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Designer Makes Name by Word of Mouth

April 04, 1986|MARY ROURKE

Her one-of-a-kind designs have been worn at the White House, ordered for "Dallas" and seen on the "Today" show. Her client list includes film stars and socialites as well as the fashion models who show off her styles to their best advantage. But designer Irit Ehrlich says her year-old business is still based on word of mouth.

That may be because she started it with an at-home retail studio where friends sent friends to shop by appointment.

Time With Clients

If such one-at-a-time attention sounds a bit intimidating, Ehrlich says: "I spend about an hour with a client, dress her according to her personality, and I never try to talk anyone into buying anything. People have to feel comfortable. I'm always telling them to go home and think it over."

Not exactly a hard sell. But she can explain that too. "I only make things I would wear myself. I figure, if I don't sell it, I'll use it."

Lately, she hasn't had the chance. A solo fashion show she put on this spring for a social-charity luncheon and her upcoming feature role in another for the City of Hope have done a lot to spread the word. So has the exclusive collection she styles for Regine, the Melrose Avenue boutique.

As often as not, Ehrlich travels to Paris to buy fabrics. As often as not, her designs are two-piece, ankle-length and made of cut velvet, silk Jacquard or Charmeuse. But for all their elegant appeal, she tells women: "Wear anything I make any time. Dress things down, not just up."

She does. You might spy her touring the grocery store in a black China silk dress trimmed in antique lace and a pair of cowboy boots. You might see her stepping upstairs one morning in a black, cut-velvet skirt with leopard-print leggings underneath. You might see her wearing the same skirt some evening with a matching cut-velvet jacket, a black jersey top and pounds of pearls to a fancy dinner party.

She has a penchant for one-size, wide-cut styles that are fitted through the hips and inspired by the styles of the 1930s and 1940s.

"I've taken that glamorous look and toned it down," she says.

Ehrlich never studied fashion, but she started designing her own clothes years ago because she didn't like the styles of the 1950s and '60s. Now she employs a pattern maker and four seamstresses, along with several knitters in her Beverly Hills studio.

"Try Too Hard"

The worst mistake the big-name designers make, she says, is "they try too hard. The clothes they make get too far-out. I like classic, simple things put together in a striking way." The worst fashion mistake women make is "they try to look like everyone else. I tell them not to be afraid to be individual."

She says a wardrobe needs only five colors: black, white, cream, silver and gray. For accessories, she says: "I'd rather see a woman wear one or two big pieces of jewelry than 20 little things."

Ehrlich recently showed her spring styles at Regine.

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