By and  on September 13, 1994

PARIS -- Belly buttons and bare legs, creamy white suits, skimpy slipdresses, bra tops, tank tops and loads of linen and silk crepe. Sound like the makings of an airy summer wardrobe? Wrong.

These are some of the looks that broke onto Europe's runways for fall, and they're hitting retail floors now. It's a hint of one of the biggest controversies in la mode today: seasonless clothes.

Shocking? Well, maybe not to fashion insiders. But the rest of the female population may be a bit baffled by the summery air that permeates many of the winter collections.

Some American retailers have embraced the 10-month-a-year fabrics, while others are sticking to true winter-weight wools. European stores are also conflicted: Those with a younger clientele say yes to the seasonless looks, while the traditionalists say no.

But the retailers who applaud seasonless looks say they represent a good value -- even in the pricey designer market -- and can be worn throughout much of the year.

Designers contend rules were meant to be broken, and if women don't get it today, they're likely to catch on tomorrow.

Length, for example, has gone from long to short to a menu of choices. The hemline that's 'in' today is whatever women feel comfortable wearing -- from the tiniest minis to ankle-grazing skirts.

Black with navy, once a big no-no, is now the coolest combination. And with the demise of the big ball gown and the acceptability of pants -- and even sneakers -- at cocktail hour, day and eveningwear have become one big blur.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, Europe's lighter weights have been well received this fall, said Rose Marie Bravo, president.

"The lighter-weight clothes are doing extremely well, across the board -- not just in our southern stores. The cool wools and lighter knits are especially strong.

"Women treasure fabrics that can be worn 10 months a year, particularly when they're making this type of investment," Bravo added. She said layering is the key, considering that most indoor areas are well heated.

"Women would rather layer than wear something really heavy," she said. "The comfort level is an important factor."

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