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Designer Rogers Updates and Upholds the Chanel Style

February 07, 1986|BETTY GOODWIN

First thing in the morning, designer Jackie Rogers strides through Bullocks Wilshire as if on a jogging track. Balancing on black pumps and wearing one of her figure-curving black ottoman suits, she's making good time, somehow managing to ignore a retinue of store brass in her wake.

Her first order of business is a telephone call to Audrey Wilder, who she says is looking for a dress to wear when her husband, director Billy Wilder, is honored by the American Film Institute in March.

Rogers, a former Chanel mannequin and international jet-setter who once romped on Aristotle Onassis' yacht, finally takes a seat, removes her gogglelike Porsche sunglasses and crosses her long, muscular legs. But it's apparent that she doesn't settle in one place for long.

Based in Manhattan

Here for a brisk day of business from her base in Manhattan, Rogers clearly plays by her own rules, drops names to her heart's content and lets her opinions be known. Her clothes, she says, are for a woman "who's affluent, has taste and doesn't want to wear the kind of clothes that are seen so often."

When asked what influenced her spring collection, Rogers thinks for a moment, focuses her dark eyes on the questioner and blurts out: "I don't understand designers who say, 'my look this season is going to be Eskimo.' I think it's absurd to be influenced by anything that's not in your head.

"I believe in sensuous clothes. Very simple. And I've been doing sarong skirts and body-conscious clothes for seven years. It's a definite look, and it's not anybody else's," she stresses, implying that other designers on 7th Avenue, many of whom she can't--and doesn't--relate to, have borrowed heavily from her.

'A Good Friend'

"I see more and more of my things being done," she says, recalling that Bill Blass said he saw one of her dresses on the cover of a prominent fashion publication with someone else's name on it. She paused. "Bill's a very good friend of mine."

Indeed, while Rogers has avoided the look-of-the-moment, she has remained faithful to lines verging on the severe, but softened with a bias cut, and stark black-and-white silks, linens, jerseys and lames.

Price tags this season range from $265 to $1,800, with a group of cotton jersey jump suits, skirts and blouses being the most reasonably priced. Rogers says she was "knocking off myself" with the cotton jerseys in order to make the clothes more accessible. "But let's face it," she asks, "what does one want to wear in summer but cotton jersey?"

Rogers started in the 1960s with a boutique on upper Madison Avenue in Manhattan, at first catering to men with unconstructed suits and Ralph Lauren ties and eventually switching over to women who wanted a "couture" approach.

While the trend these days is for designers to open their own retail shops, Rogers closed hers last summer to concentrate on her wholesale business and to try to reach a larger audience, she says. Either you do one or the other, she explains, although she still fills special orders for women such as Jacqueline Onassis, Lee Radziwell and Diana Ross.

Customers in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, her customers include Betsy Bloomingdale, Linda Evans and Catherine Oxenberg.

"You find out a lot from these women," she says, "especially when they're on your wavelength. They don't want all this glitz that's around. They don't want to know about that."

More than a specific look, Rogers explains, women of style today have a sense of themselves. "It's attitude. If you look good, you feel good."

To this day, Rogers is still affected by her experience as a young girl in her 20s modeling for Chanel, and she adheres faithfully to the late mastermind's principles of fashion.

"People thought I was her daughter," the dark-haired Rogers says wistfully.

"I remember her telling me that only poor people wore jersey, but she loved it. She went a step further and made unlined suits with it. Her influence is tremendous. It always has been there. It's simplification, eliminating, not gussying up the clothes. The line in the fabric should be enhanced, and you shouldn't embellish with buttons and bows. As a designer, I'd love to copy everything Chanel did."

For the first time this spring, however, Rogers says she made her own version of the Chanel jacket, a softly quilted jersey cardigan, complete with Chanel-style gold buttons and a gold chain along the base of the lining. Why did she decide to re-create the look now?

"To tell you the truth," Rogers sighs, "I just got tired of seeing so many bad Chanel copies."

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