PARIS TURNS RIGHT
PARIS — Conservative Chic is sweeping fashion. Cynics might suggest it’s because expensive clothes are bombing at the box-office, but less skeptical observers attribute it simply to the age-old ebb and flow of fashion: Grunge inevitably gives way to glamour, dressing down almost always leads to dressing up.
This Ying and Yang of fashion is even reflected in the couture, not always known for its connection to the real world. The Paris runways are — or will be — awash in pretty suits, demure dresses, gloves with matching clutches and evening gowns that actually look as if they’re worth $10,000. Shape and the expensive tailoring it requires is all-important, with the tight waist the focal point of most collections, from Yves Saint Laurent to Gianni Versace.
“I don’t like the term ‘retro,’ but there’s a return to grooming,” says Karl Lagerfeld, usually the wild man of Paris couture. “People are looking back because there is no new street fashion. It’s the right moment to do haute couture.”
Gianni Versace couldn’t agree more. Rock ‘n’ roll glitz has been replaced by alta moda glamour. Gianni’s skirt lengths are at the knee or below. Gold and silver are out, pretty pastels are in. For most of the collection, you didn’t see a tit or an ass, just the sexiest flash of leg. Dresses are tight but not tarty. Metal mesh has been superseded by deft draping and ruching inspired by Madeleine Vionnet. All in all, Versace produced a well-thought-out and versatile show, with the fine finish of a first-class atelier.
Suits ruled. They were clean, snug and reeked of sex appeal, and simply adorned with the season’s favorite accessory — the cabochon brooch. At the knee the skirts looked great, but any longer and the hips looked too big and legs awkward. And if you walk like Claudia, those long, tight skirts pose a real danger of catastrophe.
Other girls carried it off better, though there was a real paucity of supermodels: for the first time in anyone’s memory, Gianni’s runway had neither Kate, nor Naomi, nor Linda, nor Christy nor Helena. They might have helped with some of his evening dresses. When Gianni stuck to the simple screen-goddess gowns, the kind that Madonna wears in his new advertising campaign, there was nothing better. But when the designer did his two-piece caramba outfits, or his columns covered in Cheerio sequins, the effect was less pleasing. There may be a customer for these, but she sure hasn’t heard about the Newt Age.
Rich Republicans — and Democrats, too — will find all the glamorous evening dresses they need chez Valentino. Many of his gowns were absolute stunners, with interesting new cuts and experiments with fabric. The standouts were a pair of ruched and wrapped mousselines in dreamy watercolor prints.
For day, Val was best when he stuck to the simple suit. They were light and airy, in a palette of soft colors perfect for that summer lunch. His little tailleurs came in jacket-and-dress combinations, or with straight skirts and intricately-cut jackets that zoomed in on the waist. And while others may like theirs hidden, Val’s corsets popped up on the outside of his jackets. It was all very feminine, from the little white gloves to the Doris Day flips and dainty diamond studs.
Occasionally things got a little tricky, especially when Valentino piled on the layers, such as boleros over sleeveless jackets and skirts. And as for length, Val, who sat front-row center at Versace, also went longer — though most of his skirts hit just above the knee. When he ventured below, those old hips came back to haunt him.
But none of Val’s loyal ladies — many of whom were sitting in the front row — will order at that length anyway, so why get bogged down in details? What mattered was that Gianni Versace and Valentino gave Paris’s opening weekend a real shot of la dolce vita.