PARIS CATCHES FIRE
PARIS — At the close of his Chanel show Tuesday afternoon, Karl Lagerfeld came strutting down the runway to the tune of “I’m Just a Gigolo.” And that’s exactly what Karl is. He gets paid a lot of money for servicing his many clients. But like every great courtesan, Karl has his favorite, and it’s clearly Chanel — which got more than its money’s worth this season.
There was a whiff of retro in this collection, but it still looked new. From the tight, brightly colored suits to the satin evening skirts, Karl showed his sure hand and vast experience. The clothes were dazzling but wearable, and every single model seemed to have a perfect shape, thanks to Karl’s latest corset. “Une belle poitrine” once again has meaning. As usual, the ideas came a mile a minute: wool jackets with long satin skirts; bell-shaped skirts (Karl prefers to call it the “coupole skirt”); jackets that stretch to the thigh; sheer negligee evening dresses, and navy blue jackets with bracelet-length sleeves over tight white skirts.
Instead of belts, Lagerfeld prefers a single strand of pearls around the waist. His piles of jewelry have been replaced by the single brooch. There were a few above-the-knee skirts, but the designer now prefers tight, below-the-knee skirts with a single vent in back to give them movement. But Karl’s best idea, and it could only work in the couture, is his striped beaded tops and skirts that look as if they’re made of T-shirt material until you get very close. They’re going to be very expensive, but oh-so-chic.
Earlier in the week Karl bemoaned the fact that he had no competition in the couture. But he is clearly feeling the heat from John Galliano, and he seemed to go out of his way to prove he can cut a better bias skirt. There were some who saw other similarities — the belted suits, for example — but in the end, this was a collection that only Karl Lagerfeld could design. He’s still on top of the heap.
Earlier in the day, Emanuel Ungaro did something absolutely revolutionary: He sent out clothes that an actual couture customer could wear. At least for day. At night, it was a different story. He opened the show with some of the best suits seen so far in Paris. They came out in a steady stream, all kicky, shapely and sexy — perfect for steaming up what the designer calls his “bombes sensuelles.” Most of his tailleurs were a play on that old standby, the three-piece suit, but Emanuel’s will raise a few eyebrows at Brooks Brothers. His came with boleros over skinny belted vests or dresses with trompe l’oeil jackets, all with plunging necklines and slit skirts. And, unlike so many in Paris, Ungaro got the length right with skirts that fell elegantly above the knee.
But from the first glimpse of evening, it seemed like a whole different collection. The sexiness turned silly as suits gave way to floor-length ballgowns and bustled-up dresses right out of Miss Kitty’s Saloon. What prompted this drastic mood swing? “I wanted to show a day in the life of a woman,” the designer explained backstage. “They are so mysterious, going easily from one situation to another, from suits to doll dresses. By the end of the of the day she has drunk too much champagne.” But even after Ungaro’s evening hangover, what will be remembered are his first-rate suits.
If you wanted to see what a classic Givenchy collection looks like, you could have early Tuesday morning at the Grand Hotel. It’s your next-to-last chance. Backstage after the show, Le Grand Hubert reiterated his intentions to retire this summer, ending a career that has spanned four decades. “I definitely plan to leave,” said Hubert. When asked about recent rumors that John Galliano may replace him, Givenchy replied. “I don’t know him very well, but he seems very sympathique. But why not? He does have real talent.”
Some designers may follow the latest trends in couture, but Hubert never strays from his spare, classical style. “At my age, it’s a little hard to change,” the couturier said. Hemlines may rise and fall, but Givenchy keeps his a good four inches above the knee. Conservative Chic may be the latest tendance, but Hubert never gave it up. And the designer will be feeding his loyal Ladies Who Lunch right to the end with signature silk dresses in bright floral prints and crisp suits in linen or wool, belted this season, just like the rest of Paris. It all came clean and simple, without an accessory in sight, right down to the delicate silk evening columns. The finale, however, an ode to Mme. Gres, was an awkward affair. It featured a half-dozen elaborate, barely there crepe georgette evening gowns that bore little resemblance to the late couturier’s style.
Off the runways, everyone is still talking about Christian Lacroix’s bizarre outburst in Le Monde. “In the U.S., there’s a return to a terrible conformity, a hypocritical minimalism,” Lacroix told the daily. “This intolerance is gaining ground in France, spreading out in the interior of a flaccid society that’s in a state of numbness.
“Today, bad taste is an excuse for fear. Women are a little lost, because they don’t recognize themselves anymore in magazines that tend to please themselves with image masturbation,” the designer continued. “Photographers have shanghaied the couturier’s role. They just make themselves look good instead of trying to show an outfit at its best.”
Eyebrows were raised even further by Carolyne Roehm’s conduct at Chanel. Roehm, who is in town helping Oscar de la Renta prepare his Balmain collection for Wednesday afternoon, sat front-row at the show. She spent the entire show taking copious notes or photographing the outfits as they came down the runway. Even the ever-diplomatic Mme. Pompidou, sitting next to her, looked askance.