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Vignettes: Understated Glamour Is Hallmark of Galanos

October 17, 1986|BETTY GOODWIN

The notion that Joan Collins and Linda Evans of "Dynasty," or any of their counterparts on the evening soap operas, are the epitome of glamour only elicits a look of total incredulity from James Galanos.

"I find them a little on the tacky side," says the man who is considered America's only true counterpart to the French couturiers.

"Most of those so-called glamour shows are a little on the old-fashioned side. They don't even look like contemporary clothes. They're a throwback to another era," he says.

Galanos, of course, specializes in glamour with a meticulous, understated appeal. For fall day wear, that means longer skirts, mostly in flannels, wool jerseys and combinations of both. For evening, he emphasizes a leggy look with what he calls his "short baby-doll dresses. Women don't want long draggy skirts at night," he explains, "so we've concentrated on that." But gowns are important too and the newer ones flaunt slight trains.

"So that there's a grand movement," Galanos trilled.

Speaking from his jewel box of an office, with walls of faux malachite and mountains of fashion magazines dating back to the 1950s, the designer was taking a breather. He had just returned from an appearance with a collection at the Amen Wardy boutique in Newport, where Wardy reported taking orders of more than $500,000. And like a rock star with a hit record, the next day, Galanos would be hitting the road again to visit other key stores around the country, including Martha's in New York and Neiman-Marcus in Dallas.

Business has been so good, Galanos says, he was unable to take his usual September vacation.

How does he explain it? Although there has always been a built-in clientele (including First Lady Nancy Reagan) for his brand of virtually handmade coats and dresses that carry four- and five-digit price tags, now there's a whole new breed of young women, starting in their late 20s, who are interested in fine clothes.

Today, when what he calls "middle-of-the-road" clothes retail for thousands of dollars, women with money to spend don't mind paying for "a taste of couture," Galanos says proudly. "And I'm delighted about that."

Anne Klein--Being the season when designers routinely travel the country to tout their collections, there was Louis Dell'Olio, chief designer for Anne Klein, nervously puffing on a Salem menthol in one hand, fingering a gold lighter in the other.

No, he said, he wasn't stressed out. No, he wasn't under additional pressure. Since designer Donna Karan left the company to start her own label, Dell'Olio became solely responsible for eight collections a year, including Anne Klein II, plus his role as overseer of "roughly" 23 licensees.

Although Karan left two years ago--"it's ancient history," says Dell'Olio--people still want to know what it's like for him being on his own.

"The work's the same only more so," he shrugs. "And you don't have the luxury of saying: 'Oh, I can't think of an idea for a skirt, why don't you come up with one?' If I was burned out, usually Donna had ideas."

And now what does he do when he's burned out?

"If you can't think of skirts, well I usually start with jackets and the rest follows in. And if you still can't think of anything, it's time to take a vacation."

Or go to a movie. Inspiration for the cruise collection ("clothes a woman can buy in November or December and wear then") was the Japanese movie "Ran."

"The whole color scheme of rice and black and stone came from 'Ran,' " Dell'Olio says, describing the line that is at Saks Fifth Avenue.

"It was an incredible visual movie. And I loved the whole ease of Japanese kimonos and their layers of silk. It's very loungey."

Spitalnick--For Cynthia Steffe--who was trained at Anne Klein as assistant to Louis Dell'Olio and Donna Karan and who is now chief designer for Spitalnick--inspiration can come in unlikely places.

For her fall line, it came during a trip to Florence, one of five or six such voyages she makes a year to check on fabric mills and make purchases.

"I saw a stone wall in Florence," she says. "It was in the country, in the hills near Fiesole to be exact, and I thought it would make a great print."

As a result, Steffe's "pebbles" appear throughout the collection: knitted in cashmere and wool sweaters, jackets and skirts; woven through wool and silk Jacquards; glazed and imprinted on suede miniskirts, and shrunk down and transferred onto silk blouses.

Some of the most incidental things are the most inspiring, Steffe explains: "Last year, I got wonderful ideas from the grates you see as you enter the subway in London."

The Spitalnick collection is available at Saks.

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