Crash course in fashionese A behind-the-scenes look at shows, styles

April 29, 1992|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder News Service

Like many industries, fashion is a lot more than meets the eye. Fashion lingo can seem as confusing as algebra, even to many adults.

This isn't to say these folks aren't interested in what's in style; it means only that they may feel they don't know enough.

So now, at the conclusion of our coverage of the fashion shows for fall '92, here is a guide to fashion shows for those who want to know more about fashion.

Q: Why are they called runway shows?

A: The stages that the models walk down usually are long and narrow as are the runways where airplanes take off and land.

Q: Why do the fashion shows take place in cities such as Paris, Milan and New York?

A: Just as Detroit is known as the city for cars, places such as Paris, Milan and New York are known as cities for fashion, because fashion is a big business in those cities. That doesn't mean fashion designers don't sometimes live in other cities. But most people working in the fashion industry -- including the people who make the clothes, take pictures of them and advertise them -- end up going to one of these fashion capitals.

Q: How do you get into a fashion show?

A: You have to be invited by the designer. It's not like a concert; you can't buy a ticket.

Q: Who goes to these fashion shows?

A: Mostly clothing store employees and journalists who write about clothes for newspapers and magazines. The writers try to find new trends to write about, and the store employees -- called buyers -- go to get an idea of which clothes they might buy for their stores. But they don't order any clothes until they have seen them up close later in the designer's office.

Some designers also invite their best customers. Celebrities who like a certain designer's clothes also might be invited.

Designers like attention, and they know that if celebrities come to their shows, the designers will get more attention.

Q: What type of clothes are shown on a runway model?

A. Ready-to-wear clothes. These are clothes that will be in stores. Many designers also create couture (kuh-TOUR) clothes. They are made only for the customers who buy them. A couture dress, for example, is measured to fit the customer perfectly.

Ready-to-wear is much less expensive than couture. In couture, a ball gown can cost $30,000 or more.

Q: How much do the designer ready-to-wear clothes cost?

A: It varies, but designer clothes are always more expensive than clothes without a designer label.

Generally, a jacket for fall by a top-name designer would cost at least $700; a jacket by the very successful Italian designer, Giorgio Armani (GEORGE-ee-o are-MAHN-ee), might cost $2,000. That's enough to buy at least 40 pairs of jeans.

Q: Why do the shows feature fall clothes in the spring and spring clothes in the fall?

A: So they can be in the stores in time for the right season. Generally, designers show their spring clothes in October and ship them to the stores in February.

Fall clothes are shown in March and April, then produced and shipped in July and August, so people can buy them in time to wear for fall.

The clothes that the models wear in these shows are samples. They are made only for the shows, as a way for store buyers and reporters to see what the designer is planning to offer for the next season. After the stores order the clothes, the designer knows how many of each outfit need to be produced. Some of the clothes in a runway show may never be made at all, if stores don't order them.

Q: Does anybody ever wear the wild clothes sometimes shown on the runway?

A: Yes and no. In Europe, runway shows are a form of entertainment, so many designers make some clothes just for show.

In America, designers rarely create something just for the runway; they hope to sell everything.

But some designers dress stars who actually will wear these designs. Madonna wears clothes from Jean Paul Gaultier (GO-tee-ay); Cher likes Bob Mackie's styles, and Elton John wears clothes designed by Gianni Versace (GEE-an-ee vur-sah-CHEE).

Even though you might think the wilder styles have no effect on how you dress, they often do. Several years ago, Christian Lacroix (lah-KWAH) started mixing plaids with flower patterns and showing wild color combinations, such as bright pink with citrus yellow. A lot of people laughed and said nobody would wear them. But these days, even clothes sold at discount stores sometimes feature mismatched patterns. Bright color is a major trend, even if most women choose to wear only one bright color at a time.

Q: Why are most models so tall and thin?

A: Because the designers want their clothes to look as good as possible so people will want to buy them. Tall, thin women look better in most clothes than short, fat women do.

The figures of popular models do change, though.

In the '60s, Twiggy was the most famous model; she was very skinny and flat-chested, with no hips.

Now, popular models are more likely to have curves and be athletic-looking, like Cindy Crawford.

Q: Who decides what's in and what's out?

A: Each designer decides.

But store buyers and fashion writers help determine what gets attention.

If fashion reporters notice that a lot of designers are showing red clothes, for instance, they may write that red is in. If all the stores buy lace dresses, it may seem that lace is in.

Eventually, though, a style becomes in only if customers buy and wear the clothes.

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