By GUY TREBAY
LIKE mayflies or cicadas, some style phenomena pop up suddenly, startlingly ubiquitous, and coming from no one knows where. There are people who boast of having the prescience to spot trends coming, who claim to have foreseen the stratospheric rise of premium denim or the baffling surge of flip-flops on city streets in March. Yet those same people, one observes, tend to fall silent when trends wane and dwindle and the time comes for the Uggs life span to end.
Most fashion trends have a provenance, of course, albeit one that is often fuzzy. A lot of what turns up on runways started out at a trade fair somewhere or in a salesman's humble sample case. A lot comes straight out of the latest oddball indie film. A certain amount of designer inspiration amounts to larceny, the kind of plagiarism that, in the innocent days before appropriation became a sanctified part of the creative process, sometimes led to litigation or the occasional black eye.
But some things defy explanation. Among the curious (yet somehow fetching) elements filling the runways throughout the fashion shows that ended two weeks ago in Paris, during which designers presented clothes for next fall, are those pictured here. There were pointy-toed concrete-block shoes that called to mind a collaboration between Uncle Junior and Rosa Kleb. There were mushroom-cloud wool caps and dense cloth accretions that made an unheard-of nod to climatic realities. There was blond hair by the mile and more fur than you would see at a Palm Beach thrift shop.
Not surprisingly, a few trends seemed to beg the perennial question of whether it is those gazing into the glass of fashion, or else the glass itself, that has cracked.
Unleashing the Animal Without
"It happened all of a sudden," said Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys New York, referring to fashion's unanticipated detour into styles out of "The Clan of the Cave Bear." "It's not my job to know why. It's there, and I've just got to figure out what to do with it."
Critics, on the other hand, worked themselves into a lather attempting to define a newfound appetite among designers like Miuccia Prada for coats with fur on the dorsal side only, or jackets bristling with the woolly fleece of Mongolian goat.
It was a season of urban savagery, they trilled. Women have reclaimed their wild inner nature. Ominous, anxious times, noted a writer for an Italian newspaper, call for appropriate armor. Well, of course they do. Bring on the coats with fur sleeves!
In biology the term for nature's deployment of fur across the bodies of its original owners is "opportunistic enhancement." Four-legged animals tend to have thick dense hair on their backs to protect them from elements like rain and sun. Swamp dwellers' extremities are often lightly furred to keep them from getting bogged down in the muck.
There is no solid proof of this, but certain scientists believe that the arrangement and patterns of fur on an animal boost allure, thus ensuring successful mating and species survival. Perhaps this is a factor buyers may wish to consider come fall, when Azzedine Alaïa's fur skirt hits the stores.
Let Down Your Hair
Some may remember Tressy, an odd doll from the 1960's whose gimmick was that her hair could be made longer by pushing a button in her hard plastic stomach and tugging on her ponytail. Deploying the same basic mechanism used now for retractable leashes, Tressy's hair became short again at a touch. The idea now seems kooky and dated, and so did the hair on the runways in what was unquestionably a Tressy season. By unconscious consensus, designers and hairdressers decreed that women should look like cadres from an army of lank-haired blondes.
The hair the models wore this season was not their own, of course. How could it have been when the same girl might turn up in one of the shows scheduled hourly from 9 p.m. until near midnight with hair that was short or then long or then cropped or then down to her waist?
One might term this a hair-weave season, except that the Tressy effect was not attained using the time-consuming process of knotting store-bought hair into real. The new look for fall grew out of new technology. A company called Great Lengths has marketed a gizmo that can make Rapunzel out of Louise Brooks in a matter of minutes.
"It's like a machine where you lay the real hair down and glue on the extensions," Fabrice Gili, a designer at the Frédéric Fekkai Salon, explained. "It's all about low maintenance and wanting to change the look of the hair rapidly," said Mr. Gili, who hopes to get hold of the mechanism by the time the salon relocates to its new location at Henry Bendel next month.
"It's a trend, but only because there have been no clear trends in hair for a while," he said. "It's fun, in a way, to bob your hair one day and the next day have it long. But it's also a bit lazy and kind of a bore."
Bundle Up, and Up and Up
Strenuous is probably as good a word as any for getting dressed in the near future. The layers from Marc Jacobs or Yohji Yamamoto or Rick Owens that happy retailers have likened to everything from grunge gear to hobo rags may have looked comfortably slouchy. They certainly called for putting on a lot of stuff (which is why retailers are so pleased).
There was a time, not so long ago, when it was difficult to escape the hype and blather about technologically advanced fabrics: indestructible, superlight and capable of deflecting the rays of a sun storm while simultaneously preserving core heat atop Everest. Now designers are rediscovering that ancient staple of human survival: wool.
The market for clothes that both look smart and have the intelligence to administer a daily dose of zinc and iron may not be at an end. But the surest path to stylishness come fall will be to look as if you had stopped off at the local crofter's cottage, en route to a fitting at the upholstery shop.
The Height of Beauty
The wages of being fashionably shod, as is well known, are burdensome: pain, twisted ankles, corns, bunions and even broken metatarsals. This fall, fashionably shod will apparently mean having feet encased in shoes built atop six-inch platforms or on wedges suggestive of old-fashioned flatirons or else dire orthopedic deficiency.
Little is new about elevated footgear. Venetian courtesans of the 16th century wore cork-soled clunkers called chopines to give the illusion of a longer leg. Geishas to this day wear teeter-totter clogs known as getas. Western designers from Salvatore Ferragamo (who laid claim to having invented the wedge sole) to Vivienne Westwood (whose skyscraping platforms once sent Naomi Campbell sprawling across the runway) have taken a whack at the style. And fetishists ... well, never mind the fetishists.
Whatever their appeal in pure style terms, platform shoes are a podiatric nightmare. "People are very susceptible to injury in an unstable shoe," said Dr. Harold Glickman, the president of the American Podiatric Medical Association. So wobbly can platform shoes be that a public health group in Canada once issued a parental warning about them, also documenting an alarming percentage of shoe-related falls among girls and women between the ages of 10 and 19.
Models, of course, tend to fall into that same age range. And to watch young women teetering on stilt shoes at shows staged by Rick Owens (who favors platforms himself), Hussein Chalayan, Prada and Jil Sander was to question their allure. It has to mean something that the minute they exited the catwalk, most models kicked off the Herman Munster footwear and slipped back into their Pumas.