Leather becoming a wardrobe essential

November 28, 1996|By Kendall Morgan | Kendall Morgan,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

The leather jacket has joined the classic structured suit and little black dress as a wardrobe basic.

No longer as tough as the motorcycle jacket or as trendy as last fall's mod white versions, leather and suede this season look to the future as well as the past. Shapes from the 1970s are JTC streamlined, textures range from slick, waxed leather to softest suede, and colors go far beyond biker black -- now baby blue, rust and olive green join the new neutral, brown.

Designers as classic as Ralph Lauren or as wild as Gianni Versace have embraced the many looks of leather for fall, while fashion-pack favorites Gucci and Prada have made the material a mainstay in their simple, elegant collections. Used for maxi skirts, soft shirts and tapered jeans, leather is finally being treated as more than just material to protect a wearer from the elements.

"The way leather has been done in this country in the past has been as outerwear," says Marc Garson, owner of New York-based Rem Garson leather company. "What we do is look for the trends and what we think are the happening styles, and we put it in leather. Used to be, when I started, the only people that made those kind of looks were Gucci and Prada, and it wasn't affordable."

Today, fashion fans can make a luxury purchase like Ralph Lauren's rust-colored suede jeans for just over $1,000, or spend less than $200 at a trendy shop like Rampage for a modern jacket.

"I think Americans are looking at leather not just as a luxury item," says Thomasine Dolan, women's design director for Banana Republic. "The whole vintage shopping thing is so big you can buy great vintage leather jackets for cheap. As far as what we've got in the stores, it's definitely '70s -- from Shaft to the James Bond films."

Designer Michael Hoban of North Beach Leather has returned to favorite patterns from his 30-year career. "I went back to the basics, and that's what people want," he says. "I tapered in the car coats and did three or four versions of a pea coat. I tweaked it a little bit, but not too much."

If the shapes seem retro, colors and textures look forward to the next century. "It's avocados and copper colors and gingery colors," says Dolan. "To me it's '70s interiors -- kitchens and basements. It's the place where we seem to be able to make a statement most easily. The person who's going to buy leather is ready to take the next fashion step anyway."

Designers have different ideas about what a must-have item for this season might be. Hoban and Dolan cite leather jeans as a great first purchase. Garson considers a brown leather or suede jacket both modern and versatile: "I'd go with a vintage look in a shade of espresso. It's just a little more exciting. I think everyone has a black motorcycle or bomber in black in their closet. It's time to move on."

But designers are banking on customers wanting more than just a well-cut car coat, suede jacket and narrow jeans. By spring, couture and chain stores alike will be showing the lightest-weight leather for year-round wear.

"We'll be doing metallic leather next season," says Hoban. "Another thing I'm doing is perforated leather -- Jil Sander is doing it for spring, too. It's really lightweight, and you can put a yellow or blue lining under it and it looks gorgeous."

Modern leather just may become a look for all seasons.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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