Designing for first, second ladies can be as up, down as hemlines

April 02, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

NEW YORK -- If a designer gets a shot at dressing the first or second lady, what happens next? It depends.

Sarah Phillips, 37, who designed Hillary Rodham Clinton's fairy-tale lavender/blue inaugural ball gown, can't afford to finance a fall collection. She thought she had a backer, but he fell through.

"I'm missing a major market, which is really a drag," said Ms. Phillips, who hopes to have a collection for the holidays.

Steven Stolman, 34, who designed several dresses for Tipper Gore to wear to inaugural galas, is in even worse shape. He's out of a job. Albert Nipon, the division of Leslie Fay that Mr. Stolman worked for, closed two weeks ago.

But for Randy Kemper, 33, who has had his own company for five years, and was formerly an assistant to Bill Blass and Hubert de Givenchy, having the chance to dress Mrs. Clinton is paying off big time.

"She started wearing my clothes about three years ago. She saw them in a shop in Little Rock, went in and ordered 22 pieces the first time. Then I started seeing her in them," Mr. Kemper said. Mrs. Clinton often wore his clothes while campaigning.

"The day she arrived in Washington, she had my suit on," said Mr. Kemper proudly. He now sends description sheets to the White House, and Mrs. Clinton orders his clothes through Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus in Washington.

Dana Buchman, 41, is also enjoying seeing Mrs. Clinton wear her designs, though like Mr. Kemper, she has yet to meet the first lady.

"I'm seeing her wear our things all the time," said Ms. Buchman, citing a blue raw-silk jacket in the April issue of Mirabella magazine, a print blouse with a draped front Clinton wore the day she was appointed health care commissioner, and a kelly green shirt she wore last fall.

"She seems to wear her clothes frequently, which I think is kind of cool," said Ms. Buchman. "I also like the fact she's not a model size."

She's a size 8.

"But she's got figure flaws. She's got hips, like most of us," said Ms. Buchman.

Mr. Kemper gave his first press show Wednesday afternoon, presenting a fall collection the first lady would be hip to wear. His chesterfield coats in subtle green plaids or black and white Donegal tweeds worn with matching pants, velvet vests and white shirts were stunning. And a shapely Dijon mustard jacket with black velvet trim would look beautiful on the first lady.

Mr. Kemper's flared pants and tie-dyed velvets don't seem like ++ her style, but with his prices, between $100 and $500, she could afford to buy them and wear them in private if she's feeling playful.

"I would love to see her wear a velvet suit for day," said Mr. Kemper. "To wear it during the day would be very modern. It would update her."

Anything else he'd like?

"She's sort of restricted. She has to look sort of dressed up all the time," said Mr. Kemper. "But I would like to see her get out of the basic, same-old-suit look. I'd like to see some variations on her skirts.

"It would be nice to see her in soft trousers and slightly longer skirts," he said.

"As soon as I meet her, I'll tell her."

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