By and  on January 31, 1994

PARIS -- Christian Lacroix is off to a rollicking good start for 1994. After dazzling Paris with a triumphant couture collection, the designer hit the mark again last week with the premiere of his new lower-priced line, Bazar de Christian Lacroix.

Critics who consider his fashion too full of fantasy will see a different side of Lacroix in this collection. Bazar has a younger, more street-wise esprit -- a far cry from the designer's haute-luxe embroideries and elaborate print and color mixes. In fact, the 164-piece winter collection, presented in his rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore headquarters, concentrated mostly on black, brown and charcoal gray, with only an occasional splash of brightly colored print.

Christian calls his lively new creation "casual chic a la Lacroix." And that's exactly what it is: sporty suits with wide-cuffed pants and short fitted jackets; striped waistcoats; long, double-layer skirts; skinny turtlenecks and great outerwear -- from hard-edged shearling vests to nylon parkas. It's all rather toned down for the colorful Provencal designer, who accessorized the collection with floppy leather hats and rugged knee-high boots.

But there were a few lapses into the untamed Lacroix we know so well -- lace knit stockings and jacquard sweaters mixed with checked peasant skirts, and the overdone black jeans with a big "CL" plastered on the back pockets.

French retail prices for pants go from $136 to $237; skirts from $136 to $424 and jackets from $339 to $509, with most at the lower part of the range. Prices in other markets may vary.

"It's fantastic," said Odile Baudelaire, fashion manager for Paris's Export Buying Office, who was scoping out the collection for Nordstrom's Savvy department. "There are real separates in this collection," which, she said, would appeal to the U.S. customer.

Bazar will be manufactured under license to the Paciflor ready-to-wear division of Kenzo, but sales will be handled by the Lacroix organization. According to Lacroix chief executive Robert Bensoussan-Torres, the company is aiming for 400 sales points in Europe for fall. Bensoussan said that the priority for Bazar right now is the European market, though American buyers can see the new line during the upcoming rtw collections.

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