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Look Mixes Regions, Decades; 'Western' Rides as a Sidekick

February 14, 1986|DIANE REISCHEL | Times Staff Writer

DALLAS — Designer Tony Lambert spun in a circle, arms raised in apology.

"See this body? I'm 43 years old," the New Yorker said. "It's not a pretty sight to see hefties wear clothes that fill out the bulges."

So Lambert, among 25 designers visiting this wind-swept plain for the recent Men's Fashion Assn. (MFA) spring preview, concentrates on sportswear for imperfect, expense-lunch males. "They are the majority," he insisted.

Likewise, rather than pushing fashion's edge, most designers here stressed clothes lean on extremes, broad on real-people appeal. Threads for the non-Adonis.

In fact, the fallible man was a recurring theme--on several fronts--at the four-day show, attended by 450 members of the fashion industry and press.

Designer Henry Grethel and MFA fashion director Chip Tolbert both arrived with arms in casts from winter falls. Idaho-based Robert Comstock punted when it came time to give his show, explaining he'd been working on a project with Navajo Indians and had run out of time. One male publicist found his rental car smashed in a Dallas parking lot. And at the end of four days, "I feel absolutely whipped" was a frequent disclaimer.

Luckily, the clothes held up. This biannual MFA show generally is considered a barometer of everyman fashion rather than the fringes. And if that meant a weekend light on European panache, there was no dearth of American basics.

Trim cardigans, '50s baseball jackets and madras plaids--all past preppy refrains--rose again for still another gasp. One fashion newcomer, 26-year-old John Fair of Mansel Fair, N.Y., went so far as to call himself a "post-preppy" designer. And even Germany-based Mondi presented sportswear that looked more suited to a USC fraternity than hometown Munich.

Western wear swaggered not only on the dance floor of Dallas' Belle Star bar but on the fashion runway in the form of snug denims, fringed suede jackets and cowboy boots.

The West Coast contingent was sparse--although many designers from the East staged brightly printed beachwear aimed at the Sun Belt.

L.A. designer Jim Dionisio of Simi O Pago Pago saw these prints as a New Yorker's image of Los Angeles "more commercial than authentic." Dionisio's own pastel prints for spring are "Art Deco tropical," he said, inspired by a chair he saw in a Pico Boulevard antique store and a robe he noticed in the movie "Prizzi's Honor."

The sum of these disparate parts--preppy, Western, Sun Belt and more--creates a "post-modern" fashion mood for spring, MFA's Tolbert said. "It's a mixing of attitude, regions and decades."

Key to this approach, he said, is pairing the unpredictable, such as beachy white denim pants, with Western boots and a hand-knit designer sweater. Tolbert added that a dash of the Old West--fringe, denim, cowboy hat or boots--will go far to freshen past season's clothes. Ditto for the simple cardigan sweater.

Similarly, New York designer Henry Grethel sees spring '86 as a melding of dressy and casual. "The very sophisticated guy is the one who will both dress up and dress down at the same time," Grethel said. "That's the way many Californians dress. Nothing very much planned about it. It's not a fixed wardrobe look."

Willi Smith was certainly up for mixing genres, offering a WilliWear collection that managed to look both tropical and street-smart. The New Yorker chose earthy African prints in bracing green-with-black and red-with-orange combinations--but with a shirts-out city silhouette. He also introduced several functional military shapes in shiny rayon-and-cotton fabrics.

Smith said he is returning to trimmer silhouettes--and he isn't alone. Coty Award-winning designer Jhane Barnes, once a champion of the triple-pleat pant, opted for trimmer slacks and jackets, made in smooth and clingy rayons rather than her past color-flecked tweeds.

Lambert, the slightly hefty designer for Tony Lambert Inc., energized drooping fashion-watchers by hiring a Gospel choir to accompany his early-morning fashion show. His march of cotton sweaters and separates reinforced the weekend's streamlined message.

Lambert's fashions merely hinted at bagginess, because the designer believes anything more extreme doesn't flatter the average guy. He updates mostly through color, pattern and print--which this spring means madras plaids and exuberant brights, such as lime green, lemon, orange, raspberry, grape and the spectrum of pastels.

This was Mondi's first visit to MFA, and its first menswear collection. The German firm, which introduced its women's wear to the United States five year ago, gave an ambitious, six-collection show, among them a group of African/geometric prints, and another navy-and-sand group that was strictly American collegiate.

Mondi vice president Andrew de Vries explained that a Mondi design team travels several months a year collecting ideas--with American sportswear being a major influence.

"Germans are not trendy people," De Vries said. "They see all these trends and translate them into wearable looks."

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