c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

PARIS — It is a familiar scene, cartoonish in its intensity. One by one, on a plywood runway that rises at the center like a bridge through a garden, the models come out and stop under a spotlight swinging on a metal arm. It sweeps each woman’s outfit with light as the music, at first classical, dissolves in static.

What does it mean?

One model wears a wad of pink satin into which is embedded a teddy bear, as if the toys in a child’s bedroom have been swept onto the rug and prodded into a lump. Another model wears a flexible cage covered in doughnuts of black satin; still another, a kind of tire around her waist, held up by chain shoulder straps. Their headpieces resemble a charred landscape after a fire.

Meanwhile, the small audience of elite editors and buyers, squashed together like bugs, stares at this strangeness. No face seems to say, “Hey, what gives here?” There is fierce applause.

Backstage, Rei Kawakubo awaits the people who will come to congratulate her, and to seek an explanation. The founder of Comme des Garçons hardly ever goes out on the runway. She is a tiny woman, a force of will.

An editor asks in earnest about shape, silhouette.

Kawakubo mumbles something in Japanese, which her husband, Adrian Joffe, next to her, translates:

“She says she couldn’t think of anything new, so she decided not to make any clothes.”

It was a complete Gump moment, as when the Tom Hanks character decided to stop running and return home to Alabama, leaving his followers stranded in the middle of nowhere. What did it mean? It meant absolutely nothing.

If anything, Kawakubo was marking her territory by creating a void. She knows that the fashion industry is absorbed in what’s new and at the same time is just mindlessly churning out clothes, or sending consumers fleeing to stores like Uniqlo.

Kawakubo was also demonstrating her power before a group that has become incredibly territorial — about advertising, exclusives, suddenly locking down young designers with investment deals.

But Kawakubo is the only designer powerful enough to put nonsense on her runway and get away with it. She doesn’t have to explain. (Some designers, like Haider Ackermann, also showed nonsense — in the form of too many see-through tops over skinny pants — but are too caught up in their own image to know the difference.)

And Kawakubo isn’t holding her audience in contempt; that’s not her style. She is simply exerting her creative freedom to do what she feels at the moment. In six months’ time she’ll do something else.

As it happens, Junya Watanabe, whose label is produced by the Comme des Garçons company, had a wonderfully inventive show on Saturday. It was a real uplift, and so simply realized in T-shirt jersey, Ultrasuede, cotton shirting and denim.

Watanabe was typically mute about his influences. “Ethnic feelings” was all one could get out of him. But here were jersey tunics and draped dresses sliced into and then braided or piped, so that they resembled dreadlocks.

The buckskin-colored Ultrasuede naturally returned one to Saturday morning westerns; Watanabe had cut slim Ultrasuede coats, loose ponchos (over faded jeans) and skirts that morphed into trousers. The hems fluttered with fringe.

You couldn’t help but smile and think that anyone with a bit of imagination and patience could have made these clothes. For a number of outfits, Watanabe inset the front section of a pair of jeans into a dark, full skirt, worn with a puffy white cotton shirt. Because of the way the denim pieces were framed and distressed, with barely a trace of blue, they looked a little like sepia prints of a western sky.

Two devils of the ’80s, Yohji Yamamoto and Jean Paul Gaultier, approach the present very differently. With his models’ hair dusted granny gray and yanked into imbecilic spirals, Yamamoto plays it cool, as if he knows that something rebellious has gone out of fashion. Most of what he showed, especially neon layers and curvy black jackets split at the shoulders, fit the current mode for noisy colors and funny openings, but it felt more soulful. And it now has the virtue of being unrecognizable.

With Rossy de Palma leading a panel of judges in a Left Bank nightclub, and the model Coco Rocha doing the Travolta part in “Grease,” Gaultier staged a TV-style dance show. As gags go, it was topical and very entertaining, but while the collection was better than usual, too many of the Gaultier standards, like zippered leather dresses, feel impervious to change.

In his July haute couture show, Raf Simons of Dior included dresses and jewelry inspired by African motifs and colors. They were a small but distinctive part of a show aimed at global style. If Simons was subtle, Phoebe Philo used a magnifying glass on Sunday in her Céline collection.

Those African motifs were now fat squiggles of color (yellow, blue, red, green) on tunics; the jewelry became big and loopy, and sometimes cagily evoked John Chamberlain’s crushed metal sculptures.

It was a clever show, in more ways than one. Philo knows how to pile on the eye candy and get everyone worked up. There were the new pillow-shaped leather clutch bags with a silver-rimmed porthole; the sculptural metal heels on shoes, relating to contemporary art (and a cobbler’s nightmare); the reworking of some of her earlier fabrics, like black netting for skirts, and a very smart continuation of her fall proportions.

The appealing part of this collection was the notion of long, slim tunic over a flared, below-the-the knee skirt — be it A-line or pleated with an asymmetrical hemline. And one of the best examples (anyway, the least overwrought) was a tank top in what looked like navy linen with a matching skirt and a green plaid undershirt that seemed based on a Canal Street plastic shopper.

But then this collection was a mixed bag: strong on those sculptural accessories and Philo’s unmatched sense of élan, but also highly fragmented and, in terms of shapes, a bit clunky.