Conciliatory gestures: designers offer options for fall

April 15, 1992|By Bernadine Morris | Bernadine Morris,N.Y. Times News Service

NEW YORK -- The fall fashion shows opened in Milan, Italy, last month on a lugubrious note with mournful colors, longer skirts and a feeling that the slow economy through most of the world had deflected interest in new clothes.

By the time the last designers had introduced their collections in New York on Friday, the mood and the perception had changed.

Having experimented with longer clothes for a year, designers had figured out how to do them successfully. Long, fitted clothes covering the body to the ankles looked as sexy as short ones that bared all.

Equally important was the spirit of conciliation in the air as most designers -- Geoffrey Beene was the notable exception with his avoidance of anything that hid the knees -- continued to introduce knee-baring skirts alongside their newer long styles.

Nobody wanted to be considered a fashion dictator. Everyone seemed to respect women's reluctance to call their existing wardrobe obsolete.

Uncertainty over hemlines brought trousers back to the fashion foreground as designers with long memories, or access to fashion publications of the period, recalled the events of 1970. That's when hemlines dropped from thigh to calf and women avoided the issue by taking to pants en masse. They stayed with them for a decade.

Even Mr. Beene -- who refused to lengthen his daytime clothes this time around because he felt longer skirts were too restrictive and not modern -- joined the pants enthusiasts. His emphasis was on the jump suit, which formed a backdrop for such wraps as a raincoat reduced to a minimum of seams and a long, shaped scarf that caught the air to billow into intriguing patterns.

The Beene collection continues to astonish viewers because of the designer's adventurous spirit and imagination. Over the years he has acquired the technique to make his novel ideas work. Admirers tell him he should show his clothes in Paris to elevate the standing of American design. He is beginning to give the subject some thought.

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