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Style : Fashion : World Wardrobe

January 02, 1994|Mary Rourke

Ethnic diversity isn't just a fact of life, it's a fashion theme for spring. These days, Eurocentric clothing pales in comparison to the lively wardrobes of the global village. When designers showed their Spring '94 collections recently, worldly influences were the rule rather than the exception. Walking down the runways of Milan, Paris and New York were ideas seemingly collected from the ends of the earth.

Complice's Caribbean cruise line was an extravagant spread of calypso blouses, reggae T-shirts, tropical prints and turbans. Krizia's China-watching led to white pantsuits with frog closures and jumpsuits worn with fieldworker jackets in smoky provincial prints. After decades of dreary Mao suits, the Chinese might be their own best customers when these stylish clothes cross their borders. (Anne Klein has an in-store shop in Shenzhen; Fred Hayman plans a boutique within Ed Finkelstein's second American Place store, opening this month in Guangzhou. And Esprit and Benetton are making inroads in China as well.)

While some designers chose to be purists, others went for cross-cultural looks. Jean-Paul Gaultier's punk-Hare Krishna collection, for example, mixed saris, Chinese-calligraphy-print leggings, combat boots and nose rings. Ralph Lauren brought together American, British, Dutch and Vietnamese fashion classics: His models wore T-shirts, military apparel, clogs, sarongs and rice-paddy straw hats.

For the runway, of course, designers always push ideas to the extreme. In the real world, women understandably want to tone it down. So a rib-knit sweater and long, madras sarong might be tame enough for weekend afternoons. A big white shirt with frog fasteners would look more Asian when topped by a cropped silk vest or more familiar when teamed with a pair of black leggings.

The season's smartest ensembles, however, drew from several looks at once, testing the audience's knowledge of world geography, military history, native costume and the nightclub scene. If fashion is a game, this season we're playing Jeopardy.

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