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Looking for Couture at Prices That Aren't Haute

August 07, 1986|CATHERINE SEIPP | Seipp is a Los Angeles free-lance writer

It's morning at Loehmann's annual fall fashion preview in Reseda. Model Gyl Roland--blond, cool and a wardrobe consultant when not modeling--steps into a dressing room. She's wearing a long, flared skirt and a silk sailor top.

"Ladies?" Roland announces. "Hi, can I show you the newer, longer skirt length? The skirt is $89. Isn't it nice? It's from The Back Room."

The Back Room, as all dedicated Loehmann's shoppers know, is the inner sanctum where the designer clothes are kept. Only a few women at a time are allowed into the room, and last Monday some waited over two hours.

At Loehmann's, labels are generally ripped out since most prestigious designers don't want it known that they're selling goods to discount merchants. Experienced bargain hunters, though, learn how to read the coded tags. As an elderly saleswoman guarding the door noted cryptically, "You have to know how to shop at Loehmann's."

Discount Store Chain

Valley residents have had plenty of opportunity to learn the ropes by now. The 17-year-old Reseda store was the first branch of the discount store to open in Southern California. Assistant manager Lee Greene declined to give profit figures, but she said the fall fashion preview is always the store's biggest shopping day. At least 1,600 customers turned out this year, Greene said.

In the dressing room, customers in various stages of undress look at Roland wistfully. "If you'd loan us your figure," says one, "that would help."

Roland smiles. It's a remark she has heard since 9:30 that morning and will continue to hear, in many variations, until the store closes at 9:30 that night. "The blouse, of course, is 100% silk and is $129," she says.

Meanwhile, out on the floor, model Patricia Rust Phillips, a regular on the PBS show "On Cue," is showing off a red and black cocktail dress.

"This is rayon and acetate. But it's glitter, not beads, so the price reflects that," she says to a group of shoppers.

"Oh, no, you are thin!" Phillips insists to a woman who's beginning to mutter something about figure problems.

'Beads, Beads, Beads'

"This is a great looking outfit for the holidays," she announces to another pod of shoppers. "Joan Collins, 'Dynasty'--everything is beads, beads, beads. But beads, beads, beads are expensive, expensive, expensive. This is glitter. So it's only $169."

Phillips spots a woman examining a green blouse. "I love that color on you," she says. "It goes with your eye shadow and everything. Isn't this dress lovely? It's acetate and rayon. We don't know who the designer is, just someone special."

"Because I model," says Phillips, "I often know who the designer is. For instance, I remember modeling this dress on Rodeo Drive. It was $400. Here it's $169. So I can tell shoppers that."

A woman complains to Phillips that all the wool pants she's found are much too big. "Hmm," says Phillips, sorting through the racks. "Well, look at this. They say 'Men's.' But Loehmann's doesn't sell to men. What a great idea, though. Men's pants for women!"

No Time to Talk

Meanwhile, women are rummaging through racks of clothes while waiting to get into The Back Room. Others are in a long line waiting to pay for merchandise.

None of them want to stop and talk about why they're there. "No," says a woman in an oversized, peach sweat shirt. She is almost 60, used to be a model and has been shopping at Loehmann's so long she bought her wedding trousseau there, she says.

"I don't want to be interviewed," she says. "I don't want my husband to know I'm here."

Roland looks around at the crowd. "A lot of these people are what I would call compulsive-type shoppers," she says. "I bet they have lots of things in their closet they don't even wear. Still, Loehmann's is my favorite store. It's the only way to go, as far as I'm concerned."

Phillips plans to do some shopping when she gets a break. "I know I'll end up spending more than I'll make today," she says. "But how can you resist?"

She twirls around for the umpteenth time, stopping yet another woman to look at her outfit. "Isn't this a great evening dress?" Phillips asks.

"I honestly don't like it," says the woman, her arms full of pants of every description.

"You don't like it?" says Phillips, still smiling. "Well, that's what makes horse races."

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