Byline: Katherine Bowers
Silent nights. That’s what eveningwear designers have in mind for holiday as they veto the rustle of taffeta ballskirts in favor of slinky gowns.
“Anything stiff or structured — we don’t do it,” said designer Tadashi Shoji, who recently broke with his partner of 19 years to take control of the Tadashi label. “People want to be more comfortable during parties. They want to dance and eat and sit down.”
Comfortable doesn’t have to mean conservative, however. Plenty of backs and shoulders will be bared. “Back movement and interest has been very strong for us,” said Lily Samii, an eveningwear designer whose eponymous line sells at Saks, Jacobson’s and Holt Renfew. Topping the list of back details this season are cowl looks, deep plunges and cutouts overlaid with beaded lace. Also popular: ruched sides, thigh-high slits and swags pinned with rhinestone brooches.
While sexy siren looks are important, manufacturers say they’re toning down the glitz. “People are very tired of beads from top to bottom,” noted Rita Mezrahi, creative director for Los Angeles-based Claire’s Collection. “Too much and it screams ‘cheap dress.”‘ It’s crucial to know where to draw the line on flashy embellishment, agreed Samii. “We’ll do beaded laces that are basically transparent so that when we [layer the lace] over a different color, it becomes that color with shine to it,” she said.
When decorative details do come into play, rhinestones are popular and they’re cropping up on everything from press-on tattoos to thong underwear. ABS designer Allen Schwartz has turned to pearls, favored this season on “Sex and the City.” “We’ll be doing a beautiful long evening gown in black chiffon with a bustier with pearls and lace,” he said. Unusual accents such as feathers sandwiched between layers of tulle or fabric petals fluttering at necklines are giving a distinctive look to the Lily Samii collection.
Color is also more restrained this season, and black is definitely back. At BCBG Max Azria, the eveningwear lineup features the shade, revved up with shots of plum, beaded tulle and mauve silk charmeuse. Jessica McClintock is also showing lots of black as well as white, and black and white combinations. Ruby and garnet reds are also doing well at the company..
Though the economic slump remains a concern, many firms say they will be up slightly from last year. Even though she’s opened 10 stores this year and plans to open seven in 2002, Jessica McClintock said, “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and my belt tight.” According to the designer, the stores are up 13 to 15 percent over last year.
Claire’s Collection is also having a strong year, with revenue projections of $3 million. The company has been in turnaround mode for the past two years, ever since fashions got stale and revenues plunged from $2.5 million to $1.5 million. In its heyday, the company supplied “Dynasty,” but then minimalist fashions swept in and “we stopped creating new ideas,” said Mezrahi. With two new designers on board, however, there’s a fresh momentum at the company. Mezrahi plans to keep the cheaper, knockoff lines at bay by working with suppliers to create custom fabrics and trims. “We’ll give [suppliers] an embroidery or hand-painted design and say, ‘Here, mix this with a feather or with lace or with fringes.”‘
Designers agree that when the economy gets tight, an evening gown has to wow the consumer. And that’s where exclusive fabrics and individual design perspective becomes crucial. “I try constantly to ignore what the market is doing,” noted McClintock. The designer recently dug into her archives in preparation for a new collection drawing on “Victoriana” influences and decided to bring back the puffed sleeves, yokes and little florals she was known for in the Eighties. “Today, I picked out six different kinds of prints in cotton — miniature prints like the calico ones I used to do,” she said. “I’ve been trying to think of how to make them look different and of this generation, but I haven’t quite solved that one yet.”