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Designer Thrives on Stark, Chic Look

September 19, 1986|MANDY BEHBEHANI

Four years ago, 28-year-old New York designer Rebecca Moses was bankrupt.

This year, she estimates her sportswear collection will do $16 million in retail sales.

In the intervening time, she found herself a financial backer--partner Victor Coopersmith--and cut her prices in half.

Painful Experience

"When I started my own ready-to-wear business in 1981, I didn't have backing," says Moses, at Neiman-Marcus in Beverly Hills recently to show her fall collection. "The market was soft and my prices were too high. It was a very painful thing for me. But then, the same month that I went bankrupt, Grace Mirabella, editor-in-chief of Vogue, introduced me to Victor, and that was it."

Now her clothes--simple, slim knitwear looks in solid primary colors--go for $98 to $270 and can be found in about 45 major department stores, including Harrods in London.

Despite this success, Moses still projects the image of the ballerina she always hoped to be.

"I grew too big," she laments.

Reed-thin in a black dress that covers almost the entire length of her 5-foot, 8-inch frame, with very short black, slicked-back hair and eyes to drown in, the designer affects a stark personal style--one she says she purposely reflects in her clothes.

"When you have a stark look, you can modify it easily. What I want to be known for are clothes that have chicness but that really let a woman say what she wants to say about herself--a chicness that, above all, is timeless and affordable. I think if people know something is relatively inexpensive, they feel it's commercial and corny. But I want my clothes to be classics that are simple in approach. Most people try to sell fashion. What I'm trying to sell is style."

Her style this fall takes in fluid, comfortable shapes in red, black and purple textured wool jerseys, Angoras and cotton/rayon mixes, designed as mix-and-match pieces. The basic building blocks of her collection are a pullover sweater, a long overskirt closed at the waist by two buttons and a long, slim wool jersey dress with raglan sleeves and rounded shoulder padding.

Play pieces are knee-length and mid-calf skirts, tunics, leggings, four-pocket "scuba" jackets with defined waistlines and extended drop shoulders, embroidered and ruched sweaters, dinner blazers and coats--all in knit.

"We're not a huge collection," Moses says. "We really want to be the base. The best compliment a woman can pay me is to say: 'I've lived in this dress. I can't tell you how much I've worn it. It's just going to walk off my body.' "

Moses continues: "There's a gracefulness that has enveloped the season that is so different from the tight, tight, tight that we've seen recently. Body-conscious was so difficult."

Sexy, Flirty Knits

Sexiness has not been neglected. Moses' short, ribbed wool jersey skirt with matching scuba jacket is an unconstricting but body-forming look.

"Traditional American sportswear has meant a woven jacket, a blouse, linen pants," Moses says. "We don't need any more of that. My collection is modern sportswear interpreted into a knitwear concept. It's comfortable, simple knitwear with a flirty edge.

"The clothes are for very confident people," Moses says, "for people who don't want a mark on what they wear. They want to put their own mark on it."

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