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Relaxed Luxury Is a Way of Life in the Land of OZ


Taking a relaxed view of luxury is a concept that sounds ideally suited to the life style of Beverly Hills. And the Rome-based design team of Sergio Ognibene and Peter Zendman says this is the theme of the fall collection they will present on our own version of Easy Street--when they show their line at the Elizabeth Arden salon on Rodeo Drive Tuesday through Thursday.

"Our clothes this season couldn't be more sporty, yet more luxurious," says Zendman, the American-born partner behind the Ognibene Zendman label, who worked under the late Cristobal Balenciaga for 5 1/2 years before teaming 20 years ago with his Italian-born counterpart.

Prevalent Look

In keeping with this easy-but-elegant theme, the Wizards of OZ--who refer to their clothes as high-level ready-to-wear--are also keen on the day-for-night, night-for-day concept of dressing that has been a prevalent look from designers in both Europe and the United States.

For example, generously proportioned sweaters are luxed up in silver Lurex on black silk chiffon with cashmere cuffs and waistband or with a Lurex body with velvet sleeves. They're coupled with easy, pleated trousers. A simple wool flannel shirtwaist dress has a silver lame front. They call this their "Lauren Bacall number."

Tailored tapestry jackets finished with silk linings go out at night with satin turtleneck shirts and velvet trousers.

Typical of dressy daytime is a gray wool skirt jazzed up with a Bordeaux-red tuxedo stripe and coupled with a textured gray "Brillo" wool cardigan that is piped in the same Bordeaux shade. A casual, long blouson jacket has a rich edge to it in dark rose-pink velvet. And there is even a luncheon jacket in wool plaid that has definite roots in rugged lumberjack shirts.

"We seem to be coming into our own with this collection," Zendman says. "Even the richest fabrics have the sporty philosophy, such as the silver lame on the Bacall dress. Embroidery is at a minimum. No feathers. We're getting down to essentials, yet there's still a great attention to detail. We're seeing that less really is more. You need a certain experience to see that, and after 20 years, I think we've got it."

Clients, who have included film stars, royalty and other celebs (mega-millionaire Doris Duke purchased a dress during their New York appearance last week), have become accustomed to signature OZ touches, such as skirts lined in the same silk print fabric as the coordinated blouses, jeweled or parqueted leather belts especially designed for day and evening ensembles and double-layered dresses or skirts with contrasting fabric revealed through front or back slits.

Some new luxury details for fall include jeweled cuffs inspired by 1920s Cartier bracelets that are attached to a tapestried evening blouse or to a long, slim, button-front cardigan dress in scarlet silk.

The Ognibene Zendman team prefers the richness of silver this season, in luxurious silks, satins and lames.

"Silver seems to work very well with gray, which is an important color for fall," Zendman says. "It has a cool chic that gold can't seem to touch. It's a silver moment right now. Not outright silver flash but silver worn with black, white or gray."

Relaxed View of Velvet

Though velvet is not a new fabric to the plush crowd, Ognibene Zendman also takes a relaxed view of it by combining it with cashmere and taffeta or sometimes with less dramatic fabrics, such as wool jersey or flannel. "We think it brings out the beauty in contrasting fabrics--everything looks great with black velvet," Zendman says.

OZ also does several coatdresses--a perennial style for the designers--with new casual cachet.

"We're always conscious of body-flattering proportions and the coatdress epitomizes that."

It's difficult to imagine that carrying on a working relationship for 20 years could be easy and relaxed, but Zendman says all in all, it's been that way between him and his partner.

"Sergio designs and I assist him," says Zendman, who sounds as if his ego is perfectly comfortable with the setup.

"We choose fabrics together. I very often do accessories and suggest. But he is the one who pushes the pen. We work well together. I think the reason we don't argue is because we can accept criticism from each other. We have a growing enthusiasm for our work."

The Ognibene Zendman collection, which retails for about $650 for a wool day dress to a top price of about $6,000 for an evening ensemble, will also be presented Monday at a benefit fashion show-luncheon at the Beverly Hilton for Multiple Sclerosis Pacific Research Foundation and the Interplast Inc. Foundation.

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