By  on May 12, 1994

NEW YORK -- Whoopie cushion bustles. Vibrant colors. Feathers, fuzzies, pompons, plaids and plastic pants. There was an undeniable sense of joy on the runways this season that made for great showtime entertainment while holding out the promise of a happy fall at retail.

The ringleaders of fashion's joyride -- designers as diverse as Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood, Gianni Versace, Anna Sui and Isaac Mizrahi -- have never been known for whipping up downbeat duds. But now, they're anchoring a season in which wit and frivolity are widespread, standing in brash opposition to last year's dominant sobriety.

As for why, all sorts of reasons are offered up -- everything from sociological musings on the need for levity in a depressing world to hey, women will only buy so much black.

"People have an undeniable urge to be happy," says Todd Oldham. "I'm happy to see store buyers and editors getting a bit more cheerful."

"Yes, there's a new, upbeat mood," says Marc Jacobs. "It's also true in life. Depression, the bad economy, AIDS -- we need relief from these things. We all have things to worry about, we all work hard, and we want to play hard. It's bigger than fashion; it's life."

Mizrahi says he feels good about his own work, and the overall mood of fashion, for the first time in two years. "I was totally thrown for a loop," he explains. "I was very afraid of the dour side. I get it. I totally understand why somebody would want to look like that -- I live in this city. But I think you have to make a concerted effort not to look like a bag person. I can look happy even if I'm not, and just doing something for the way I look can absolutely make me feel better. It's very spiritual."

Mizrahi links fashion's recent minimal, downbeat mien with an antifeminine attitude that baffled him: "I don't understand the idea of a woman purposely trying to deny being a woman. I'm with Camille Paglia, who says, 'If you've got it, work it."'

Ditto Vivienne Westwood. "I'm trying to idealize the potential of women," she says. "Each of my garments has a dynamic and a rapport with a woman's body. It enables her to have the greatest of times. If a woman wears beautiful clothes, she has better experiences in them -- and more pleasure."

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