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High Sienna : Earthy Colors Fall Into Place as the Natural Selections of Autumn

September 24, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like autumn leaves, men's and women's fashions have turned deep shades of brown, green, gold and berry--the rich hues of Mother Earth.

Natural colors inspired by the great outdoors are all over fall collections, from full-legged pants to long duster vests. Intense, bright shade combinations such as teal and purple are fading. Designers have picked soft fabrics that look like they've been steeped in vegetable dyes, even if some of the so-called "natural" shades do come from chemicals.

Earth tones haven't been this prevalent since the 1970s. Yet the new naturals look different than their predecessors. The tones are richer and used in fresh combinations. Instead of mixing olive and orange, for instance, designers in the '90s are more likely to mix olive with purple.

"The human eye is enchanted by anything new. If purple comes back, it will be in a different variation," says Leatrice Eiseman, director of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training in Seabeck, Wash., and executive director of the New Jersey-based Pantone Color Institute.

Eiseman acts as a color consultant to fashion designers, fabric mills, consumer product manufacturers, interior design firms, cosmetic companies--anyone concerned about color.

Colors go in and out of vogue in roughly 20-year cycles, and they do so for a reason, Eiseman says. Current events make certain palettes popular. She credits concern about the environment with spreading the latest wave of earth tones.

"Colors are inspired by things in the world around us. Right now everyone's concerned about preserving the earth and water. That's one reason why earth tones have come back so strongly."

The shift to natural hues is plainly visible on clothing racks.

"This time last year the clothes were dominated by blue and black," says Art Wirtz, clothing buyer for Alex Sebastian and Alex Sport in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. Now the stores' suits and sport coats have turned muted shades of olive, taupe, brown and gray.

"We're seeing a lot more grays mixed with browns and tans in the tailored clothing," Wirtz says. "Colors are becoming more natural and softer. That goes hand in hand with the softer, deconstructed jackets and softer-fitting pants."

As usual, Giorgio Armani is having a big influence. He's initiated the sack coat, with its soft construction, longer cut, higher front and smaller shoulder pads.

"It fits a little closer to the body," says Wirtz, showing off one of the soft Armani suits made of espresso-colored wool in a small herring bone pattern ($1,150 at Alex Sebastian).

Softer colors also suit the season's knitwear, an important part of menswear's deconstructed silhouettes. Knitted vests and mock turtlenecks in natural colors are worn in layers under sport coats, often with a pair of blue jeans. Jhane Barnes' earthy creations include woven vests in rust or black ($85) and a lightweight knit sweater in a rainbow of muted tones ($285), both at Alex Sport.

Softer styles in earthy hues are also strong for women, as seen in the collections at Rakish, a women's clothing store in Tustin.

"This is the fall color palette," says owner William Christiansen, waving his hand toward a collection of silk separates by Street Culture. The solid-colored separates come in taupe, black, chocolate brown, camel, eggplant and a muted green shade he calls dried moss. The line features a flowing, to-the-floor dress with ruffled front and sleeves ($415), full-legged pants ($245), silk T-shirts ($139) and long vests ($295).

"The clothes are not so rigid. It's soft dressing," Christiansen says.

Designer Lida Baday chose forest green for her wool gabardine jacket with a built-in vest ($1,040) and button-front jumper ($405).

"People are investing in things that will last. They're going back to basics," Christiansen says. "It's harder to mix the jewel tones."

Not all are embracing the darker colors. Some find them too drab and long for the deep jewel tones that also fade in and out in the fall.

"One of the things we're hearing from our clients is they are so tired of black they don't know what to do with themselves," says Sandy Magill Duckworth, district manager for Mondi, with stores in Fashion Island Newport Beach and MainPlace/Santa Ana.

"Black comes in every shade you can imagine. And if it's not black, it's muddy. They're putty colors. If there's rust, it's not even a bright rust."

The only black in Mondi's fall collection comes mixed with yellow. The rest of the collection features charcoal and sky blue, red and sand, spruce green and beige. Among the pieces are a yellow-and-black houndstooth wool blazer ($490) with a straight skirt ($170), sky blue and charcoal pin-striped double-breasted wool blazer ($420), sky blue mock turtleneck ($140) and long vest in blue and gray stripes ($250).

"People come in and say, 'My God, you have color in your window,' " Magill Duckworth says. "They want screaming yellow, bright and crisp sky blue and dark gray."

Forecasts for spring call for lighter variations of the earth tones, Eiseman says. Deeper browns will be replaced by a color she describes as dried apricot, and those dark greens will lighten up.

Blue is starting to show up again in the European collections, and because it qualifies as an environmental color, it will probably be seen more in upcoming seasons, Eiseman says. One can almost count on some variation of blue to return season after season, she says, because studies show most people consider it their favorite color.

"It's still a consumer favorite," she says. "We were hoping for some surprises, but there were none."

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