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Fashion: Vive Europa

Kimberly Cihlar
From the Print Edition:
Rudy Giuliani, Nov/Dec 01

(continued from page 2)

Back in the day (in this case, when Louis XIV ruled the country in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries) the French reigned supreme in fashion. Young men bought their robes in Paris and were every bit as "done up" as young ladies. The fop, as he came to be known, was perfumed, powdered, beribboned and bewigged, even to the point of carrying a fur muff.

Accoutrements were frilly, ostentatious, colorful and fey. Doublets, blousy-sleeved jackets that plunged in at the midriff, were boned like corsets to slim the waist. Ruffs, the bigger the better, adorned the neck and trunk hose the legs. But the French Revolution changed all that. Fashions that made gentlemen more feminine than women were quickly left on the couturier's cutting room floor.


The French remounted the fashion throne sometime in the 1950s, when the postwar world was looking for something fabulous to live for. The New Look crowned Christian Dior le roi du monde for women. Men's fashion soon followed suit, imitating the same wasp waist of the New Look, and the French were soon reveling in fashion importance again.

The men's look as proffered by former Dior cutter Pierre Cardin was close fitting, squared off, body defining, two-buttoned and unvented -- a backlash to the baggy three-button sack suits that defined America's Ivy League style. It was a look so mod that the Beatles went to Cardin for their signature collarless jackets.

Design marketing was also a Cardin forte. He was one of the first couturiers to create ready-to-wear lines, and he branded all sorts of other products, such as cologne and furniture.

Clearing Customs

French style, reinterpreted as an insouciant, individualistic approach to menswear, reigned again in the early '90s until the globalized commercialism of fashion reined in designers for the next decade.

Today, the slim, sleek body-skimming silhouette that French suits have been known for since Pierre Cardin's preeminence in the 1960s is making a striking comeback. Cuts hearken back to Peter Sellers' Pink Panther films. The most wearable of the new shapes are from the ever- reinvented Christian Dior collection for men under its new designer, Hedi Slimane. Slimane has been a champion of the new ultraslim silhouette since his earlier days, only a few seasons ago, as head designer of Yves Saint Laurent/Rive Gauche.

The young, trés cool Slimane has said his approach toward dressing men points toward "the principle of military tailoring." Slimane, who offers a tapered shape -- a longer cut on jackets with narrow shoulders, trousers with a subtly relaxed, low-slung fit -- explains that he gives the "same comportment" to men of different shapes.

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