DALLAS LOOK Options Available

This season will be remembered not for one particular look, but for a collection of ideas.

WHAT’STHIS?AFASHION SEASON THAT can’t be boiled down to the right length, the hottest color, the ideal silhouette? That can’t be right. Who’s in charge here?

Well-and I hope this comes as good news-you are. It all started last fall with the trend away from trends. A consensus among designers to provide no single “right” anything, but rather to provide a host of smart somethings. The decision to let a woman choose her own fashion destiny. Novel idea, isn’t it? You’d think somebody would have come up with it sooner.

So here we are, a whole season later, and the message is the same-only more so. Consequently, this isn’t a season that will be remembered for a look (say, the slice skirt or the slouchy pants of last fall). No, spring is a season of ideas. And guess what? They happen to be really good ones.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Spring isn’t a fashion free-for-all. Strong threads of ideas weave their way from one collection to the next and from one side of the Atlantic to the other. There are colors and fabrics and lengths that look newer and fresher than others. Silhouettes that seem particularly strong and praiseworthy. Unmistakable standouts that epitomize an idea.

But for those fashion stalwarts who won’t buy a thing until they’ve scanned the all-important list of 10 must-haves, here’s the bad news: There is no list. The only thing you “must have” now is the ability to figure out what makes sense for you.

Not to worry, though; help is on the way. The only catch is that you’ll have to wrap your mind around something a little less literal than a list. Broad themes are the focus now, and three dominant ones echo from Paris to Milan to New York. Namely: femininity, freedom, and flamboyance.

And again, this isn’t a question of choosing the “right” theme. They’re all worth considering-and, more important, one might be ideal one day, another the next-because each addresses a different aspect of contemporary life. That’s contemporary, as in modern. As in worth investing your money in. Now that’s progress.



FEMININITY

HERE’S ALL YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW before hitting the stores: This season, the female form is everything.

For a while it seemed as if “pretty” was a bad thing to be. Everybody was so busy being tough and sexy or wispy/waify or rakishly masculine that there was little room for the classically chic. Not anymore. This season, an overwhelming number of designers showed a wholehearted commitment to turning out the truly feminine. Translation: Dallas women should have a field day, says Gregg Andrews. Nordstrom’s fashion director for Dallas,

“Dallas women have never given up looking pretty and feminine,” Andrews says. “They like to be pretty; they like to be well-dressed-and when it wasn’t en vogue to be pretty and look dressed, they were anyway.

“They looked timely, but they were never trendy. That’s the nice thing about what we’re seeing. We’re not seeing strong, drastic trends. ’Trends’ is almost the wrong word to use. It’s about options; it’s about the influences in fashion.”

This is pretty as we haven’t seen it in a good while. It isn’t fussy or froufrou, girlish, gimmicky, or overly complicated. It is, quite simply, simply pretty. Stripped of unnecessary details or ornamentation (that’s right, no ruffles or bows), these clothes are designed to gracefully, artfully accentuate the body. Anything obvious or overblown has been rejected. In fact, there isn’t one iota more of anything- shape, color, detailing-than is absolutely necessary. Here, understatement translates into elegance. And it happens in a number of discrete ways.

Not surprisingly, dresses are big news. Perhaps the most attention-getting version is a body-skimming sheath in a subtly shimmering fabric that stops just below the knee (seen everywhere from Gucci to Oscar de la Renta, Jill Sander to Calvin Klein, Alberta Ferretti to Ellen Tracy). Obviously, the more curves you’ve got to work with, the more likely you are to gravitate toward this look. Similarly, the more amply endowed might want to skip it. But there are also plenty of softly constructed suits (gorgeous ones at Armani, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren, to name just a few) and equally attractive slip dresses and shifts, often generously cut for a breezy, free-flowing effect.

Another classic option that’s been updated is the pencil-slim skirt (which can fall above or below the knee), generally worn with a small top (some are cropped, others just graze the hip, but all gently trace the body). Fitted, fine-gauge knit sweaters and tops work well, too, especially those with three-quarter sleeves and crisp boat necks. Many of these duos are shown in combinations of solids–black, white, and gray-giving them a sporty mix-and-match quality. This is effortless dressing at its apex. (By the way, these straightforward, clean-lined shapes in neutrals can form the basis of a modern, don’t-think-twice-about-it wardrobe.)

More newsworthy, however, are the multifarious pleated skirts. You’ll find practically every known variety-plus a few incarnations that seem brand-new-from knife and kick pleats to umbrella, accordion, and box pleats.

But these beauties are hardly the sort that suit schoolgirls in saddle shoes. No, the updated takes are decidedly grown-up. The most common pairs a delicate top (often a skinny cashmere shell or tank) with a bouncy pleated skirt in a gauzy fabric that just grazes the knee. Marc Jacobs showed the fashion press’ favorite variations-with either a slim cardigan or several tissue-thin cashmere tulle tank tops layered on top of a knife-pleated silk skirt. Jacobs’ sorbet-colored versions do have a fresh-scrubbed appeal. Helmut Lang’s more architectural-and fashion-forward-white versions, on (he other hand, assume a more sophisticated stance. Most other versions fall somewhere in between.

What makes all these disparate new options for day so appealing isn’t just the striking silhouettes, but the extraordinary cut of the cloth (some pieces are impeccably clean-lined; others suggestively draped; most are precise and body-conscious but not too snug), the luxurious texture of the fabrics (extremely touchable, sometimes even subtly transparent), and the delicately beautiful detailing (a touch of beading or embroidery along the edge of a sweater for emphasis, a smattering of sequins on a tank for drama).

One thing is clear: No matter what form it takes, this brand of femininity is refreshingly modern and-perhaps more important-extremely wearable.



FREEDOM

More good news: This season is all about freedom. The freedom to choose what works for you and to ignore what doesn’t. To vary that choice from one day to the next without skipping a beat. To shift from the overtly feminine to the unabashedly athletic.

Street influences have been cropping up here and there for seasons, but now the design theft of athletic influences is flagrant. You’ll see hooded tops, zip-front jackets, drawstring pants, beefy tank tops, Teva-inspired sandals, Puma-style sneakers everywhere.

Which is not to say that the look is uninspired. As Andrews points out, ’The nice thing about it is that it’s not costumey or overly uniformy. It’s very wearable for a lot of women and lots of age ranges. It’s very American.”

That means the hooded top may take the form of a heather wool-blend stretch zip-Jacket (at Calvin Klein) worn with a matching slim stretch skirt that hits just below the knee. Drawstring-waisted pants might show up in a beautifully draped lavender nylon-and-rayon blend or a tissue-thin gauzy cotton. In fact, drawstring-waisted pants are ubiquitous, showing up in everything from unconstructed suits to casual knitwear.

Tanks have racer backs or tiny spaghetti straps and are as likely to come in sheer cotton mesh, jersey, or ribbed silk as cotton knit. Dresses have drawstring hems; pants have elastic legs. Whatever the elements, the look isn’t sloppy or hastily thrown together; instead, the effect is of an insouciant ease.

Freedom of choice is also the name of the game when it comes to pants. In addition to the aforementioned drawstring varieties, there are also some good-looking, wide-legged, slightly more fluid pants and trousers. Those were all but overlooked, however, because of the crush of attention focused on the new cropped pant (aka the clam digger, capri pant, toreador pant, pedal pusher, cut-off trouser…}. These guys are everywhere. It’s easy to see why there are so many names for them, though. Some hit above the knee (and are really considered extended shorts), others fall below; some are snug at the waist and pencil thin, others rest low on the hip and hang loosely. Fittingly, the overall look can vary just as distinctly, depending on which version you choose.

Most are shown with small, simple fitted tops to keep the proportion from getting out of whack (you don’t want too much going on up there). And, more often than not. each of the two pieces is limited to a single strong solid color, in opposing intensities-say, a pale blue top with deep charcoal pants. Add an uncomplicated flat shoe, and you’re set. (Plenty of folks showed cropped pants with high-heeled mules and stilettos, which can work if you know what you’re doing. On the other hand, they’re just as likely to tart up the whole thing if you aren’t careful.)

And what about color? Again, the choice is yours-the available spectrum is uncharacteristically broad. In suits, some of the freshest looks were shown in shades of gray (especially dove and pearl) that had a bit of sheen to them. Chanel also has some incredible, very loosely woven, featherweight tweeds flecked with fluorescent color,

Dresses come in a variety of feminine hues-from cornflower and sky blue to pink, orange, lavender, and violet. And there are some interesting new prints- most notably, Prada’s op-art computer prints and John Galliano’s vivid ethnic-inspired Ikat prints.

Then, of course, there’s white-which has never looked so right. The classic white shirt, for example, has taken center stage again in an impressive showing of variations. Actually, white is all over the place-both during the day and at night- in pencil skirts and fitted tops, crisp short-sleeve jackets, gauzy pleated skirts, girlish smocked dresses. In floor-length billowy petticoat skirts and tiny eyelet-edged camisoles. In leather.

One last symbol of freedom: flat shoes. They’ve never looked better. From strap-py leather thong sandals and white glove leather ballet slippers to modified Mary Janes and brightly colored Moroccan slippers, the flat is the shoe of the moment. Sure, you can opt for a high-rising mule, a stiletto, or the new, chic midheel variation of the Princess. But you don’t have to.



FLAMBOYANCE

FOR MANY EVENINGWEAR DESIGNERS, lavish embellishment is the order of the day. The idea here is to approach whatever you do to the nth degree. In other words, go to the extreme-and then keep going: Why have a single row of beads when you can have a gown encrusted with them? Ditto sequins. Ditto embroidery. Better yet, why not use all three on a single garment?

There are many stunning examples (everyone from Donna Karan, Todd Oldham, and Richard Tyler to Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, Christian Dior, and John Galliano) of just how much life a bit of ornamentation can add to even the simplest column of a dress. Just start with a gently draped, very feminine (there’s that word again) gown in a light-as-air fabric. Then take one idea-say, a floral motif- and go to town. A pearl here, sequined petals there, embroidered leaves and stems for good measure, and well…heads turn {which is exactly the point). An undulating body of fringe. A solid wall of metallic pink sequins. They’re guaranteed to get you noticed.

So is a bare back, plunging down to there (or further). All the better to guarantee an attention-getting entrance-and exit.

As for jewelry, a simple choker is nice, but rows and rows of chains piled one atop another is so much more exciting. Actually, any necklace that spans the entire neck will do. Just think big and beautiful. Fluid (tiered layers of sleek silver chains) and feminine (an antique-silver Victorian choker studded with emerald crystal beads)-not heavy and confining.

But, of course, this full-tilt mentality isn’t limited to glamorous nights. It also can be found among the more iconoclastic designers, the ones who present the visionary view of clothes design: the presentation of an idea that hasn’t been seen (much less worn) before. Yohji Yamamoto and Commes des Garcon’s Rei Kawakubo are the reigning champs of it, and they don’t disappoint, showing clothes that were both mind-boggling!y beautiful and, at times, simply mind-boggling. And their influences continue to creep into other collections in notable ways. At Helmut Lang, yards and yards of fabric are skillfully draped and folded. At Jil Sander, slits become ingenious design elements.



AS FOR MEN, THERE’S GOOD NEWS FOR you, too: You’re looking at an equally strong season. Which is no coincidence. It used to be that menswear was continually playing catch-up: Two, maybe three seasons after an idea had wafted through womenswear it would reappear for men. Now (thanks, in part, to the increasing number of designers who create both men’s and women’s clothing), we’re seeing similar influences simultaneously.

For example, womenswear for spring is noteworthy for, among other things, its easygoing, updated classics. So is the menswear. Both favor clean lines and casual elegance. Drawstring-waisted pants are prevalent. Sinuous, often sheer fabrics are plentiful. Suits come with a hint of iridescence. Athletic influences (hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, Tevas, windbreak-ers) crop up repeatedly. Flimsy knits and sweaters abound. Soft, neutral tones are offset by bright colors.

And freedom of choice is the big buzz phrase.

We’re practically a matched set.

But what’s perhaps most encouraging is not any specific gender synchronicities, but the overall attitude: that good-looking clothes don’t have to be revolutionary, but they do have to be wearable. (Remember the skin-tight suits of a few seasons ago-the ones everybody raved about on the runways but nobody bought?) One thing everyone in the men’s market agrees on: Keep it clean and simple and not too tight {or too loose, for that matter). And. by all means, lighten up.

What that means is that many of the most interesting options this season have little to do with traditional business dress. It’s what DNR, the men’s fashion trade magazine, has dubbed “a third wardrobe,” pieces that fall somewhere between suits and weekend wear. Some experts consider it the fastest-growing menswear category.

That “take a load off philosophy is evident in many ways, beginning with the freshest silhouette: a melding of the businessman and the beach-goer. The idea is to start with a loosely constructed jacket, preferably in a nubby linen (at Donna Karan, Joseph Abboud) or a similarly soft fabrication-say, fleece (Nautica). Then add a pair of free-flowing drawstring pants (just about everywhere), a sporty open-weave sweater (Wilke-Rodriguez, DKNY), and a pair of thick-soled slide sandals or thongs. Voila. Instant cool.

To vary the elements but not the attitude, substitute a roomy shirt jacket (maybe even in suede), a gauzy cotton shirt (Calvin Klein), a button-down knit top. a high V-neck T-shirt worn untucked, a “50s-inspired camp shirt (Richard Edwards, Barry Bricken). or a pair of sporty Puma-style sneakers.

Now the trick is to convince the average Dallas Joe to broaden his definition of everyday dressing a bit. David Smith, owner of Pockets, thinks that will be a cinch.

“Now guys have got it-{hey don’t just wear Dockers and knit shirts to work.’* he says. “They know there are options. But, frankly, it’s more complicated to wear casual clothes to work because there are decisions to be made about coordination. But I think it’s going to be an easy season for men because they’re getting used to it. And there are better, cleai-er options. Guys are going to be more comfortable dressing casually this season.”

Comfort is also key in the shaping of suits, which continues to ease up a bit. Although for the most part suits are still lean and slightly narrower through the shoulder, they’re roomier in the leg. Often, they come in an easygoing tropical-weight wool. Look for plenty of three-button and four-button versions and, of course, a smattering of double-breasteds. But there are also good-looking, less-predictable variations-Armani’s boxy fly-fronts paired with slim-jim trousers, and Donna Karan’s deconstructed linen crepe shirt jackets and drawstring pants, to name two.

And while the silhouette may vary a bit, arguably the sharpest color statement involves shades of gray, especially tones on the lighter side of the scale. This wouldn’t be quite so newsworthy without the addition of a touch of mohair to wool or silk, which creates a subtle-but not too subtle-sophisticated sheen (that touch of shine often carries through into dress shirts and woven silk ties, too). Of course, there are a number of other equally appealing options: For a more casual (but just as sharp) approach, you can’t go wrong with a khaki suit in a polished cotton (also with a bit of sheen) paired with a simple T-shirt or sweater.

Speaking of sweaters, there’s a boatload of them. But before you start chafing at the neck at the thought of donning a sweater in spring and summer, these are about as lightweight and unencumbering as they get. They’re also great-looking: skinny knits in eye-popping patterns (Missoni) and mind-blowing color-blocks (Gene Meyer), sheer V-necks (Calvin Klein), black mesh tanks (Helmut Lang), roomy ribbon-knit pullovers (DKNY), translucent space-dyed knit tops (Mondo di Marco), fluid silk knit T’s (Armani).

Color is all over the map, too. Although gray is clearly the most talked-about hue, suits and jackets show up in a variety of pastels-from butter yellow, sky blue, and lavender to moss green and cream. Dusty neutral-tone suits (navys, blue/grays, rich browns, and parchment) are strong, often offset by brightly colored shirts and ties. As a result, what begins as a monochromatic statement-a navy or brown suit, for instance–is brought up a notch or two with the addition of a French blue shirt and an orange tie.

Decisions, decisions. That’s the real news: The days of cookie-cutter dressing are over, for both men and women.

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