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Inspired by Clients : Designer Buttons Up His Fall Collection


NEW YORK — "To me, designing a collection is like painting portraits of the private clients who inspire me and who season after season create their own fashion," says designer Adolfo, who showed his fall collection this week at the St. Regis Hotel here.

Among Adolfo's private clients are First Lady Nancy Reagan, Barbara Walters, Helen Gurley Brown and a long list of society women he outfits for committee luncheons and charity balls. And if their portraits were to be painted, they'd most likely be wearing designs reminiscent of Coco Chanel. For it is this legendary French designer to whom Adolfo pays tribute when he designs his own versions of the cardigan suits and little black dresses Chanel first made classic.

Cardigan Suit

Adolfo's newest-looking versions of the cardigan suit for fall are in a mohair wool plaid pattern. The jacket is cinched at the waist with a gold-buckled belt featurinng the letter A. A peplum effect is created with a fringe trim at the bottom of the jacket. The matching slim skirt touches just below the knees.

Plaids also figure strongly in Adolfo's other Chanel-like suitings for fall. These include a somewhat softer rendition of the look in an off-white jacket with a subtle, broken black plaid, accented with round collar and cuffs in patterned silk that matches the fuller-cut, pleated silk skirt.

The cardigan is also designed for night life, in hand-crocheted versions patterned in black and gold Lurex and deep colors, such as wine and emerald green. High-neck, gold lame blouses and velvet, calf-length skirts with godets complete the look.

Every season Adolfo shows a group he calls his "favorite dresses," and for fall he selects Coco Chanel's little black dress for inspiration. His black knit versions feature white Charmeuse trim at the neck and cuff, brass-button details and sometimes a white gardenia at the neckline. He also does a group of more colorful knit dresses in deep shades with Art Deco motifs or swirled effects.

Military Salute

Adolfo salutes the military with other knit dresses that have brass-button fronts and epaulettes, and a group of dresses with matching capes that are decorated with a cross-bar motif in front. He puts other dramatic-looking capes over white Charmeuse blouses and full circle skirts that descend to mid-calf. And he does ankle-length guardsman's coats with high stand-up collars and full-skirted redingotes that nearly graze the floor.

Adolfo's beau monde clients will be wearing lots of bows this fall. Always a favorite detail of the designer, bows are even more prevalent than usual this time around. Velvet bows sit, like butterflies, on one shoulder of knit chemises. They light at the waist and neckline of other dresses. A black satin bow decorates the front of the designer's gray flannel, boxy-shaped 3/4 length coats. He makes bows in brass for belts. He bugle-beads or rhinestones them on necklines, fronts and sleeves of short knit evening dresses.

Bows also decorate the bodices of his dramatic, portrait-perfect strapless ball gowns. These gowns--in black and white satin and velvet--have Watteau-inspired side panels that guarantee grand entrances.

Adolfo paints in gold leaf for evening, with Mandarin jacket suits in gold brocade and a long, shirt-topped gold lame number that flares, with godets, to the floor. Black satin evening pajamas are richly jeweled at neckline, cuffs and hips. And black velour columns are topped with crushed-velvet jackets embroidered with scroll work in pearls, rhinestones and gold soutache. If these gowns represent portraits, the subjects are definitely aristocratic.

Adolfo shows lots of slim lines for evening. But he also seems to want to give the ball gown a twirl again. He is at his most painterly with a portrait gown in grand-scale paisley taffeta with a big-bowed blouse and sleeves cuffed in fox. It isn't difficult to picture Mrs. Reagan in this look on her way to the National Gallery.

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