Byline: Sarah Raper

PARIS — In a first look at the fall season here, fashion was off in two completely different directions: couture-inspired elegance and kicky young clubwear.
Whether uptown or downtown, however, exhibitors at the Pret-a-Porter Paris salon were paying more attention to fit and fabrics.
The hall was awash in a sea of knits, and there was an abundance of shine-and-matte fabric mixes like satin with wool. Tailoring was brought in tight to the waist, with loose skirts or pants used as counterpoints, and the skirts were falling mostly just above the knee, although long and short alternatives could be found.
Overall, attendance at the four-day show, which ran through Jan. 30 at Porte de Versailles, was up nearly 4 percent over the January 1994 show to 57,057, according to show management. This included 26,655 stores, up 4.6 percent. French attendance — some 47 percent of the total — was flat, but there were important increases among Europeans. German attendance was up 50 percent, signaling a significant return of German buyers, according to Jack Bernard, general manager of the salon.
The show is never a big one for American buyers, although buying teams from such prominent stores as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York were on hand, and U.S. attendance was up 12 percent over a year ago.
One of the big trends in attendance was the surge in Koreans, double the number of a year ago, according to organizers.
“It’s incredible. It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen so many Koreans,” said Laurent de Blegiers, president of Capucine Puerari.
At Gerard Darel, executive Sylvia Hruby, who oversees the Korean market, said she also had been swamped with Koreans, both investors interested in importing Western lines and buyers from powerful department store groups there. She attributed the interest to lower duties on apparel imported into Korea and to good press there for Europe.
“Everything that is French or Italian is in demand,” she said.
Exhibitors also noted that the Kobe earthquake did not seem to affect the Japanese turnout; directional brands reported that most Japanese customers were present.
One of the busiest stands at the show was that of Amaya Arzuaga, a Spanish designer showing for the third season at the show. She said buyers were most interested in her mohair pieces, her knits trimmed with fake furs and hairs and her sweater tops with Lycra spandex for a shrunken look.
As for colors, “they love to see bright,” she said caressing a hot orange knit top. “But they are buying more muted colors,” she continued, pointing to mint green or light purple knits.
She said the New Length was getting the thumbs up from buyers, an observation echoed by Colette Colla, the designer for the C. Mathieucolla line. Colla said her moss green New Length mohair dress had caught buyers’ eyes, and so had her brightly colored rib knit crop tops in cashmere and silk.
Clubwear was a major trend, and JPG, Jean Paul Gaultier’s secondary line now in its second season, was one of the leaders of the downtown brigade. JPG came on strong with form-fitting dresses, pop-art print suits and cropped vinyl jackets that were a nod to Sixties Courreges.
With prices 10 percent below Gaultier’s former secondary line, Junior Gaultier, the stand was buzzing, and American retailers like Saks were ordering, noted Donald Potard, president of Jean Paul Gaultier.
Also firmly on the side of clubwear was Red or Dead, with a new range dubbed the Baby Doll Collection. The line was filled with references to children, but, with numbers like a slinky evening gown with plastic baby bottle embossed on the bodice, it is aimed squarely at club kids. Colors included pale yellow, pink and blue, with fabrics ranging from terry cloth to stain-resistant plastic.
Accessories included colored baby safety pins and glitter-covered mary janes.
Much more uptown was Gerard Darel. Designer Daniele Darel, in a collection she called “a hymn to femininity,” said she was influenced for the first time by couture.
“I’m convinced there are lessons that pret-a-porter can learn from haute couture,” she said. With well-tailored suits, fitted at the waist, and skirts to the knee, Darel had a vaguely Forties, couture flair. Skinny belts, luxurious fabrics and spare jewelry were reminiscent of this season’s couture.
As Darel said of the new emphasis on elegance, “A woman in a tailleur can be charmed — a woman in high-tops can’t.”
Others who moved uptown this season included Corinne Cobson and Tehen. Formerly dominated by loose-fitting knits, Tehen is emphasizing structure, fit and chic for a more feminine effect for next fall. Tehen’s couture-like suit in navy polar fleece that took its inspiration from the Forties perfectly summed up that new direction.
“I think we want to be sexier…more structured, more glamour,” said Corrine Cobson, of the new mood. “We want to dream a little again. And how good for fashion.”
One new look that cropped up sporadically was an Oriental influence using traditional Chinese fabrics. Paris-based Miss China designer Bonnie Tchien Hy was presenting her collection for the first time at the show. One group blends traditional floral silks and Mao jacket details, like the five buttons and small pockets, with modern cuts, like HotPants, skating skirts and quilted bomber jackets.
Another collection, Chine, takes Chinese-inspired designs from traditional clothing and transforms them into crisp pieces for European streets. Designer Guillaume Thys is based in Hong Kong, and everything in the collection is in silk. Buyers, in particular, praised his treatment of silk to create a suede look for a jacket.