This season, all that glitters can be found on evening jackets.
Everything from short bolero-style jackets to loose and flowing tunics have been embellished with glittering rhinestones, sequins, seed pearls and gold embroidery thread. Some jackets have every inch of fabric smothered with a pirate's booty of riches.
"They're little treasures that ladies can keep," says designer Victor Costa in Dallas. "I have a whole series of them. I consider them collectors' items."
Costa designed a bolero jacket for fall that's entirely covered in black sequins. The jacket, sold at Neiman Marcus in Newport Beach, costs $925, in part because it's been embroidered by hand in India.
Maria Crutcher, a Newport Beach arts supporter and a member of Angelitos de Oro, which raises funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Orange County, has found evening jackets make it simple for her to attend the season's busy round of charity balls, theater openings and parties.
Her $5,000 Bob Mackie outfit includes a stunning jacket and a simple, knee-length, black velvet skirt. The black velvet jacket has a high collar and features a sparkling sunburst design radiating from one shoulder surrounded by the signs of the Zodiac, all done in silver sequins and rhinestones.
"I can wear it with a beautiful bouffant skirt, pants or a straight dress," Crutcher says.
Sue Perewozki of Newport Beach, who is president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center's Sound of Music support group, bought a beaded jacket by Jeannette for St. Martin to wear at this season's fund-raisers.
"Many times I buy gowns and wear them once. I hope I get a lot more wear out of this jacket," she says.
The short jacket has an elaborate floral motif with beads and crystals in pastel shades covering champagne-colored raw silk. Although the jacket came with chiffon pants, Perewozki finds she can pair it with a variety of separates.
"It's very versatile. I can wear it with pink, blue or yellow. I can wear it with pants at a fashion show or take it on a cruise and wear it over a silk dress."
Sophia Wardy, vice president and general manager of Amen Wardy, an exclusive clothing store in Newport Beach, says the opulent jackets have proven quite popular.
"It's an exciting alternative to a gown," Wardy says. "They're colorful, glitzy and beautifully made. When a woman walks into a room wearing one, she definitely makes a statement."
Peer closely at one of Oscar de la Renta's bolero jackets, and you will see an intricate floral motif made up of thousands of tiny beads and rhinestones. Layers and layers of green sequins form a single leaf.
His jackets harken back to rich medieval mosaics. One black velvet bolero has large red and blue teardrop rhinestones with swirls of green and gold square-shaped sequins. No matter that the gems are fake--the jacket still looks regal, especially when paired with the designer's billowy green satin skirt.
Two jackets designed by Jeanette for St. Martin and sold through Neiman Marcus in Newport Beach manage to combine sparkles and sequins with faddish animal prints. One has tiger stripes done in tan and black sequins; another has leopard spots of black sequins on an embroidered background of brown and gold thread. Each sells for about $1,000.
A jacket designed for Amen Wardy resembles a leather motorcycle jacket except it's covered with black sequins and studded with heavy brass zipper tabs. Zipper teeth line the pockets and edges of the jacket. Another whimsical jacket is festooned with perfume bottles made from gold sequins.
The jackets allow designers to exercise their creative powers. Judith Ann Sarna of Judith Ann Creation in New York City began her career as an artist and treats her evening jackets like a painter's canvas.
Although she doesn't want the gown to weigh down the wearer, she doesn't worry that an overabundance of beads and baubles will make the jacket too heavy.
"When I get to do a jacket, I can really go to town," she says.
Her favorite jacket has a rich crazy quilt of stripes, swirls, rainbows and zig-zags in brightly colored beads and sequins. It sells for $700. "People have said it looks like a kaleidoscope or stained glass," Sarna says.
I. Magnin's at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa carries her long, tunic-style jackets of silk with a colorful patchwork of beadwork--what the designer calls "Western design with Eastern artistry."
The jackets, which cost about $700, take about four days to make. They're sewn by hand in India, with up to six people at a time working on a frame.
And if Sarna had her way, they would hang in art galleries.
"A jacket like this is art to wear," she says. "You could frame it."