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Fashion 87

They Fight Temptation to Imitate Others--or Themselves

October 30, 1987|MARY ROURKE

Los Angeles designer Jill Richards has her own idea about why short skirts are in style. "We've been brainwashed," she says.

She just shortened her latest dress styles again . The original samples were several inches longer, but now they're cut above the knee for evening, mid-knee length for day.

When Richards presented her designs at Saks in Beverly Hills, actress Victoria Principal was one of her first customers. She bought a cocktail dress with a short, black velvet skirt. But plenty of women the designer met at the store during her recent personal appearance said they don't want to show off their legs.

More Short Than Long

"It's really confusing," the blond, doll-like designer sighs. "Women are buying every length, but more short than long." She recommends short for women of her 5-foot, 2-inch stature. Floor-length styles make her appear even shorter, she says.

Stores are promoting the short look right now, and Richards predicts, "anybody concerned about wearing minis has a problem." She says those women should wear their skirts any length they like and buy dresses with all the "interest" at the neckline to draw attention away from their knees. Her fall collection accommodates with scooped, draped, batteau and turtle-neck styles.

This season's hemline hoopla, Richards says, reminds her of 1970, her first year in business. She expects history to repeat itself. "When I started out, women were just coming off miniskirts," she recalls. "Next, they wanted dressy pants."

Yes, Carolina Herrera is introducing her first small collection of 12 bridal gowns this fall. But no, she isn't including a copy of the one she designed for Caroline Kennedy last summer. "It was flattering to be asked to make a dress for America's princess," the designer says of Kennedy. "But I don't make copies."

She does make more clothes than ever--her lower priced "C.H." line, priced from $400 to $900, is new this fall. She is showing her fourth fur collection for Revillon this season. And her original designer-label day and evening wear is still selling strong, she says.

An Extravagant Detail

Herrera describes her style as "simple, with one extravagant detail." In her fall collection, the details include an evening dress that is short in front but long in back and one that is short with a long overskirt. Her own workday wardrobe consists mainly of skirts and tops.

The wife of a wealthy businessman, Herrera went into fashion at a time when a number of New York and Paris socialites seemed to think it was the thing to do. "In the beginning some people didn't take me very seriously," she says. "But now they know I'm here to stay.

"And I'm here to make money. We all are. If anyone says they're not, they're lying."

She's found one aspect of fashion that money can't buy. It is elegance, she says. Not even one of her five-digit outfits can guarantee that a woman will look good. "You can buy very expensive clothes and not be elegant," she says. "Elegance is a question of attitude, movement, hair, jewelry, handbags. Everything." She showed her fall collection at Nordstrom.

Things are changing at Laura Ashley. Since the death of the company's namesake in September, 1985, the British-based family business has branched out recently, to include baby clothes. And now, to offer more sophisticated styles for working women. At a recent fashion show in Los Angeles, fall styles went well beyond the garden-print smocks that Ashley admirers associate with the label.

"People have been asking for less fuss and frill. We've consciously gone to slightly more simple designs," explains Nick Ashley, who now heads the company's design team of 125.

The new collection features softly tailored velvet suits, patterned trousers to wear with polo shirts, skirts and sweaters that mix floral with abstract patterns and dresses that fit closer to the body than typical Ashley smocks.

The company also designs a line of sundresses especially for Southern California stores--"hotshops," as Ashley calls them. To research that particular collection, he says, he sent a team of designers to Los Angeles with these instructions: "Just sit on the beach and find out how hot it really is. And no air conditioning allowed in your car."

Wearing Several Faces

Ashley wears a watch band with several faces on it, to tell time in Los Angeles, New York and London. He says he's learning to fly an airplane in his free time, and he plans to retire and be a painter someday. So far, however, "I've never painted a picture in my life," he confesses.

His younger sister, Emma, is about to launch her career as a designer for the company. And later this fall, he says, the first collection of "very sexy evening wear" will be introduced. That's a far cry from garden smocks.

Ashley has his own shirts custom-made of certain Laura Ashley silk-print fabrics. But other men will have to wait a bit longer. "We're saving up for that," he says of a possible menswear collection.

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