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UNCOWED BY A SHAKY ECONOMY, DESIGNERS ARE STIRRING THINGS UP WITH STRIPES, FLORALS, AND A MONKEY OR TWO.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman
Rather than taking the conservative route during these economically dicey times, designers are trying to keep it light. Their strategy: bold, fun prints and whimsical embroidered patterns that celebrate novelty. “In times of uncertainty, that’s when to go all-out,” said Nancy Bossio, president and owner of New York-based Renfrew, which offers many of spring’s hottest prints including toile, stripes and florals.
According to Bossio, the newness in prints comes from unusual colors, home furnishings influences, engineering techniques and a bigger scale. She further explained, “They’re quirky.”
Along with edgy florals with offbeat placement and black and white or multicolored stripes, Renfrew shows toile with a twist. Reversing the trend, the print has been bleached out, while the backgrounds range from denim to neutrals like tan to fashion colors like gold and burgundy. Some pants feature embroidered vine or geometric patterns in black and white, neutral or color combinations.
Novelty embroidery is the signature specialty of CJ Laing, a resort-driven, New York-based, better bridge and children’s company reminiscent of Lilly Pulitzer. Describing her unique themes as having “tongue and cheek humor with heart and spunk and a Palm Beach feel,” co-owner Carolyn Laing reports there’s an immediate reaction to them. “Everyone says how cute and fun they are.”
Prints include the universally popular Cosmopolitan cocktail, flamingos, frogs imbibing martinis, palm trees and, a take on the vintage game ‘Barrel of Monkeys,’ featuring cobalt blue monkeys joined together with long tails and sporting top hats.
Another print draws its inspiration from a Fifties tablecloth that Laing found at an antique show. “It has that very vintage, ‘Wish You Were Here’ feel,” she said. Embellished with sequins, the pattern is available in a silk palazzo pant, bandeau tie dress and ruffled skirt.
Simpler themes also appear on blue gingham or linen in 10 seasonal colors, such as spring’s coral, kiwi and lilac. Silhouettes are a cropped flare pant, golf short, tank dress and skirt with a scalloped hem. Matching beach and Bermuda bags, webbed canvas belts and, beginning January 2002, shoes — slides, thongs, mules and driving moccasins — complete the lifestyle-driven look.
Also promoting the permanent vacation philosophy is Cyle & Chloe, a bridge line based in Little Rock, Ark.
“Fall is typically dark, serious and dressy. We plan to keep it fresh, lighthearted and casual despite the season,” said president John Chandler.
Catering to a misses’ customer with a youthful outlook, the line incorporates bold, sometimes embellished, prints, worked back to solids. The black-and- white Milano group is a mix and match of toile, graffiti, geometric and lace/paisley prints. The grouping’s wide variety of silhouettes, including short shorts, shift dresses, cropped pants and wrap shirts, gives retailers the option to tailor their selections to how conservative their clientele is.
Equal versatility can be found in St. Bart’s, an appropriately named group of floral and graffiti prints and traditional, two-toned stripes in tropical colors.
The strongest group, however, is Bali, thanks to its brilliant play on color, according to Sandy Baldanza, president of Logic, a New York-based, sportswear and knits division of August Silk. The line includes plaid, tropical florals and color-blocked knits in watermelon and cantaloupe or lime and “greige.”
Other prints are a toile in cotton sateen and knits, a flower-power floral, an Art Deco-influenced graphic, a yarn-dyed plaid and stripes. Novelty silhouettes come forth in a skirt that zips from the top and bottom and a big shirt with oversize cuffs, which has received great response as a desirable alternative to a jacket.
“We’ve seen an indication that career needs to be modified. These looks are intended for the baby boomer who can’t wear BCBG and doesn’t want to wear a structured suit. The line is fun without being a comedy show,” said Baldanza.
No ode to fun prints would be complete without Trina Turk, a Los Angeles-based, contemporary designer who is known for them. “My customer expects at least one a month,” said the avowed print fan. “Even if I end up buying a pair of khaki pants, prints are what I make a beeline to the rack for.”
Having done toile last year, Turk focuses on her own fancies. For March, she presents a multicolored fish-scale print on silk georgette in ruffled bodies. “It has the look of stained glass,” she said.
Inspired by Marimekko designs and by the Palm Springs aesthetic, an oversize daisy print is so large that the whole flower can’t fit on the garment, with each daisy design unique to the piece. Color combinations are white with aqua and lime or white with chocolate and hot pink, worked back to stripes that appear hand-painted.
“Prints are such a good way to promote yourself and ensure you’re recognized,” Turk said. That mentality works its way down the line to consumers, as Bossio points out. “They want to look very individualized, not like just slight variations of each other. And prints are an exciting, interesting way to get attention.”