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Vittadini Maintains an Organized Closet

January 20, 1989|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

With clothes tucked neatly into cabinets and not a mannequin in sight, the new Adrienne Vittadini store at South Coast Plaza's Crystal Court looks more like a million-dollar closet than a fashion boutique. And that's exactly how the fashion designer planned it.

"Adrienne wanted a store that wouldn't feel like a store," says Ross Manning, owner of the new Crystal Court boutique. "She wanted women to feel like they are walking into a grand wardrobe. She wanted it dramatic and sophisticated, but extremely practical and elegant. Like the clothes."

Vittadini, the 44-year-old Hungarian-born designer of softly structured women's knitwear, has expanded her lines in the past few years to include evening wear, swimwear, scarfs and handbags. Parts of her collections are found in almost every major department store in the country, but Vittadini recently launched an effort to open boutiques so that nearly everything in her collections can be found in one spot.

The Crystal Court store, her third and newest boutique, will carry about 500 new items each season, about $150,000 worth of merchandise at any one time, according to Manning.

The nearly 2,000-square-foot shop was designed by Milan architect Gai Aulenti, who was also responsible for restoring Venice's Palazzo Grassi as an art museum and for designing the new Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

Shipped in 18 crates last fall, components of the salon were designed and custom-made in Italy and reassembled at Crystal Court. Italian craftsmen made everything from the 26 hand-milled, bleached beechwood cabinets to the 52 brass clothes rods, as well as the 24-foot-long glass-topped beechwood table on which the floral arrangements and visual props designed by Larry Laslo are displayed.

Laslo and Vittadini collaborate on the look of everything Vittadini does except the clothes: the gift boxes, the floral arrangements, the window displays and the design props seen throughout the store. During a visit from New York to oversee completion of the boutique, which opened at the end of November, Laslo said Vittadini's operation is similar to Ralph Lauren's in that every aspect of the business is programmed to look the way Vittadini and Laslo want it to look.

"We are very uniform throughout the collection," Laslo said. "Every detail is planned and designed as one statement, from the gift boxes to the window designs."

The windows in all three Vittadini boutiques (the others are in Beverly Hills and St. Louis) are changed weekly to reflect the evolution of the collections, Laslo said. "There is constant newness, and her windows must reflect that."

Although the store's overall design is a traffic stopper--a huge domed ceiling with a skylight tops the built-in cabinetry--the various elements are purposely understated to draw attention to the clothes. For example, beechwood was chosen as the shop's motif because of its subtlety; the clothes stand out dramatically against its pale grain, Manning said. "The store was really designed with the clothes in mind. It's meant to be a showcase for the collection."

That collection keeps growing and is constantly exploring new territory, Manning added. Among the most recent additions are the designer's pearl-studded, hand-knit sweaters ($190), which can be paired with a number of cotton, black-and-white separates.

Also new are the hibiscus-print cotton tops, wide-legged pants and silk shirts. Prices in the store range from $35 for a scarf to $400 for an evening outfit. A long, black-and-white striped knit tunic--a Vittadini signature piece--sells for $145.

The designer's spring line is gradually filling up the Crystal Court store, replacing last season's holiday and cruise wear. Inspired by the movie "White Mischief," many of the pieces have a '40s look: navy-and-white, wide-legged career trousers; silk jumpsuits and long skirts.

Desert shades and safari-inspired sportswear, dropped torso dresses and linen separates are also prominent. So are bold red-and-white striped pants and sheer striped shirts and long, poppy-printed jackets. The spring evening wear uses lots of black and white, with hand-knit sweaters, silk blouses and rhinestone bows.

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