Double Vision

Baltimore's Barry Bricken and John Scher have decidedly different styles, but both have made a fashion statement in New York.

September 26, 1999|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

NEW YORK - Fashion designer Barry Bricken's got that diner-guy look. Fellow designer John Scher has club-kid charm.

Scher was hanging at Studio 54 in his early teens. Bricken spent his adolescence at the Hilltop Diner with pals from Forest Park High.

So, one was Barry Levinson's fraternity brother, while the other spied Bianca Jagger partying 'til dawn.

It hardly matters now.

Both Baltimore boys -- Scher's from Stevenson and Bricken from Liberty Heights -- eventually set up shop in New York, where they design clothes for men and women. These days, it's just a short cab ride from Bricken's palatial West 57th Street office to Scher's spare headquarters on West 40th Street.

But the distance between Bricken's traditional luxury sportswear and Scher's avant-garde line is probably farther than any cab would be willing to take you.

"You're not going to see the same person wearing Barry Bricken as you're going to see wearing John Scher," says Brian Boye, associate fashion editor of the Daily News Record, a trade newspaper devoted to men's fashion.

A peek into Bricken's showroom reveals silk twin sets, sporty tailored jackets -- all in the finest fabrics -- and shearling coats in colors beyond your standard black, tan and brown.

"We're not trying to be avant-garde," says Bricken, 56. "We're not a young firm. We're an established firm that has an established clientele."

Scher's modern clothes are more about technique -- shirring, laser-cutting -- than fabric and color. Edgy fare like leather python-print pants, laminated wool coats and electric blue cableknit dresses.

"We don't want to sell to every single store," says Scher, 37. "I don't care about that. This line has ... its own meaning, and it has its own place."

It would be easy to see Bricken and Scher in terms of old guard vs. new guard, but there's much more to the story.

They have more than a few things in common. Both plan to add jeans-based lines. Both wanted to be designers since they were kids, and both discovered that Baltimore wasn't the place to do it.

Still, sensibilities don't get much farther apart than theirs.

Says Jim Moore, creative director at GQ: "Opposite worlds, huh?"

These worlds never collided -- until now.

At The Sun's suggestion, the two are meeting for lunch at Trattoria Dell Arte, a tony eatery near Bricken's office.

Scher enters Bricken's vast showroom with its tall, mirrored doors, polished mahogany and easy-listening music. He looks like someone who took a wrong turn on his way to a rave and ended up at the Rainbow Room. His head is shaved and he's wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and psychedelic Birkenstocks. He clutches a cup of coffee in a plastic bag.

Bricken, the elder stylesman, is slick in a mint green coat, lavender T-shirt, khakis and striking Indian-head belt.

On their way to the restaurant, Scher jokes: "You should see where I eat every day," referring to the cafeteria-style dive he calls his lunchtime home.

Even before Bricken orders his lobster-packed salad, and Scher requests a vegetable plate, it's apparent this meal will feature a heaping serving of Bricken, with a side of Scher.

One minute Scher is waxing creative, talking about how anything, say, a leaf, can inspire a collection. "It depends on how you interpret it," Scher says excitedly. "That's really what makes it fun. Everyone has their own influences."

The next, Bricken launches in. He speaks with authority and dominates the conversation, pounding the table for emphasis. Scher sits back patiently, mostly keeping his cool.

On runway shows: "The first couple seasons we did runway shows, then they became this extravaganza with people spending a fortune," Bricken says. "Who could outdo the rest? The people getting the press were the people who spent the most, did the most weird things."

For the record, Scher once did a hillbilly-themed show featuring beaver hairdos and wolf fur jackets. He doesn't mention this at lunch.

"There's one thing that we both do. We pursue the look that sells. You just keep progressing with what you're doing," Bricken says. "I don't care how good it is. Been there done that, give me the next thing. Give me what's next."

Scher isn't so sure he agrees. He laughs and says: "With me, they're like, 'whoa, slow down.' "

John's world

Scher made his debut in 1990 with his women's wear collection and introduced menswear in 1997. His work has a "sleeper" quality, gradually building a strong consumer base, says Bruce Pask, associate fashion editor at GQ.

In his showroom, Scher has the last word.

The designer meticulously labels patterns and prototypes before handing the package off to his harried intern, who will rush it to a nearby factory.

"If they mess up, then I get to yell at them like we did today, because they put the wrong fabric-care label in one of the styles," Scher says.

His gentle features, twinkling eyes and smile belie his business acumen. "If it's their mistake, they deserve the wrath. That's all there is to it."

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