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FASHION : Surprise Package : Underneath That Low-Key Exterior, Randy Newman Shows a Flair for the Unexpected

December 20, 1987|Diane Reischel \f7 | Diane Reischel is a Times staff writer.

RANDY NEWMAN STILL WONDERS WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE GREAT T-shirts he used to buy when he was a kid. They were plain, didn't have writing on the front. They made him happy. But T-shirts change, and so has the perpetually casual singer-songwriter, who no longer sees jeans with an aloha shirt as fashion-right for entertaining on stage. "When I was younger, I was so good-looking I didn't need fancy clothes," jokes Newman, who cruised L.A. wearing a Hawaiian shirt in his famous "I Love L.A." video. "But as I mature, I need tricks."

He discovers some new tricks in winter menswear that has a Newman-esque sense of humor and surprise. Just as Newman writes tunes with an unexpected bite, so does the new menswear lend mild-mannered basics a jolt through accessories and irreverent strokes of color.

Yet for a reluctant fashion plate, such boldness takes some adjustment.

"I've never wanted to stand out in any kind of way. I just want to get from here to there without anyone paying too much attention," says Newman, who swears he never shops for clothes alone because "I'd end up looking like a tout at the race track."

But even Newman can be talked into a dash of visual self-expression. As he tries on holiday suspenders, boisterous socks and festive bow ties, he discards for the moment the notion that "I'm boring pictorially" for a more generous self-assessment: "With these clothes on, if I had bigger teeth and an upper lip, I could be a movie star," he deadpans.

With the his 10th album due out in May and a song called "Something Special" in Goldie Hawn's new movie, "Overboard," Newman admits that he still has some secret ambitions. "I'd like to do a complete musical," he says. "And maybe I'll write a book sometime or some short stories." Newman knows what he'll wear while composing these works: "Whatever kind of pants I find hanging around," he says. "And a T-shirt."

Photographed by Rick Strauss; grooming by Victor Vidal/Cloutier; styling by Claude Deloffre and Beth Bickson/Celestine-Cloutier.

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