats close to the body, but this season, they're a littler roomier," added Fresnel.

Not all vendors were pleased.

"People have been passing, but the Atmosphere salon at the Hotel Saint James in March is more for us," said Michael Silouy, husband and partner of Natalie Valentiny, a young Belgian designer.

Barcelona-based Maria Drogo, whose long, liquid knits were perhaps too forward for this salon, said, "This may be the last time I make this show. Just because I am a little company and not yet Ann Demeulemeester, [the French] don't want to even look at me."

This season Drogo's avant-garde knits come in a cotton blend that feels like velvet and looks like corduroy. "I'm doing long for winter, but I think women are tired of covering up their bodies."

"We're doing a lot of long, but starting to see the short catch on -- fluid and relaxed," said Valentiny, holding up a smart little A-line skirt. "It's about mixing fabrics this season -- stripes and solids in a new cotton and wool blend that has a washed look and feel."

Other noteworthy looks were the long silk slipdresses at Cobson's hot booth; swanky mini kilts at Junior Gaultier and ribbed knit sweaters with satin pad appliques; Helen Storey's black satin blazers and tartan suits; short A-line dresses in mohair from Isabel Marant; Claudie Pierlot's primary-colored jumpers and striped knits, and Capucine Puerari's little slip dresses, A-line skirts and blazers that wrap up with trendy skinny belts.Ideas from Europe's cutting-edge designers over the last year, including the skinny belt, have found their way into more commercial lines. But the avant-garde philosophy has been softened and cleaned-up -- the customer is more important than the designer.

"I don't think consumers are willing to be dictated to by manufacturers," said designer Danielle Darel of Gerard Darel, a line which boasts 15 boutiques and 700 doors in France. "She will no longer accept having a total look, so we now have many different styles to choose from.

For winter, Gerard Darel is showing a broad range of influences: Velvet vests with herringbone jackets, peacoats over dresses and Scottish plaid skirts with simple knit sweaters.

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