VIEWPOINT: TODAY'S MENSWEAR SHOWINGS REVEAL DEARTH OF STYLE, TASTE

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Once upon a time I would go to the Paris fashion shows and sit in the front row on a little gold chair and solemnly take notes on what the mannequins were wearing and send back a cable to New York for that next day's Women's Wear Daily. All around me also on little gold chairs were people like the Duchess of Windsor and Gloria Guinness and Babe Paley and Madame Vreeland of Vogue and Eugenia Sheppard of the Herald Tribune and Bernadine Morris of the Times and the buyers from Seventh Avenue and from the big American stores, and they also took fashion very seriously and jotted notes and occasionally clapped gloved hands together in decorous applause.

There was absolutely no riotous behavior and many of the clothes were beautiful.

Occasionally, there were moments of comic relief. The Pierre Cardin show would go on too long and Italian fashion editors would throw rolled up programs at the runway and cry, "Basta! Basta!"

Or a wealthy private client wearing spike heels would accidentally tread on John Fairchild's instep and he would flail harmlessly at her with his program in aggrieved protest.

Or Marie-Louise Bousquet, who was about a hundred years old and worked for Harper's Bazaar, would yet again set herself on fire when a burning Gauloise fell from her trembling hand into the bodice of her dress and she would leap up screaming, and billowing smoke, while aides extinguished the flames by beating at her minimal bosom with their bare hands.

But usually, the collections weren't a lot of laughs. Not unless it was the Chanel show which I customarily observed while seated on the top step of that celebrated winding and mirrored staircase with Coco herself, who spent the entire collection smoking my Gitanes, complaining about the thick ankles of this fashion editor or that, recounting to me which trusted employee she'd just sacked ("I gave her the door, that one!"), and then nudging me to pay attention to the new suits and dresses being shown in the salon below, "Regard this Irish tweed, mon vieux, rather nice, isn't it?"

Then the other day I picked up a copy of The New York Times and found, under the byline of Amy M. Spindler, a report on the new men's wear collections being shown in Milan and Paris this month, and realized just what I'd been missing.

In her story, reporter Spindler recounted an exchange between an American fashion editor and Giorgio Armani. Signor Armani was asked "if he thought all the emphasis on the male sex organ this season [some designers even padded pants in front] was a reaction against feminism, anti-intellectual." Then, this response, "Without the mind," Mr. Armani said, gesturing to his trousers, "it doesn't function." He added, "I am the flag for feminism."

Not all of Ms. Spindler's report was so clearcut. More confusing, the clothes being shown in Paris by several Japanese designers. Their (to me) tortured rationale was as follows: "So the Japanese designers' notion of men's dress has long been a man who looks pretentiously unpretentious. Because his power comes from his mind, he doesn't go for the tidy notion of a power suit. His socks are scrunched. He steps on the backs of his shoes. He buttons his collar up all the way. His trousers are too short, his jacket too small, or too big. He doesn't look like he thinks about sex, unless it is in the context of Kinsey Institute research."

This is, I swear, in a half-page story in The New York Times, over which I suggest the newsier headline might have been, "Japanese Discover Kinsey Report!"

But there's more. "Another intellectual, [Italian star] Miuccia Prada, sent out proportions that have long been associated with the Japanese: the cropped trousers, the boys' jackets on men, short-sleeved shirts buttoned high . . . to diminish men with their silhouettes, showing them as boys, their suits cut to make the models look small and fragile."

There were also, for men, I remind you, Edwardian ruffled shirts, suits with ribbon striping, "and some with roses embroidered on them, for the renaissance man."

Designer Romeo Gigli turned to poetry to describe the look and spirit of his men's wear. From his program one reads a poem entitled, "A Coney Island of the Mind," which begins, "Not like Dante discovering a commedia upon the slopes of heaven, I would paint a different kind of Paradiso, in which the people would be naked . . . because it is supposed to be a painting of their souls."

I worked for Women's Wear Daily for 17 years and spent another two years running

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