THE BLOUSE BOUNCES BACK

Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — In a stunning example of fashion’s infinite ability to reinvent and forget, the blouse, derided in recent years as the dumbest, lamest garment ever made, is having a moment of glory.
Backed by such powerful Italian names as Prada, Gucci and Fendi, the blouse stormed onto the runways for spring 2000 — and retailers say the customer is responding. That’s a good thing, because the blouse is poised to be a major item for fall, too.
“We did them in every collection where they were shown, and we’ve had very good selling,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus. Details such as tie necks, ruffled trim and fluted edges are capturing the customer’s fancy, she added.
“We are featuring blouses in all areas, and in many cases, they’ve been as important as the sweater has been,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s, which recently ran newspaper ads declaring “the blouse is in the house.”
Echoing other retailers, Ruttenstein credited Miuccia Prada for sparking interest in blouses with her spring 2000 collection. Her yellow, tie-neck number, shown with a purple skirt, had “fashion moment” written all over it. Bridge, better and contemporary firms have fallen quickly into line with the trend.
“We see it as a big category for fall, and we’re planning as such,” Ruttenstein said. “It was a big statement in Europe and America.”
Kaner agreed. “We feel it’s going to be an important category and one that’s long been missing from the marketplace,” she said. “They stand alone, tucked into a low-slung skirt or pants or under a suited look.”
Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager at Barneys New York, said blouses from Prada, Clements Ribeiro, Isabel Marant, Claudie Perlot, Vanessa Bruno and its own private label have all been selling briskly, as have vintage Yves Saint Laurent styles in its new “decades” shop in New York.
“Everything’s cyclical,” she said. “That Prada show was exciting because you weren’t expecting it.”
Collinson said the blouse’s appeal is that it has primness, but a sexy undercurrent, a combination Catherine Deneuve immortalized in the film “Belle de Jour.”
But will the blouse hullabaloo hurt the knitwear and sweater business, which as been bullet-proof in recent season? Retailers insist not.
“Our knitwear business is still very strong right now,” Collinson said. “You’d think that [the blouse] would hurt it, but it hasn’t.”