It was immediately after the French designers had completed their showings of fall fashions this spring and numerous retailers were in a dither about the many long skirts they'd seen on the runways in Paris. It was then that Joan Kaner, who's the national fashion director for all Neiman Marcus stores as well as a senior vice president, very calmly announced that "the fall season is not about length. In fact, length is not an issue. The fall season is about the middle."
No one, of course, asked, "The middle of what?" because they, too, had seen all those things happening around the midsections of those lissome models who show the newest clothes: Empire (( lines drawing attention to the body just below the bosom; peplums on jackets and pockets on the outsides of pants bringing the eye to the hipline; and, most significantly, belts circling those tiny waists, belts looping through trousers, belts nipping in dresses, belts pulled in tautly over coats and even over jackets, something not seen in high fashion for many, many a season.
Since then, Ms. Kaner went on to New York to see what American designers would have in store for fall and became even more emphatic about her "middle" prediction, and even reinforced it by saying: "The belt is one of the key accessories, if not the key accessory, for fall."
But, "the belt" doesn't mean just any old 1-inch belt. It means a belt that is 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide -- or, for the long-torsoed, as much as 4 to 5 inches wide. It means an elasticized cinch that hugs the area between ribs and hipbones. It means a corselet, or it means a normal belt with a gargantuan buckle. It means a belt that makes a fashion statement.
For fall, numerous designers have taken a strong stand on belts, even showing certain styles that will probably become their signatures for the season.
Oscar de la Renta, for example, favors the cinch, showing it with long, skinny knit dresses that match the belts; or he uses the cinch as a point of demarcation between full, flowing long skirts in houndstooth checks and harmonizing twin sweater sets.
Gianfranco Ferre loves superwide, black patent belts. Anne Klein's Louis dell O'lio spotlights a suede corselet that laces up front and center. Donna Karan's favorite is a stiffened leather belt with a trio of gold chains dangling in front. Karan says belts are her favorite fall accessory because a belt defines the waist but also because it can easily update things.
Few designers, in fact, seemed immune to showing belts with their fall collections, many choosing to do so in their own unique ways.
Christian Lacroix, for example, showed pants with very wide, velvet cummerbunds, and then, for a double whammy, accented some of them by adding a narrow belt over the cummerbund.
Calvin Klein opted for a military belt, with a strap worn diagonally from waist to shoulder and down the back, bandolier style.
Claude Montana often used double belts or very wide belts with two, three or four buckles marching in a row.
Mr. Ferre, in his Dior collection, liked a wide belt that gives the effect of a trio of belts worn one above the other. And Giorgio Armani was very big on showing wide belts over suit jackets.
And, then there's Isaac Mizrahi, who has been doing big belts and has now added greater variety: one is a fairly slender belt that gains attention because it has a little bag attached; another is a gold-studded leather belt worn over a tweedy, checked wool evening gown.
"I think the whole wide belt thing started with Isaac a season ago when he designed his tooled Western belts," says Joan Weinstein, owner of Ultimo.
While other stores are waiting for their new wide belts to arrive along with fall clothes in the coming months, Ms. Weinstein is already selling wide belts in an assortment of styles from Mizrahi and Parisian Azzedine Alaia; an Alaia signature belt is a leather one that features a cut out pattern that almost makes it look lacy.
Some of these designer belts cost more than most women would spend on a dress or suit.
But both Ms. Weinstein and Ms. Kaner say wide belts in a range of prices are definitely destined to reach stores this fall.
"There'll be something for everyone," Ms. Kaner says.
Well, almost everyone.
Ms. Kaner has one word of caution for those intrigued by the new belts: "The wider the belt, the smaller the waist." And, just what is a "small waist"?
It doesn't necessarily mean tiny, she says. "It means trim, but more important is the proportion of waist to hips."
A trim waist, Ms. Kaner says, is 9 to 10 inches narrower than the hips.