FLAG-WAVING FASHIONS ARE THIS SEASON’S BIG HIT. BUT HOW LONG WILL THE RAGE FOR RED, WHITE AND BLUE LAST?

In the fashion industry, stars and stripes may not be forever. But they’re certainly going to be here for a season or two to come.

At least that’s what some vendors are saying about the patriotic trend happening right now. Whether it’s a sweater with a flag on the front or red, white and blue jeans, the contemporary market is overflowing with merchandise for the customer who wants to make a sartorial show of pro-America spirit. The trend has gone beyond Polo Ralph Lauren’s flag sweater and the red, white and blue Tommy Hilfiger logo, which consumers were loving even before Sept 11.

Smaller design houses, however, are also taking up the trend. Some companies have even chosen to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sales of patriotic items to various Sept. 11-related charities.

Andrea Marks, director of sales at Womyn, a parent company of suit house Garfield & Marks, said that since the flag-print jeans on the line did so well, they will continue to offer more flag-inspired clothing in the next season’s collection.

“I see this trend going through spring for sure,” Marks said, adding that $20 from each pair of $142 flag-print jeans went to benefit the Company 8 firehouse in midtown Manhattan, where the firefighter brother of one of Womyn’s designers is based. “It is definitely still strong, but it is also difficult to incorporate the trend into fashion without making it look too touristy.”

Lizzie Melzer, a sales executive at knit-based company 525, said she sees the flag-friendly trend lasting well into 2002.

“I am sure it will last through all of the patriotic holidays that are coming up. We have Presidents’ Day in February and the Fourth of July,” she said. “These holidays are going to be stronger than they ever have been.”

Melzer said that adding pro-U.S.A.-inspired merchandise to the collection, such as red, white and blue striped sweaters, is a way to make the company’s employees feel united in a common cause.

“I think we as a company felt very patriotic after the 11th,” she said, adding that 525 also donated to the World Trade Center Fund. “We are a New York-based company, and our products are made in the U.S., so this is just another way to show our pride.”

Liz Weinmann, vice president of design at New York-based contemporary T-shirt line Lynn Richie, agreed with Melzer. “This will continue through July 4,” she said. “And that’s a long time for a trend to last. But even when you leave New York City, the patriotism is still going strong. People in upstate New York still have flags outside their houses and on their cars. Women are still wearing their flag pins and bracelets.”

Lynn Richie’s collection offers variations of flag prints on many different tops, and the company will continue to churn out patriotic designs as long as the trend lasts.

David Byrne, owner of the Atlanta-based David Byrne Showroom, said that manufacturers are adding more patriotic items to their collections for at least the next five seasons.

“I think it will be around for quite a while,” Byrne said. “There are pants with a New York skyline print by CPS that we can’t keep in stores.”

He said that in Atlanta, he saw a surge of patriotism even before Sept. 11, but the tragedy reinvigorated it.

“I really don’t think this is a trend that will die,” he said. “It will defiantly continue to be strong, at least over the next year.”

Byrne said that while it is a challenge for designers to incorporate patriotic prints into their looks, he continues to be amazed by what his clients come up with. And, he said, the prints do not always have to be in red, white and blue to be patriotic. One of his denim lines, CPS, offers a pair of jeans displaying the Manhattan skyline, which is in black and white.

“The only patriotic items we have not yet seen is anything related to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But I am sure that will come.”

At another Atlanta-based contemporary showroom, Bilthouse & Co., Sarah Bilthouse, a spokeswoman for the company, said that New York City skyline T-shirts by Liz & Jane are “selling like crazy” and flag accessories also remain strong.

“I see the trend running at least through the spring,” she said, adding that she felt its popularity had waned slightly already. “Unless, of course, something else happens. Then, I am sure, it would go on even longer.”

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