Drawing a line in sands of time Fashion: Industry is torn by the question of whether to look forward or back. The winner will rule the day, and perhaps the years to come.

April 10, 1997|By Roy H. Campbell | Roy H. Campbell,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Call it a tug of war between the future and the past.

On one side: designers such as Nicole Miller trying to pull their customers into the next century with new age clothes and futuristic renderings of familiar garments.

On the other side: the likes of Bob Mackie who, having profitably revived the 1970s, are striving to make a buck out of '80s fare.

The opening days of the U.S. designer collections mimic the struggle of their counterparts in Europe. A few weeks ago in the fashion capitals of London, Milan and Paris, it also was the '80s vs. the new millennium.

The stakes in this tug of war are high. The winning side changes the tide of fashion and builds its coffers for the next century.

Linda Allard, designer for Ellen Tracy, is the powerhouse for the '80s team. In her show Tuesday were the trappings of that decade of greed and conspicuous consumption: the power suits, the knee-high boots, shoulder pads, man-tailored pinstripe suits, military looks, and aggressive leather blazers and skirts.

Yet there was something urgently here and now about the collection, something real, touchable. The models looked like beautiful women taking on the real world, whether in nipped waist jackets with mid-thigh skirts or layered in curve-designing cashmere, velvet, flannel or merino wool. Allard seemed to be saying that the need to define a look for the new century can wait. Lucky for her, many women prefer the familiar.

Flanking Allard was Mackie, the muscle when it comes to glitz. The show? It was as if Alexis Carrington Colby as portrayed by Joan Collins was still television's popular icon in over-the-top glittering dresses, extravagant ball gowns and sumptuous creations such as a red jersey gown with panels of satin across the torso.

But as gorgeous as these '80s relics are, there's a reason why "Dynasty" was canceled and even Cher dispensed with bugle beads.

Times change.

Gianfranco Ferre, dumped from Christian Dior for hanging onto the past too long, has learned that lesson well. His stunning renderings showed what the future could hold if only we could let go of the present. In the blackened tent pitched in a vacant lot on 40th Street near Fifth Avenue, down a runway came a steady stream of tomorrow's women -- and men.

Imagine a sweeping military coat, belted under the bosom, a glossy leather skirt slit in the back and barely visible below the coat's hem, or a maxi-length knit cardigan buttoned up to a high mandarin collar.

Picture a man's stretchy long-sleeve shirt slashed open at one side and worn with straight, stretch wool slacks or women's hooded coats of flowing fabric with zippers in front or the back, or a series of puffy quilted pants, jumpsuits and overcoats.

These pieces were the essence of Ferre's wondrous Gieffeffe collection, a younger line that the Italian designer hopes will attract the American market. The future of fashion never looked better.

Now that the forty-something Miller is married with a child, she too has focused on the future. Banished from her packed catwalk show Monday were those sassy and sexy little print-mad numbers that she built her company on during her free and single days. They were replaced by a sophisticated, grown-up collection.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Almost everybody settles down eventually. Miller said her collection was inspired by renovating her apartment, which explains the "splatter-print" items, dresses and skirts in a mad mix of colors that looked literally like a house painter's drop cloth.

But the strength of this excellent collection was the edgy cut of a black leather jacket piled over a black ribbed sweater and the futuristic look of a stretch black crepe dress, long and lean, with a back zippered from neck to hem. And, if we are to believe clothes for the coming millennium will be the stark monochromatic fashion of movies set in the future, then Miller's parade of narrow clothes in charcoal-gray cashmere and viscose are right on the money.

Lo these many years Carolina Herrera has dressed a certain sort of woman, the aging society lady with money to burn and places to go. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, for example, was a longtime client.

But Herrera seems to realize that if she continues down that path, her company will follow her clients into the grave.

Here were skinny wool suits with faux fur sleeves and a shimmery, red snakeskin-print leather dress -- not the stuff that fills most society matrons' closets. And certainly not unforgiving ribbed knit suits.

But a younger client would gobble them up, hence Herrera's claim to the future, a weak one because it didn't quite go far enough with her finale of chiffon sweet nothings suitable for the next big charity ball.

One of the few designers to continue refining his signature is Marc Jacobs, who was just named to create a first-time clothing collection for the Louis Vuitton leather goods company.

In a SoHo loft on Monday night, Jacobs thrilled the fanatics with his '80s-meets-'90s super mix. Wobbling on a mean spike heel came the likes of Naomi Campbell, Stella Tenant and Kate Moss in long herringbone skirts slit daringly high, shapely cashmere jackets as rich-looking as velvet, tweed blazers gleaming with flecks of silver threads, and long A-line peacoats worn over brazenly sheer dresses. Not to mention the kind of thermal tops and pants the teeny-boppers couldn't get enough of in the '80s.

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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