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Benjamin Epstein

Designer Steps Forward With Legwear

February 07, 1986|Benjamin Epstein | Style

Legwear has been liberated.

The age of mass-produced beige panty hose being sold like toothpaste is dead.

Boring beige may still be available, but designer Maya has fleshed out the market with a riot of paisleys, plaids, stripes, flowers, squares and zigzags, not to mention such exotics as "Tropics," "Cartoons" and "Dalmatians."

In fact, more than 1,000 different styles can be found in Maya's flagship boutique in the nation's capital and closer to home in Fashion Island's Atrium Court in Newport Beach.

And, according to Maya's legwear fashion forecast, the revolution has just begun: She's now turned her attention to men.

"Long johns," Maya said in a phone interview from her home in New York. "Europeans have been wearing long underwear in the winter for centuries. They're some of the most comfortable clothes I know of, and I'm taking a lot of that theory and putting it into fashion.

Long Johns on Wall Street

"Of course, the American male has a different ego. There will be resistance. He considers the idea feminine, like wearing tights, but it's been a long time coming. For fall '86, I'm developing herringbones, diamonds and heather patterns and (Giorgio) Armani-type textures--for the American male who'll wear long underwear to Wall Street."

Men's socks range from relatively conservative designs to patterns of penguins, robots and tick-tack-toe boards.

"Interestingly enough," Maya said, "men are in the stores constantly--but they come in to buy for the women. It's the women who buy most of the men's socks, also as presents. I'm aiming to get the men to come buy for themselves."

For her next women's collection, Maya has modified her priorities somewhat.

"Much of what I'm doing now has to do with the comfort factor," she explained. "Of course, I'll still keep that aesthetic edge. I'm looking at washable silk-Lycra blends, for instance. I'm aiming not just for fun and frolic, but for practicality, for sheerness that will last 20 wears."

Maya started in the business 14 years ago; she opened a boutique on Madison Avenue, where she pioneered stretch bodywear.

"The market was far from ready for the bodywear concept," she recalled. "There were pockets of success followed by desperate chasms of lows. Then I had a major health problem. When I recovered, I decided to take time away from the industry."

She wrote songs--"my own style, more like Moody Blues than Ella Fitzgerald"--and went to New Orleans to sing them. But she began designing again for her act and was soon back in the industry--this time in legs.

"Think of it," she said. "So much of the body is one's legs, more than half of a person's body. And there was a big void in the market there."

Among the major department stores, Bloomingdale's, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman-Marcus carry her merchandise; she hopes to open three more boutiques in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston by the end of the year. (The Newport Beach franchise is owned and operated by Rose Banks of Laguna Hills.)

Maya, whose father was a Brahman priest in India, feels her name holds a very special significance, one she can relate to her life in fashion.

"The original meaning of the word maya is ignorance. Ignorance in Hindi doesn't mean stupidity. It means that we need to move through ignorance in this lifetime before we can begin to see the light. I feel I've been going through a lot of ignorance, and I'm just starting to see the light.

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