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Rock 'n' Roll Designer Shifts to Tamer Beat

January 11, 1991|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA NIGUEL — Cynthia Vargas has come a long way since the days she designed purple trench coats for Prince.

Once she worked as a seamstress for bands, creating costumes for Earth, Wind & Fire, Chicago, Vanity, Psychedelic Furs, Donna Summer and others. When Prince needed a black suit in a pinch, he contacted Vargas. She would have one ready the next day. Often, she traveled with the bands to keep them in costume.

"I got the limos, the backstage passes, all of those thrills," Vargas says.

Today, she leads a tamer existence.

The 38-year-old designer gave up her rock 'n' roll career to create children's clothes in a small shop in Laguna Niguel.

"The beauty of this is it allows me to do my designing, to continue being creative," Vargas says. "It's still costuming." And all the playground's a stage.

Vargas has been anything but retiring in her new profession. Among the first of her eye-catching creations is a line of children's lingerie.

She has designed teddies, French knickers and camisoles for little girls. While some people balked at the idea of selling teddies for 10-year-olds, others have bought the lingerie for their daughters when they see this is just pretty underwear, not the kind of stuff sold in Frederick's of Hollywood.

"It's not sexy, it's little girl-y," says Douglas Sieloff, Vargas' husband and partner.

Vargas uses pink Charmeuse trimmed with rosebuds and white lace for her lingerie line, steering clear of black lace even though black is a favorite color in her clothing collection.

"We thought of it, believe me," Sieloff says.

Vargas' children's clothes also break new ground with their theatrical flair.

"They're more dramatic, more neoclassic. It stems from my rock 'n' roll background," she says.

One outfit for girls that she calls "our Sgt. Pepper look" features a short jacket in black velvet with frog fasteners and gold braid adorning the cuffs and shoulders. A matching ruffled skirt has gold braid bordering the hem. Michael Jackson would approve of such flash.

Vargas makes tailored suits and coat dresses for girls made of dark wools and velvets not typically found in children's wear. Pastel floral prints are noticeably absent from her line.

"I do a lot of black for children. People either love it or hate it," Vargas says. "The old thinking says black on children is morbid, but all of the young moms love this."

Some outfits are so sophisticated, they don't look at all silly when enlarged to women's sizes. Vargas has several mother-daughter creations, including a mini-coat dress of black and white houndstooth wool.

She designed a black lace crop top with a cluster of pink rosettes at the neck and a full black lace skirt. It's a romantic look that works for both women and girls.

"I wore it with my daughter in (a department store) and people stopped to compliment us 13 times within an hour," Vargas says.

For boys, she favors tailored clothes that resemble uniforms from upper-crust private schools. There's a navy trench coat with a crest on the front, or a gray plaid blazer with a red wool vest and gray corduroy pants.

Vargas, born in Costa Rica and reared in Los Angeles, began making clothes when she herself was still a child.

"I went to a private Christian school, and my mom wouldn't make my miniskirts short enough," she says.

Vargas got so upset her mother gave her a sewing machine and let her make her own skirts--as short as she wanted.

A largely self-taught seamstress, she later made costumes for her first husband's band, which traveled around playing Hilton hotels.

"The band had to make six changes (a show). I learned to sew fast and quick," she says.

Her quick sewing and dramatic instincts made Vargas a hit among bands. In 1976, Rufus and Chaka Khan became the first big band to seek her services.

She began making costumes for Prince after a mutual friend called her to say the rock star needed a black suit to wear for a concert in Santa Monica. Prince liked the results so much, she was asked to make clothes for his "1999" album insert and video. That led to one of her more famous creations: Prince's purple trench coat.

"I made eight of those purple trench coats," Vargas says.

"Prince is such a perfectionist. He'd call for fittings at 5 in the morning. He sketched out silhouettes of what he wanted each band member to look like."

After 15 years in the business, Vargas tired of the rock scene.

"I'd get a telegram saying 'bring your machines' and a plane ticket."

By then she was divorced and decided to move to Laguna Niguel in August, 1989. She married Sieloff a year ago and became a stepmother to his daughter Megan, now 5. Megan helped change her life.

"She started making clothes for Megan, and we'd be stopped on the street," Sieloff says.

"She's the best dressed kid in school," Vargas says, laughing.

One of Megan's favorite outfits is a double-breasted red wool coat dress with a double flounce skirt, decorated in front with brass buttons.

Six months ago Vargas and Sieloff opened their shop, the Best Measure, which carries Vargas' children's line, "Young Elegance," and offers custom clothing. Her children's clothing and lingerie also sell at Bernans in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, Cinderella's Trunk in Laguna Niguel, Pixie Town in Beverly Hills and Fred Siegal on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

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