NEW YORK — "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Amadeus" and "A Passage to India" reel from the silver screen to the fashion scene here as this city's youngest designers take their fall fashion cues from the movie queues.
Madonna's trashy-lady dresses, Mozart's brocade frock coats and the Raj's turbans and dhoti pants are all now showing daily on the fashion runways and are expected to attract new retail audiences come July and August.
The film frocks are all part of a new youth movement here that is making this first week of designer shows one of the most exciting in many seasons. While there are similarities between London's frock-coated dandies and New York's Mozart movement, the attitude here is definitely more upbeat. The clothes look snappy and happy. There's an air of excitement at the shows. And instead of London's defiant models making obscene gestures as they gyrate down the runways, models here bounce happily from minis to midis, tunics to tights, sheaths to shimmies.
If there is one item to date that sums up this feeling of '50s wholesomeness and '60s energy, it's Marc Jacob's big, oversize sweaters emblazoned with that famous smiling face that used to appear on everything from windshields to T-shirts back in the late '60s. Jacob's collection for Sketchbook is a delightful amalgam of Madonna trash (silver lame tunics and tights) and Mozart madness (brocade frock coats and leotards).
Norma Kamali sees the new mood as a direct expression of music. "Whenever rock 'n' roll is strong, fashion is costumey," she maintains, proving her theory with a collection of '30s coat shapes and '40s suit shapes that translate as totally '80s in her amazing new fake furs.
Kamali's make-believe menagerie includes leopard, monkey, tiger and Persian lamb shaped into everything from hats and muffs to peplumed ice skater's suits that might have stepped out of a Currier & Ives print. The pretend pelts not only look real, they feel real. And they appear destined to do as much for the synthetic fur industry as her rah-rah clothes did for sweat-shirting.
If there is one designer in New York who can claim to be the queen of rock 'n' roll fashion, it's Betsey Johnson. She never ceases to be inspired by the decade she helped to invent--the '60s--and she just gets better and better at giving it new life. She pays special tribute to the late Rudi Gernreich in her program notes and recalls his '60s successes with go-go dresses, zipper-ringed mod jump suits and poor boy sweaters. Johnson's tulle-petticoat jersey dresses and black fishnet stockings look especially right this season bopping down the runway with male models wearing black crushed velvet jackets over nothing but black wool jersey tights.
The youthful exuberance that seems to be bursting out all over New York is interpreted by Willi Smith as a red, white and blue salute to the Statue of Liberty, flamenco fanfare for a Spanish dancer and a fashion passage to India that combines khaki cotton jodhpurs with chiffon turbans and blouses.
Like Kamali, Smith offers fake furs in such new looks as bright red teddy bear coats for both men and women. His denim jodhpurs could become the new blue jeans, and his white matelasse vests with white chiffon dhoti pants look especially right for the dance floor. Wigs and sunglasses are making a big comeback with young designers, as are fake eyelashes and high-top shoes.
Todd Oldham brings back the skintight sheath dress of early '60s memory, and his iridescent taffeta jackets and tapestry frock coats give a whole new life to Mozart's favorite look.
In one of those rare life-imitates-art moments, the man who won an Academy Award for costuming "Amadeus" is here this week making the rounds of the shows. He's Czechoslovakia's Theodor Pistek, and his eyes light up every time a brocade frock coat or pair of satin tights hits the runway.