From Paris THE MESSAGE IS FASHION French designers present their fall ready-to-wear collections

March 26, 1992|By Bernadine Morris | Bernadine Morris,New York Times News Service

Paris -- Emanuel Ungaro celebrated his 25th anniversary as the head of his own fashion house Tuesday with a razzle-dazzle collection that was a real crowd-pleaser.

He showed the kind of clothes the French seem to appreciate the most: provocative and seductive without being vulgar. It's a hard line to follow, but the designer managed with a well-tempered wink.

He's constantly growing as a designer. Just a few seasons back, he was wrapping and draping his dresses tautly around the torso. Women loved them because they were blatantly sexy.

But fashion changes, and this time he's far more subtle. His long torso line, in suit jackets as well as dresses, hangs straight but still manages to suggest curves underneath.

Mr. Ungaro was of two minds about hem lengths. Most of his skirts stopped just above the knees; those with pleated panels were most successful. Skirts that fell below the calf were narrow and split to show the legs.

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.

One of the most successful collections was the one Karl $H 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. Mr. Lagerfeld made them work. He made his narrow ankle-length skirts out of stretch wool voile, so light it is transparent. There's no problem walking because the skirt 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.

For his collection for Chanel that he showed Monday morning, Mr. Lagerfeld 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.

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. 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.

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.

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