Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

Better get out the sunglasses this market, because the sheer amount of all those wild prints is blinding. Showrooms are absolutely exploding with every type, from Pucci-inspired to geometric to floral. Retro influences, beginning with the Forties and going all the way up through the Eighties, add even more fodder to the increasingly complex mix.
“Prints are driving the business now and have been for some years. Looking up and down Madison Avenue, that’s all you see,” said Walter Baker, owner and designer of View, a New York-based contemporary firm.
According to designers, Pucci-inspired, geometric and big, blossoming floral prints lead the trend, followed by (take a deep breath) conversation, scarf, computerized, Liberty, optic, stripes, tropical, gingham, dots and novelty prints.
Animal isn’t entirely over, either. Python moves forward with crocodile for spring and giraffe for fall 2001. Another fresh interpretation is to mix animal overlays or sections with other prints.
Some retailers fear that the amount of choices may overwhelm consumers. To avoid confusion, Monica Belag-Forman, president of MAG, a New York-based bridge collection, suggests picking a few, and running with them.
“You don’t want too much of a good thing. It’s all about balance,” she said.
For spring, Belag-Forman focuses on big, washed prints, described as “ethereal watercolors in deep blues and purples.” She is especially excited about a group of white T-shirts featuring large, bright, photo-printed flowers embellished with embroidery and beading. Embroidered patterns, such as a bold, black and white circles, also appear on bottoms.
Other pieces are Eighties-style knits in black, white and colored geometric patterns and shirts in all widths of stripes. But the real newness lies in mixing prints like a black and white glen plaid suit with a shirt in a bright blue watercolor print. “This look is what advances the trend from its retro roots,” Belag-Forman commented.
Diane Levin, chief executive officer of Poleci, believes in mixing prints, too. As an example, she cited pairing a striped bottom with a Liberty top. Taking the look further, Poleci combines different textures and embellishment together.
A digitized print comes in a crinkled chiffon and the same fabric is used for a skirt with UltraSuede cut-outs around the hem. Prints are topped off with clear paillettes, sequins or full, removable roses.
Debra de Roo, a New York-based bridge firm, also layers it on in a gingham group embroidered with randomly spaced daisies. Some of the daisies’ petals flutter down the fabric, a play on the classic game, “he loves me. he love me not.” Colors are chambray, black and oxford pink, and bodies are a cropped, fitted shirt with three-quarter sleeves, a tie-front shirt with ruffled, three-quarter sleeves and cropped pants.
Other groups may not be as sweet, but they’re certainly colorful and whimsical. A palm print in silk shantung is available in either pink and orange or purple and aqua palettes. Bodies are a camp shirt, knee length skirt with a ruffled hem and wide, cropped pants. The group also includes matching T-shirts in pink and orange with paillette trim around the hem.
Color is equally prominent within a signature print group of interlocking circles and squares. According to designer Debra de Roo, it’s made much more interesting in a textured, crinkled silk. Its retro influences range from a shirtdress with three-quarter sleeves and deep cuffs to color combinations like robin’s-egg blue and dark purple, or muted lime and olive green.
“For so long, women looked like carbon copies of each other. The nicest thing about prints is that it’s less likely that two people will choose the same print,” said de Roo.
To ensure that her prints wouldn’t come out looking like everyone else’s, Debbie Shuchat, designer of the Montreal-based contemporary line with a misses’ fit of the same name, tried to come up with different printing techniques such as computerized, hand-painted and superimposed. “By superimposing color on color, it appears air-brushed or like a watercolor painting,” she said.
A computerized, oversized rose print combines futuristic elements with the Forties’ floral trend. “You have to really look at it to see what it is,” she said. Cut on the bias in 100 percent silk, it’s available in dresses and several tops, including a Forties look with fluttering cap sleeves.
Carolina Zapf, vice president and design director of New York-based Tempesta, also looks to the past for inspiration, listing ditsy florals and equestrian prints as important. One group mixes houndstooth with a print of horse bits in either pink and gold or mint green and purple stories. “Wearing the little, pleated skirt with a sleeveless, tie-neck top in the same print gives a vintage, schoolgirl look,” she said.
Zapf also describes another group as having a Forties twist. Vintage floral prints come in low-cut jackets and little skirts with side slits. “They look like outfits from Forties movies from China,” she said.
Predicting that prints will calm down next year, Zapf acknowledged that the trend overall won’t disappear altogether, because women find prints too fun and interesting. Belag-Forman also said she expects prints to last as long as designers continue to create good, fresh versions.

Fresh Prints
Designers are working hard to keep the current infatuation with prints alive. One result, is a swelling sea of options. It’s easy for designers, retailers and consumers alike to lose their bearings. Here are some trend points of navigation.

Big Florals
Mixing Prints

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