Glamor and drama are a given at Paris' ready-to-wear shows. Sometimes it's the scene, as much as that which is seen.
One of the great charms of this city is that within the space of two hours one can go from watching a straightforward fashion collection _ peacoats, shirtdresses and camisoles on models gliding down a walkway _ to sitting under a bridge, breathing acidic cigarette smoke and listening to the crackle of plastic cups filled with dreadful red wine.
This was the journey last week from Celine to Martin Margiela to Chanel to Chloe. Designer Michael Kors brought his clean, American sportswear sensibility to the Celine collection. In an ode to sailors, he presented a line filled with coyote storm coats, red plaid shirtdresses stitched of silk georgette, sailor pants in crisp ivory cotton, and black leather trench coats worn with matching caps.
Kors believes women want simple, familiar shapes. They don't want to be trussed up in bustles or elaborate layers of ruffles and feathers. They prefer a hooded sweat shirt in cashmere, or an unadorned "denim" dress that's actually made of translucent silk voile. It's an idea that is the virtual antithesis of French fashion, in which the trickiest designs or the most extreme cuts are the most loudly lauded.
The collection was filled with Kors' signatures: luscious turtlenecks rising so high they brush the chin, crisp peacoats and casual furs. The naval inspiration lent the collection a jaunty air thanks to flourishes such as captain's hats, silver medals clustered on the breast of a jacket, and glossy leather traveling bags. One assumes the slinky satin lingerie tops and dresses reflect the shore-leave concerns of the sailors who inspired this collection.
The collection was at its best from the waist up. Except for a few pairs of plaid menswear-style trousers, the pants tended to be so low-key _ unadorned jeans, cropped sailor pants _ that they failed to live up to their billing as "designer." A woman may not want to be trussed, but she does want her clothes to look as expensive and luxurious as they are.
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel presented a logo-studded collection. He splashed interlocking Cs on earmuffs, mittens and earrings. In a twist, he scattered CHANEL letters every which way on fabric. But his collection was uptown and chic, with baby-doll dresses adorned with blue, red, yellow, purple and black "paillettes." His full, circular coats that he dubbed "the flying Chanels" were plentiful in tweed. Dresses were mostly in sheer black chiffon _ ruched, pleated, long, short and shorter _ with ribboned bows tied on shoulders. One dress had a paillette-splattered front with a fully pleated and sashed back.
Designer Stella McCartney's presentation of her collection for Chloe ran into the same trouble that has plagued a host of designers this season: It ran short of ideas. Typically, McCartney's presentations run on and on with an endless stream of creative codas. This was a much briefer and better-edited presentation, but it lacked her usual spirit.
To be sure, there were enticing pieces. Crisp cadet coats and corsets were embroidered with sea grass that meandered around sleeves or along a bodice. Satin blouses were sprinkled with pearls. Jackets and capelets were embroidered with pearls _ encrusted with them, really. The effect was overpowering, like too many salt crystals ruining a perfectly good bagel.
McCartney turned out her usual offering of feminine dresses. These were cut with wide necklines and a corset waist. Her floor-length skirts had bustle backs and wagging trains. Tight jeans _ models looked vacuum-packed into them _ were worn with mother-of-pearl belts. There were also T-shirts and skirts with screen prints of rocker Chrissie Hynde, who sat next to McCartney's father, Paul, in the audience.
There was also a bit of mayhem. As hundreds of guests headed downstairs at the Louvre's Decorative Arts' Museum hall following her preview, a security guard was in hot pursuit of a dreadlocked, camouflage-wearing, fashion-loving guy who crashed the event.
The guard and crasher tussled on the steps, shoving, shouting, grabbing at each other's clothes and exchanging a few sloppy swings as departing guests watched _ some in horror clutching their purses to their chests, others amused. This is full-throttle fashion _ groupies, paparazzi and surprises _ the Parisian way.
Inside the foot of the Alexandre III bridge, models dressed by designer Margiela streamed through the corridor of stone archways. Guests sat in clusters as musicians pounded on African drums. In pitch blackness, a model would be led from one group to the next. Lights would flash to reveal the fashion moment and then they'd click off, plunging the audience into darkness, and the model would be on the move.
Margiela continues to develop his oversize silhouettes _ a velvet blazer fit for Paul Bunyan, a cropped tuxedo big enough for two _ but he also plays with trompe l'oeil details. Instead of drawing on pockets or embroidering the outline of a lapel, he embosses them into the fabric. The result is a jacket with an unfinished hem that bears the footprint of a lapel, the memory of a pocket, the shadow of a button.
It's an extraordinary sight, as if one is looking at the ghost of a jacket. Margiela offers dresses and shirts that aren't simply wrinkled but appear to have been flattened by a steamroller, crushed haphazardly into two-dimensional detritus and then slipped over the body. The clothes give the illusion that the body, too, has been flattened, that it has lost a dimension.
Veronique Branquinho used a color palette similar to that of Margiela. But while his oversize shapes swallow the body, her languid ones seemed in danger of slipping off the shoulders, the hips, the waist.
Her fall 2001 collection was a mix of jersey jumpers in shades such as forest green and aubergine, worn atop turtlenecks in black or purple. There were patchwork furs in similar hues as well as distressed-leather bombers that played with the same tones.
These clothes had been worn to a fine patina. The sweaters, rough and worn, already had achieved the kind of coziness that makes them wardrobe favorites. The leather jackets had softened and weathered until they could be as comfortable as a pair of old sweat pants.
The collection broke no new ground, and the black suits with contrasting lapels were reminiscent of the worst prom night tuxedos _ the only element missing was the ruffled shirt in some mortifying shade of sea green. But mostly these are clothes that, when the spotlights turn cold, provide the comfort folks search for in their wardrobe.
_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.