There's the distinct aroma of Giorgio, the expensive sheen of leather, the chic look of fall knits, a fine selection of jeans jackets and an even finer selection of legs peeking out from miniskirts.
It's back to high school--Southern California style.
Noticeably absent from the scene this fall are punkers, thrift-store clothing, sweats, girls in their fathers' clothing, visible labels, the oversized and the ostentatious. As far as the eye can see there are sharp, squeaky-clean kids looking like a generation prepared, in dress at least, to pick up the yuppie gauntlet.
They tend to disavow the tie, but they do covet the status symbols: clothes by Guess? and Girbaud, Yves Saint Laurent and Anne Klein. Their tastes, they say, are honed by parents who have fashion savvy, magazines like Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Vogue or peers with trendy tastes. And while the men of "Miami Vice" still have some impact on what guys wear, the only celebrity trend-setter mentioned by girls is pop singer Whitney Houston.
Nicole Turner, a senior at North Hollywood High School, says she has one main fashion influence: "My mother and what I see her wearing."
Like many high school students, she seeks out style more than labels, and her outfit on the second day of school included a smart $60 long wool jacket with a fancy, striped lining (revealed by turned-back cuffs) that was a Lerner's purchase.
Equipped with expensive tastes and limited assets, local teens have staked out some favorite hunting grounds: youth-oriented stores like Contempo Casuals, Esprit, Fred Segal, G.HQ., the Limited, Robinson's, Lerner's, which Turner says has become "young and trendy," and Nordstrom, which Caroline Palmer, a 17-year-old senior at Venice High School, affectionately calls "Nordie's."
Although students say parents frequently lend a hand with clothing expenses, teens, such as Palmer and friend Jan Parks, draw the line when they spot what looks like a rip-off. This fall, it was a $50 pair of pre-torn jeans.
"I wanted them," Palmer explains, "but for that price I can cut holes in my own."
In a list of never-wears, Parks includes miniskirts; Palmer says sweats and biker shorts. Elsewhere on the Venice campus, girls who do wear miniskirts fervently eschew what their peers all across town eschew: bell-bottoms, fluorescents and polyester.
At South Pasadena High School, where some students say there is a tendency toward "conservative" styles, Michelle Litchfield tends to liven things up from time to time.
Last year, the slim, dark-haired senior says she created an Egyptian look by combining a long black-and-purple dress with silver jewelry and "Cleopatra eyes." This year, she went back to school wearing low patent heels, an above-the-ankle skirt, a sleeveless knit top and a black hat--purchased at Disneyland.
Her dressy look may be "fun," but in a school where shorts and casual clothes prevail, it has its downside.
"My parents think I'm silly," Litchfield says, "and today a girl snarled at me in the hall."
It's the kind of behavior that could ruin Ilona Gerzon's whole year. The Beverly Hills High newcomer explains: "I don't want to do anything to be noticed. I think being a freshman makes you stick out enough."
So Gerzon, who arrived for the first day of school clad in a salt-and-pepper cotton sweater and rather noticeable gray patterned leggings, says she won't wear any item of clothing that's silver.
It may be just as well. This is a time of teen understatement and little glitter. Daytime rhinestones have all but disappeared, and in general, jewelry has been reduced to a modest display of earrings.
"There's a lot less jewelry being worn," notes Venice High's Vanessa Velez, adding without hesitation that "silver is in."
Leather is in too, says Velez, who owns one of the season's musts: a pair of short, white, urban-cowboy boots. Her summary of fall fashions is succinct: "It's all boots and minis."
Over at Beverly Hills High, Nicole Lewis, who likes to wear another of the season's musts--high-top boots with the laces untied--has created her own style of simple jewelry. Her "bangles" include homespun bracelets made of braided wool and protective tapes stripped from her tennis racket.
Individuality, as in the case of Lewis' bracelets, is definitely on the subtle side. South Pasadena's Charles Raggio, for example, who complains that clothes on his campus are "boring," fights the trend modestly by rolling up the legs of Girbaud baggy trousers (from Country Club Fashions in Sherman Oaks, where he works) several inches. And there are no socks peeking out above his soft leather shoes.
Venice senior Sharon Jones, who concedes that "It's hard to start a trend these days," says she gets her individuality primarily from dressy clothes (example: a rayon damask blouse and matching trousers, worn with a polished-cotton jacket, patterned tights and flats). And while she likes to shop in places such as the Santa Monica Mall, she recently discovered a new way to save money: the Gardena swap meet.
Sharon Gebhart, dean of students at Venice High, explains more than just the quiet on the Venice teen fashion front. She could be explaining the hush all over Southern California.
"It's such a liberal community," Gebhart says, "it's hard to find anything to rebel against."
And her thoughts on last year's punk population could lead some adults to wish the trend would last forever: "I very seldom saw them in the vice principal's office. They might have spent a lot of time on their ensembles, but they didn't spend a lot on rabble-rousing."