Sold on Evita Women are being bombarded with the agressive marketing of a legendary woman who had no taste

December 19, 1996|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,SUN FASHION EDITOR

An aggressive red mouth, strong brows, brassy blond hair, flashy jewelry. We could be describing Madonna on her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. We could be describing Evita Peron's politically ambitious European grand tour in 1947.

The hype generated for Evita-the-movie, starring Madonna-the-mom as Eva-the-saint, is a tribute to the American genius for selling an idea sight unseen. The film will not open here until January, yet the fashion industry has already jumped ahead of the release date in anticipation of an Evita trend. October's Vogue cover touted the Madonna role as the next fashion force, and marketing promotions, spinoffs and copies have followed suit.

This Madonna/Evita symbiosis seems a natural for fashion marketing -- both women were touched by a genius for calling attention to themselves. Take the rosary as accessory: Evita used it to great effect in her public devotions; Madonna found it equally effective in her public exhibitions.

Now Bloomingdale's, the retail trendsetter, has installed in-store Evita boutiques featuring designs evocative of the Argentinian strumpet-turned-icon. They have tango dresses, and nipped-waist '40s suits and fussy furs.

Jewelry makers, including Carolee, Christian Dior and Erwin Pearl, have collections based on Evita's extravagant baubles. Estee Lauder has introduced a limited edition makeup line called The Face of Evita. Madonna's makeup artist and friend, Laura Mercier, also has launched her own Madonna brand colors.

Top hair stylists are brushing up on tricks to achieve Eva Peron's signature chignon. The folks who invented the Hairdini, an updo gadget seen on TV, are ready to show you how to do it yourself on a budget.

Will women buy into this retro rerun? If Hollywood Pictures is betting a billion that we're again hungry for a big-budget musical, we may also swallow the idea of a return to some old-fashioned glamour.

"We did a glamour poll in November and Eva Peron was nowhere," says Donald Ziccardi of Ziccardi & Partners Advertising, which represents powerful clients interested in upscale merchandising. In the same poll, repeated 10 days ago, American women listed Eva Peron as the third most glamorous woman in history. In history! She followed Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn. Of those queried, however, only 1 percent had any idea of the role Eva Peron played in the events of the 20th century. No one expects fashionistas to be history scholars, but that 1 percent is very telling. "The turn-around suggests that the Evita hype is working," Ziccardi says, although he expects the Evita furor to burn itself out quickly. He does, however, believe that we are again ready to embrace glamour.

"Our definition of glamour has changed. In the glitzy '80s, glamour acquired a negative association to conspicuous consumption. Glamour went underground and hid for a while, to be recognized only by insiders." Now, Ziccardi says, his polls show we miss that emotional flash.

Eva Peron had that. Her real story has more drama than any Andrew Lloyd Webber soap operetta could ever package. An illegitimate and lonely child born in the Argentinian provinces, she lost herself in movie dreams. At 15 she ran away with a tango dancer to the big city where she met hunger and homelessness.

She survived on bit acting parts and the kindness of gentlemen. One of them, Juan Peron, who was twice her age, made her his mistress and later his wife. He rose to become president, she the first lady. The poor worshiped her largesse and charities. She fought for voting rights for women and meddled in politics. She died young and miserably of cancer at 33 in 1952. She was also somewhat of a monster.

Some investigators say the orphanages, schools and clinics she established were paid for by the treasures purloined by the Nazis. The poor idolized her anyway; they loved her common language, her blondness, her jewels, her affectations.

She had glamour and style, but abominable taste. Who was to guide her? Although she was acceptable mistress material, the Argentinian social elite snubbed her. She had an appetite for lots of flounce, gaudy hats and pretentious jewelry.

That appetite for jewels could not be appeased. In the recent biography "Eva Peron," Alicia Dujovne Ortiz describes how Evita ate jewelry. Because of a predisposition to plumpness, Eva dieted and nearly starved herself, so she literally tasted, licked and chewed her jewelry like it was candy. All the candy she wanted.

"When we researched the Peron jewelry designs, we went through hundreds of photographs and in every one Evita was wearing very visible, very gaudy jewelry," says Carolee Friedlander, whose company has introduced a five-strand graduated pearl Evita necklace -- one of Evita's more discreet pieces.

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