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Suede by Popular Opinion

September 17, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This fall, fashion designers are sweet on suede. Many have fallen in love with suede's unique pleasures: the way it drapes softly over the body, the way it feels (the best is as soft as velvet), the way it takes a dye. Suede can hold a rich jewel tone as brilliantly as any silk, and shows muted earth tones wonderfully. Smitten by such properties, designers are using suede for all kinds of creations, including '70s-inspired fringed vests, long narrow skirts and Western-style jackets.

"There's suede in all of the fall collections," says Julie Gilhart, designer merchandise manager for BarneysCQ New York in New York City. "We're in a period where luxury is nice, but it's not ornamental. It's the quality of the fabric--that's where the luxury comes in. A suede skirt with a cashmere top is the ultimate in luxury. It's simple, easy to wear and beautiful."

Miu Miu, the lower-priced line from Prada, has many avant-garde suede styles for fall that Gilhart describes as "very natural, very earthy." There's a reversible vest with rabbit fur on one side and suede on the other, long skirts and vests in suede with silver coin ornaments and suede shirts and skirts that snap down the front. Miu Miu's suede pieces sell for $400 to $800 at Barneys New York in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

"Designers are using suede in an earthy way, in natural colors such as brown, camel and black," Gilhart says.

Designer Sam Wolf of Texas is no stranger to suede. He and his wife, Patricia, have been making clothes out of suede for more than 20 years.

"It happens to be a wonderful medium to work with," he says. "It's a soft, drapey fabric that has the character of velvet without the weight. A lot of people think of suede as heavy, but it's really light, and it breathes."

Their designs illustrate suede's versatility: Patricia Wolf has done sexy short dresses with spaghetti straps ($169) in purple, violet, red, black or tan suede, camisoles with beaded fringe in red, cobalt and black suede ($119) and black or tobacco suede jeans with fringe down the sides ($399). The Wolf line is carried at Out of Santa Fe in Fashion Island Newport Beach.

"We draw on the Native American heritage for our inspiration," says Sam Wolf, whose grandmother was a Cherokee and grandfather was a cowboy. "We've always loved the West, and we're intrigued by frontier legends."

The couple's fascination with theWest comes through in designs such as the men's Western-style jacket by Sam in tobacco or black suede hand-painted with a horse motif ($555) or Patricia Wolf's tobacco suede vest for women with a shawl collar and running horses painted on the back ($285).

Suede is the ideal medium for designers to experiment with embroidery, fringe, cross-stitching or hand-painting. Out of Santa Fe has all kinds of examples: a men's brown suede jacket by Alan Michael with laced-up seams and fringe on the shoulders ($1,155), a red leather jacket for women embroidered with yellow flowers on the yoke by Char ($1,099) and a men's "John Wayne" vest by Char in brown or black suede with abstract swirls embroidered on the yoke and collar ($325).

Designer Jan Kelman fell in love with suede during the '60s, when suede vests, fringed jackets and handbags were everywhere.

"When the hippie thing happened, suede became popular," Kelman said. "But how could you be a hippie and afford suede?"

Not until seven years ago did she start designing her own suede fashions, from sexy leopard-print jeans to mini-skirts. Her line is available at her two new stores, Pieces in Laguna Niguel and the Missing Piece in San Juan Capistrano.

"Suede feels so rich--I just love the texture and feel of it," Kelman says. "It's the same feeling velvet gives you, but it's not as appropriate to wear velvet to many of the places you can wear suede."

Among the suede styles in her collection: body-conscious black suede and Lycra leggings ($173), a tobacco-colored lamb suede waiter's jacket with shawl collar and hand-knotted fringe on the shoulders ($680), a dusty pink suede cardigan with whip-stitching around the seams of raglan sleeves ($356), and a long wrap skirt with fringe along the opening ($268).

"I don't call my designs Western, but they're easily adapted to it," Kelman says. "The Western influence has been really good for us."

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