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Good Timing Puts Designer in Forefront

May 23, 1986|BETTY GOODWIN

Los Angeles designer Eletra Casadei says she believes in giving women value for their money. This philosophy makes her apprehensive about presenting her spring Casadei line to a group of women whose tastes in clothes run to the expensive.

However, after showing her collection to members of a fledgling support group known as the Premiere Patrons of the American Cinematheque at Bullock's Westwood recently, Casadei was pleased to find that many of its members not only enjoyed the show but bought her designs. One woman chose a sample that Casadei considered too expensive to include in the line.

Played a Countess

"My whole philosophy is that women don't want to spend a thousand dollars for a dress, and won't," says the flamboyant designer, whose hair is streaked with plum, whose nails are painted iridescent fuchsia and who played the part of a countess in one of her own fashion videos. Her unusual first name is "the Italian version of the Greek, I think."

A one-time buyer for a group of specialty stores, Casadei turned to fashion design when her fiance, Rick Lieberman, asked her: "Aren't you tired of making money for everyone else?"

"As a buyer, I ended up designing for so many different manufacturers," she says. "I always had a timely sense of what people would buy."

With Lieberman's financial backing and with him as company president, she went into business. Six years later, in 1985, the combined sales volume of her two lines, Casadei and TD4 ("to die for"), reached $24 million.

Because Casadei believes a woman "can live without that extra suit for work but must have that drop-dead dress," she designs strictly for evening. Her TD4 collection consists primarily of prom dresses, priced from $100 to $200, and is geared for 14- to 20-year-olds.

Casadei is a grown-up, sexier version of TD4 with prices ranging from $225 to $400. "It's for women 25 to 65--as long as they take care of themselves," says the designer, who at age 32, takes care of herself with workouts four times a week. "It's really boring but you've got to do it. It's like, after 30, everything started falling, honey."

Working with silk chiffons, crepe de Chines and matte jerseys, Casadei drapes, wraps and gathers the fabrics and then adds beads, lace and other decorations.

"I've sort of made my niche with trim; it's what I do to the fabrics," she says.

"Most of the influence for Casadei comes from the '20s, '30s and '40s, that whole glamorous Hollywood period. The old glamour queens--Dietrich, Garbo, Rita Hayworth--I love that stuff.

Fashion Library

"When I'm frustrated and feel a lull, I go to the fashion library and go through the old books. But I don't feel like I'm making period dresses; I feel they're 1980s. Everything in fashion has been done before; it's how we interpret it in the decade we're living."

In the next year, Casadei plans to invent a new category of dressing, which she's calling Young Couture. "Couture, as it's been known in the past, is finished. Mine will be--I don't know how to say it--not old woman-looking clothes. It will be very much an extension of Casadei, only more opulent," with prices no higher than $700.

"Down the line," she adds, "I'd also like to do clothes for little girls. I've already got the name: Starbaby."

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