By and  on January 5, 1994

MICHAEL LEVA

Even as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Michael Leva knew that if he were to stay in fashion, he wanted to have his own company.

And he did -- at a precociously early age. But like so many others, Leva ended up a casualty of the recession and closed his doors in July of 1991.

"I interviewed for design-director positions with just about everyone you can think of," says Leva, 32, of the hiatus between the end of his old business and the start of the current one, which he founded last year. "Luckily I didn't jump into anything. Something always told me to wait."

What that wait-and-see approach brought was a licensing agreement with Miki Corp. of Tokyo, which Leva signed in January 1993. Under the agreement, he designs a career-oriented line for distribution exclusively in Japan. Royalties from that venture have given Leva the financial backing he needed to open a new signature collection which debuted here in November for spring '94.

Leva is starting out small, using the front room of his brownstone as a showroom, even though that means buyers have to trek to the outer reaches of Chelsea. Of the collection, which was shown in November as part of Cotton Inc.'s group show, he says: "It's very serene and austere. That came directly from the feeling that too much is happening in the world -- too much ugliness, too much harshness. I like the idea of helping someone feel more serene or relaxed through clothes."

But Leva knows there's more to a successful collection than philosophy: "I think logically about how each piece will function in someone's life. I'll make sure I have at least five jackets that go to work, and one that can go to cocktails after work." "I'm very in favor of women feeling free, strong and natural," Leva continues, adding that design should serve this end. He says his current collection is constructed in "an easy, abstract way" with less interfacing and softer, more natural shoulder pads than in the past. As for fabrics, he especially likes a new, wrinkle-free linen crepe.

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