Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high” — or so insists “Summertime,” the rousing song from “Porgy and Bess” that ended Yves Saint Laurent’s spring couture show Wednesday morning. And so it is with Saint Laurent, who has never found living easy, but always manages to survive through thick and thin.
Strikes come, strikes go. New stars are born, new stars burn out. The couture is booming, the couture is going bust. Throughout it all, this great couturier, who even his business partner says was born with a nervous breakdown, just keeps on turning out elegant collections.
This season, Saint Laurent looked back to the Forties, and although he’s mined the age of ankle straps and victory rolls before, the clothes themselves didn’t look unduly retro. Yves is long past the point where he cares about trends, as are many of his customers. What they are looking for in a fashion designer is clear, concise instruction on how to look chic, and Saint Laurent gives it to them.
It all starts with the suit, which Saint Laurent likes with strong shoulders and knee-length (or higher) skirts. Black is the preferred color. Printed dresses are also de rigueur, although they weren’t as strong in this collection as they have been in the past.
The newest look is a brilliant combination of two Saint Laurent favorites: the smoking and safari suit in one. Any other designer who tries to reinvent the tuxedo, as John Galliano did at Givenchy, had better look to the master first.
Saint Laurent also gave a few lessons for evening. His color combinations are at perfect pitch, and he experimented with a new series of wrapped silk jersey dinner dresses. The sexier ladies in the audience were particularly impressed with Number 63, a drop-waisted, draped black silk mousseline stunner that will be all over the Temple of Dendur. Two other knockouts: a super-short black sequined cocktail dress with the world’s widest belt and a drop-dead simple beaded white sweater worn with a long silk crepe white skirt.
Fantasy, as always, had a prominent place in this collection, particularly in a series of marabou jackets in shocking pink and Venetian blue. They opened to reveal teeny-weeny ultra-sheer lace dresses. One doesn’t expect Sao Schlumberger or even Paloma Picasso to don one of these scandalous numbers for her next soiree, but Saint Laurent was playing to the audience. And he can still do that as well as anyone.
Finally, an answer! In a drama that seems to have lasted longer than O.J. Simpson’s trial, but was never nearly as scandalous, the house of Pierre Balmain finally announced that Oscar de la Renta is staying on. They did it in a most, uh, surprising way. General director Alain Hivelin climbed onstage after the show Wednesday afternoon and, surrounded by four strolling violinists, 20 or so models and a beaming, bouncing Oscar, declared: “We thank you for your decision to stay by our side as designer.” And the music swelled to the tune of — what else? — “I Could Have Danced All Night.” The crowd, of course, cheered. Led by Ambassador Pamela Harriman and her new best friend, Warnaco chairman Linda Wachner, the Ladies Who Love Oscar showed their loyalty and devotion once again.
Oscar returned the favor by giving them the kind of correct and polite clothes they crave. The double-faced wool suits are perfect for those little lunches at La Grenouille or the Ritz Bar. The tunic tops and slim skirts are just the right look for an embassy reception. And Oscar’s proper pantsuits can go just about anywhere — whether it be Palm Beach or Pasadena.
At night, however, the collection ran into a little trouble. The A-line cocktail dresses in black tulle looked like something from another age — and they probably were, since Oscar sprinkled homages to Pierre Balmain throughout the collection in honor of the house’s 50th anniversary. The evening dresses were relatively routine until the bride made her entrance: A smashing pale green faille skirt with a beautiful white shirt, all embroidered in violets, which, for some reason or other, was Mr. Balmain’s signature.
As for Oscar’s new deal with Balmain, he said after the show that he will continue to design the haute couture for “a couple of years.” Hivelin also made it clear that de la Renta will be in charge of the house’s ready-to-wear, although it will designed by a team led by Laurent Teto, who joined the company last September.