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The Shape of Things in Spring

September 22, 1987|BETTIJANE LEVINE | Times Fashion Editor

Spring, 1988, arrived in the fashion world at 9 a.m., Sunday. It touched down in Los Angeles at the California Mart, where about 400 press people and retailers from around the world settled in for a three-day marathon of shows featuring California designs.

The emphasis was on short and shapely, as designers here picked up on the escalating worldwide move toward more body-conscious women's clothes.

But the BBC-TV crew of London's "Weekend" show, the U.S. editor of Italy's Donna magazine, the fashion directors of Federated Department Stores and other influential foreign and domestic fashion folk didn't hotfoot it out here just to see some more tight clothes. What they came for was the spirit--that inscrutable something that makes Los Angeles a trend-setting city, able to export, even to snowbound regions, such L.A. looks as denim miniskirts and surfer gear.

About 50 sportswear and dress designers showed their wares on the first day of this seventh annual spree, which precedes the European and New York spring shows by about two weeks.

Among well-received looks were Christian de Castelnau's iced-pastel knits, many with cropped sleeveless tops, bare midriffs and accordion pleated miniskirts; sophisticated suit looks from Karl Logan and Eric Bovy; Marika Contempasis' Navajo-style knits with sheer skirts; baggy denim jackets with denim minis from Todd & Co.; tight denim dresses and separates from Paris Blues and stretch fabrics (either smooth or puckered) from almost everyone.

Stretch was used for short skirts, capri or bicycle pants, and as torso inserts on otherwise easy-shaped dresses. Muted pastels, black-with-white, or beige-y neutrals dominated.

Designers exhibited about 10% of their spring collections, and not necessarily the most inventive parts. There were no mind-bending, new California trends unveiled. But there were lots of young, wearable clothes--in contrast to showpieces--which is what retailers in the audience were looking for.

As Karie Farrally, corporate fashion director of the Broadway Southwest, put it, "No matter what Los Angeles designers do, they do it a little younger and with a little more freshness of spirit than anywhere else."

Amy Ross, fashion director of Filene's Boston and New England stores, says she travels to New York and Europe every season for the collections, but this was her first such trip to Los Angeles. She was impressed.

"There's a more contemporary point of view here than in New York," she said. "Los Angeles, right now, has a lot in common with London in terms of design attitude and the customers to which the clothes appeal."

This was the second L.A. spring market trip for Sheila Kamensky, fashion director of Rich's in Atlanta, who says Los Angeles fashion gets more interesting every year.

"L.A. designers excel in dresses, juniors and casual and contemporary sportswear," Kamensky said.

During the weekend, she and and other visiting fashion directors took a tour of Melrose Avenue and Beverly Center shops, which she said are acknowledged by many of the nation's retailers to be "innovative and trend-setting" in their merchandising ideas.

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