PARIS -- Showing pretty clothes is not enough. Many of the designers presenting their fall and winter collections here in tents in the courtyard of the Louvre are trying to suggest other things: the end of the world, for instance, or simply the end of fashion. This premature fin-de-siecle blues is expressed in somber colors -- black is in first, second, and third place, followed distantly by wine and brown -- and the unfinished look, usually called deconstruction and marked by torn edges.
Still, the most successful collection so far was the one Karl Lagerfeld showed under his own name. Its only message was fashion, and it expressed it brilliantly. Everyone, designers and retailers alike, is concerned with making long skirts palatable. Lagerfeld made them work.
He made his narrow ankle-length skirts out of stretch wool voile, so light it is transparent. No problem walking -- the skirt simply stretches to accommodate a stride. The fabric is so thin the legs can be seen right through it. No need for awkward slits.
Jackets, generally long ones, fit snugly. So do coats and dresses. The long, lean silhouette is a knockout. Some skirts are slashed into ribbons in an allusion to deconstruction. Bodices have sheer inserts to lighten the look. Lesser colors, like wine, blend into the sober new fashion picture, and the collection holds together from beginning to end. It expresses power as well as beauty.
The design of the clothes Lagerfeld showed for Chanel was not (( so tightly controlled. He said he was "playing with different contemporary elements." Those elements included lots of leather, further revision of the famous Chanel jacket, chunky boots and platform shoes. Flying streamers and jagged edges were a sign of fashion in flux. Everything ended in a conflagration of flame red leather, knitted and sheer silk fashions.
The sense of frenzy in the air at the show was not due solely to the presence of Spike Lee in the audience. Though Lagerfeld's message for Chanel was more diffuse than the one in his eponymous collection, the designer is a mover and shaker of current fashion. There are a few others, but he is the most prolific.
Claude Montana staked out his territory -- the future -- years ago, and he has become more skillful at expressing it in his clothes. They are sleek, in the style that used to be called streamlined and direct. His stint as couture designer at Lanvin has given him confidence and skill. His collection whizzed by like a bullet to make its point. Clothes fit the body sharply. Pants meld into boots. Colors are clear, mainly black, white, and red, with a touch of violet for drama. The collection is satisfying.
For Christian Lacroix, fashion has always been one of the decorative arts. This season, his clothes are a celebration -- they are not only cheerful but exultant. British tweeds are whimsically decorated with multicolor appliques. Plain black sweaters gleam with big gold plaques.
Decorative elements range from glittering Chinese medallions to quilting that traces the curves of wrought iron fences, to brilliant prints in yellow, orange, pink and green. The whole collection is a feast for the eyes, from the snug jackets to the wide culottes. Thoroughly inspired, it reflects the engagingly fresh eye of this force in world fashion.
The best of the Japanese designers showing here play by their own rules. Issey Miyake's current passion is crinkled and pleated fabrics. What wonders he accomplishes with them. Some clothes look tough and macho. Some have inkblot surfaces that look tie-dyed, while others have shiny iridescent surfaces that catch the light.