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Update of a Longtime Favorite Gets a Sprightly Jump on Spring

February 21, 1986|ROSE-MARIE TURK

When Emma Channing turned romantic on CBS's "Falcon Crest," costume supervisor Shirley Cunningham went looking for jump suits.

"She's in love with a truck driver," Cunningham says. "She's spreading her wings, blossoming out." Margaret Ladd (a. k. a. Emma Channing), who had to trade in her delicate, lacy garments for something more sophisticated, "is quite dainty but not thin-thin and not tall," Cunningham observes. "I wanted something that would make her look taller, more statuesque. Jump suits are good for that."

Garment Dates Back to the '40s

A longtime fan of jump suits for almost everyone ("if you're awfully heavy, they can be the unkindest thing in the world," she says), Cunningham is one of millions who date their first sighting of the garment back to war movies of the 1940s, when actresses wore them as they worked away in ammunition factories.

Over the years, the jump suit has withstood the rigors of both war and peace. Winston Churchill, for example, strode through the rubble of London as well as the pomp of the White House in his famous "siren" suit.

But it took parachutists, astronauts and rock stars to show it off for what it really is--comfortable, quick, one-step and glamorous. (Louis Dell'Olio, who designed some of this year's most elegant jump suits, calls them "easy, mindless.")

Considered true fashion for the first time in the '60s and '70s, they hovered rather than soared. They were never so in that they ever went out . Instead, they became a kind of classic--a staple, showing up year after year in many women's wardrobes.

This spring, however, the jump suit might just become a highflier. "We feel it's gaining in importance. It's a natural as the fashion focus returns to pants," says Patti Lewis, Southern California fashion director for Nordstrom, adding that designer Donna Karan's body-hugging jersey jump suit last fall gave the movement momentum.

"Frankly, it's the newest look happening," observes Rosemarie Troy, fashion merchandise director for Bullocks Wilshire.

"It's a total look, by nature of being one piece. It's also a finished look with a new slant," she says. "It best defines the mood of simplicity and the minimalist trend that's current in fashion."

The 1986 models--distinguished from earlier versions by their shoulder emphasis, their draping, body-revealing shapes, their purity of line--include Naf-Naf's florals, Saint Germain's cotton jerseys, St. John's knits, Norma Kamali's cottons or jerseys, Krizia's linens, Giorgio's lightweight wool gabardines, Lore's silky lounge wear, Bill Kaiserman's Italian cottons for men.

And then there's Rene Gunter's unisex "uniform for creative people."

An L.A. model and budding designer, Gunter's "invention" is a cotton twill coverall cinched with a specially designed leather belt to accommodate everything from makeup to walkie-talkies. She developed the belt, she says, for professionals who need a place on their person to carry the tools of their trade. Rarely without a jump suit herself (her first, she recalls, was "in-feet pajamas" at age 9), Gunter says "a good jump suit shouldn't be too clinging or too baggy."

It was precisely a baggy version that got George Rudes, president of Los Angeles-based Saint Germain, into the business.

The year was 1979 and his firm was manufacturing stretch jeans. Impressed by the fashion possibilities of a voluminous coverall he saw on the streets of Europe, he added a streamlined, sexy version (close to the body with an elasticized waist) to his line. And he's remained with it ever since, claiming the style accounts for more than 20% of his firm's annual gross.

Rudes says women will often spend more for accessories (belts, jewelry, boots) to wear with his garments than they do for the $65 to $95 garments themselves.

Actress Jill St. John says she often wears one of Rudes "little jump suits" instead of aprons, when she's cooking on "Good Morning, America."

She also travels in jump suits, arrives at the studio to have her makeup and hair done in them, goes to lunch and dinner in them. Her only rule, she says, is that "they shouldn't be so loose they're baggy. They should be nipped in at the waist."

Then there is Kathy Marmack, a self-described "jump suit fiend" and animal-training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. She recently ordered turquoise Saint Germain jump suits for all five female animal handlers to wear when they appear in the zoo's educational programs.

"Turquoise," she explains, "will show the animals off because they are usually beige or brown or gray or some neutral color. And jump suits are neater and more slenderizing than pants and a top."

No less demanding in her jump suit choices is talent agent Julie McDonald, who says she incorporated them into her wardrobe after seeing Pete Townshend of the Who wear a white aviator style on stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival.

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