By  on May 17, 1994

NEW YORK -- "I'm not a designer. I just made dresses for myself," says Marie-Anne Oudejans. But whatever she calls herself, she's creating quite a buzz with Tocca, her line of sweet and sexy summer dresses.

The Dutch-born Oudejans, 29, went to Paris at 19, where she worked with top stylist Elizabeth Djian. She also began designing her own dresses, which won compliments from models, makeup artists and photographers. When she moved here about a year ago, she assisted stylist Joe McKenna, then decided to launch a dress collection. Oudejans came up with 12 little dress shapes that vary in color and fabric according to the season. There are terry cloth A-lines and little sari-fabric tank dresses for spring and, for fall, pastel mohair dresses and tweed tanks.

"I wanted to make very commercial and inexpensive dresses that would appeal to everyone," she says. "These are dresses to make people happy and feel beautiful."

Oudejans met her business partner, Italian photographer Edoardo Mantelli, while on holiday in St. Lucia, and they found a factory in New York to produce the line. Fred Segal placed an order immediately, and Tocca was taken on by the Gabriel & Kramer showroom. Although the spring collection started to be shown just a month ago, according to Michael Gabriel, an owner of Gabriel & Kramer, "The response has been phenomenal. Bergdorf Goodman has the exclusive for a major launch, including windows and an ad."

"We think they're the perfect things for summer," says Mikki Thomas, vice president, divisional merchandise manager of Bergdorf's. "They're young, they're cool, and you don't even have to think about the price. They're definitely the freshest little dresses for summer in all those great little pastel colors. Sure, we have a lot of little black dresses, but nothing compared to these."

Other retailers of the dresses include The Grocery Store and Salon De The in San Francisco and Tender in Michigan. Tocca dresses are also being sold at Joseph in Paris and London and at Milan's Casa.

Wholesale prices for the Tocca collection are $54 to $59, but Oudejans has also created a secondary line, called American Love, as a preemptive strike against possible knockoffs. It consists of similar dresses in red, white and navy, wholesaling in the $35 range, and has been sold to Macy's New York and The Limited.Oudejans, who doesn't seem fazed by her swift success, says, "Whatever happens, I will always keep making dresses for me and my friends. I'm not hungry to be this fashion hero." Asked about the much-talked-about new knee-length, she says, "I wasn't planning to do it, but Naomi Campbell asked me to make her some dresses in that length." This summer, the designer plans to set up a tent in Southampton near the beach to sell dresses with her friends. "Women feel like buying things when they're on the beach."

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