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Paris strikes it rich

The sure sign of a good Paris couture show: No one is taking a quick snooze back in the second or third rows. An even better sign is when fashion reporters no longer try to be totally objective and suddenly dream of buying everything for their own wardrobes.

Such was the status of the haute couture this season all of us mumbling: "Ah, if I were only younger, thinner, and very rich, I'd order the whole lot." Rich is, of course, de rigueur for couture clients, with one of those famous little Chanel Suits now costing the franc equivalent of more than $7,000, but including the blouse thrown in for good measure.

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Certainly everything is not for everybody, but the endless panorama of new ideas from these exciting collections is bound to have an influence on what many women will wear when some of these trends filter down to mass production.

Dressy fashions prevail in every house, the theory being that couture clients are willing to spend astronomical sums for gala gowns and formal wear but less for street and daytime clothes.

The formal scene this year tends to be luxurious and evokes long-lost life styles from the palaces of Imperial India to the antebellum costumes right out of "Gone with the Wind."

Indian influence, the unique theme at Jean Louis Scherrer, conjures up images of fabulous palaces, private railroad cars, tiger hunts, and a rajah's fortune in jewels. Long lightly shaped tunics and cropped boleros step out with skinny trousers of skirts trimmed with elaborate braid, embroideries, and frog closings. Draped turbans are played up with exotic makeup and feathered fans.

Lanvin takes the Indian look even one step further with Hindu pants and gowns or fanciful interpretations of classic saris featured in sheer pure silk gauze woven with traditional gold and silver lame motifs concentrated in the border patterns.

Flashbacks in another mood: many ultra-romantic gowns trace their origins to the 19th centry. Some hark back to Scarlett O'Hara's 17-inc waistline swathed with sashes, the tight bodice, and billowing skirts of the Civil War period.

Others evoke Victorian times with demure high necklines, jabots and long sleeves edged with pleats and frills half veiled beneath frothy lace combing jackets. These ideas certainly do not have to be taken per se but there's wealth of inspiration; something as simple as adding a soft little lace or tulle jacket to a black dinner dress one already owns.

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Daywear, playing the secondary role, emerges as totally sane and sensible. The tried and true reruns of severely tailored suits and separates are soften with frilly blouses. The majority of lengths hover around the knees.

Emmanuel Ungaro plays endlessly with his favorite themes contrasting different patterns and prints in the same model. This, however, obviously requires a superb touch and proven talent, as most people embarking on such a scheme with varrious bits and pieces in their own wardrobes may too often end up looking like refugees from the wrong end of the flea market.

Anyhow, it's all here and the French couture has achieved a spring and summer season of almost unprecedented success. All you need is money!

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