FRANCE: Dictator by Demand

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The bone-wet chill of winter lifted, and pale sunlight laid shadows of the leafless chestnut trees in fine tracery on the cobbles alongside the Champs Elysees. The swank Ritz cocktail lounge and the grave Plaza Atheéneée bar were shrill with the sound of American females emitting the ritual cries of greeting as they hailed each other from divan to divan. In the lush Victorian plush of Maxim's, stumpy men from Manhattan's Seventh Avenue sat heavily, resting weary feet. Fashion reporters, department-store buyers and manufacturers, they were gathered for the annual rite of Paris' spring collections —the mystic and sacred time when Paris' top couturiers reveal to a tiptoe world the latest variations and dissonances on the theme of the Eternal Feminine.

Every day. morning and afternoon, the visitors seethed back and forth across the small Right Bank area where most of the 30 important houses of Paris' haute couture are concentrated. They sat through the collections of Patou and Heim, of Balmain and Fath. But most were waiting for the showing of a plump, pink, innocent-looking son of a fertilizer manufacturer. His name: Christian Dior. This year Dior celebrates his tenth year as a couturier, and every buyer in the trade has learned that it is unwise to buy in quantity before seeing the collection of Christian Dior.

Guarded Luxury. Dior gives them a show worth waiting for. On the big day, they go to the old private mansion in the

Avenue Montaigne, entering by twos and threes. Their credentials are carefully checked, and they are assigned seats according to a rigid protocol based on the prestige of their publications or the extent of their purchases in the years before. This year the Duchess of Windsor came late and unexpected, had to settle for a seat on the staircase.

To guard against frivolous visitors and suspected pirates, every manufacturer has to deposit $1,500 (deductible from future purchases) just to get in. Store buyers deposit $430. In the grey-and-gold salon the atmosphere is as tense and excited as a first night on Broadway. Smart, lean women in the toque hats of the latest-

till-now look lean forward expectantly. Dumpy ladies in basic black sit corset-upright and clutch stout, thick purses; the men from Seventh Avenue flick at their silver-white ties, exchanging grunted comments. The babble quickly hushes as the first model appears, and upon each face falls a stolid mask of calculated indifference, for any flicker will betray the spectator's interest to watching competitors.

The model, lean and remote, seems rapt in some asexual trance. She walks with a swift, gliding walk, and twirls once, as a girl assistant in nondescript black announces in a flat, noncommittal voice: "Colombine, quarante-et-un, fawr-ty-wan." The model hovers, slips off the jacket and hands it to the assistant, who accepts it in silence, impersonal and invisible as an attendant on some ancient hetaera. The stolid faces stare C'l listen for a certain quality of silence." says Dior). The model twirls again and is gone.

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