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Center of Attention : Tomorrow's Trends Fall Into Place in Today's Shows


Never mind the 22 scene changes, 33 dancers and 140 models: When the curtain goes up today on the Center of Fashion show, the clothes will be the stars.

No one is more conscious of the important role the clothes play than Carlton Burnett, artistic director and producer of the Center of Fashion. This is the third year Burnett has directed the show, presented by the Guilds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

Burnett treats his fashion shows like Broadway stage productions, building the scenes around the styles instead of a script.

"You hope you'll have the clothes to support your ideas," he says.

While working with the 20 Orange County fashion retailers featured in the production to identify style trends, he made a welcome discovery: Fall fashions are more exciting than they've been in years.

"The colors are absolutely wonderful. It hit the soft spot I have for this year," Burnett says.

"When times aren't the best, we revert back to things that entertain us," he says. "Clothes reflect that. Everything's a repeat of the past."

The show will revolve around the key trends, including the resurrection of the menswear look for women a la Marlene Dietrich, the return of classic styles for men, Western wear and evening gowns with long, narrow silhouettes.

"We're seeing some of the prettiest clothes we've seen in a long time," says Sylvia McGregor, owner of My Girl in Corona del Mar. "Fashion is changing more than it has in five years.

"Every time there's a big mix-up, whether it's a war or a recession or other difficulties, it seems to stir up artistic people," she says.

Designer Mark Eisen created an inspired black and white striped gown with a full skirt that unbuttons in front to reveal black lace shorts. With its see-through black lace high-neck top, it's sure to be a show-stopper.

My Girl also will show plenty of silky, feminine sweaters in deep rich Renaissance colors worn with wool and leather pants.

"We're back to fabulous, wonderful fabrics," McGregor says.

Change is especially apparent in evening wear. It's been pared down from the "real heavy glitz look" of recent years, Burnett says. "The gowns are understated. A year ago the show ended with everyone in beads. This is not the year for it."

Kevan Hall, the show's featured designer who has created gowns for Natalie Cole and other celebrities, will show a retrospective of 30 of his special-occasion dresses. His evening wear is carried at Saks Fifth Avenue in South Coast Plaza and I. Magnin in Fashion Island Newport Beach, both show participants.

Most of Hall's gowns are long, snug and slit up the side.

"It's what's happening right now," Hall says.

One example of the simple gowns with touches of beading in vogue is Hall's black velvet strapless dress with a fish tail and long train. The gown's only decoration is chunky jet beading across the bodice.

Evening wear is also borrowing from casual wear for body-conscious looks, according to Cynthia Degen, spokeswoman for Jakeez in Fashion Island.

To illustrate the look, Jakeez has pulled designer Bradley Bayou's gold racer tank top and gold leggings, dressed up with a sheer gold-and-plum tunic with beaded accents.

"It's taking comfortable clothes and turning them into something very simple, very elegant," Degen says.

Color will play a big role in the fashion production. One Olympics-inspired segment will highlight red, white and blue attire.

"We're seeing a lot of red this fall--for evening wear, everything," says Diana Okada, manager of Armoire in Newport Beach. One hot red number from Armoire is a short cocktail dress with a jacket adorned with gold mesh bows in place of buttons and on the shoulder.

Black is still strong for evening wear, but other colors have been added to the nighttime palette, Okada says.

Bronze is another option for evening. Armoire will show it in an organza blouse with a portrait collar and long skirt with a jeweled belt.

Longer skirt lengths for night or day are the most radical change of the season. Armoire will show suits with skirts that fall to 5 inches above the ankles with side or back slits, and long, fitted jackets often belted at the waist.

Menswear is undergoing changes of its own with a return to the classics.

Bjorn Sedleniek, owner of P.O.S.H. in Fashion Island, was called upon to portray male models as candidates in a political campaign--a reference to the upcoming elections. No matter the political climate, menswear has grown more conservative.

"We're reverting back to a classic look," Sedleniek says. "Last year it was the European influence--drapier suits with wider shoulders. Now suit jackets have more natural shoulders rather than the extreme fashion looks."

Suit fabrics have also gone from liberal to conservative. Men are reverting to the old standbys, the navys and charcoals in solids or pin-stripes and classic black-and-white glen plaids.

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