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FASHION: What's Smart for Spring? : Flex Time : Designers Stretch a Point in Body-Hugging Sportswear

February 26, 1992|WILLIAM KISSEL

By any stretch of the imagination, the form-fitting look is the newest thing in menswear this season. Designers are cutting clothes in leaner silhouettes and using stretchy fabrics. Watch for double-knit jeans, calf-clinging jodhpurs, hip-hugging cardigans and more.

Perry Ellis' daywear features snug-fitting knit pants worn under loose sweaters. Sabato Russo mixes flexible microfiber--a slightly stretchy, silk-like polyester--into his lean trousers and chest-hugging sport coats. Marithe and Francois Girbaud offer knit football pants and zip-front cardigans that complement denim. And Andrew Fezza just launched Fez, a younger-looking and lower-priced collection of casual separates including Lycra tanks and T-shirts, prison-striped biking shorts and double-knit jeans.

Although often inspired by activewear, these newer knits aren't mere variations on jogging pants and sweat shirts. Tops feature sculpted silhouettes and unusual stitch patterns, while pants have wider belt loops, scoop pockets and pleats that make them wearable on or off the playing field.

Designers predict that bodywear will be seen in the office of the future. For now, however, the styles are targeted at young men with well-defined bodies.

"It's for the young because the general male population doesn't have the physique to wear it," says Tom Julian, fashion director for the Men's Fashion Assn. Julian says companies such as Greif Studio and designers Bill Robinson and Ronaldus Shamask are pioneering the look for "creative boardrooms" that encourage fashion daring.

Whether it winds up in fitted designs or baggy interpretations, breathable Lycra is the essential element for spring menswear, designer Stephen Burrows says. His new Street collection for the Tony Lambert Design Studio combines clingy knit riding pants, slouchy plaid vests and boxy cardigan jackets that function on the street or in the office, depending on how they are combined.

Knit menswear, says designer Lorenzo Vega, is eminently practical. "(It's) recession-proof," he notes. "You can't wear linen in some cities in December. But you can wear knits in any climate."

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