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FASHION INSIDE OUT : Mao, Mao, Mao-- How Do You Like It?


NEW YORK — The most cerebral question posed by designers here centered on hemlines. Mid-thigh? Knee-grazing? Ankle-length? Mind-numbing? Oh, yes.

We'd rather mull over which of designer Vivienne Tam's Andy Warhol-esque Chairman Mao images are the most irreverent. Mao in pigtails? Mao with bubble-gum pink lips? Mao being stung on the nose by a bumblebee?

"That one is called 'Ow Mao,' " Tam said in her showroom Friday afternoon. The designer, who came to America from Hong Kong eight years ago, designed one of the most highly praised spring '95 collections. Her all-glass-bead dresses, black nylon mesh jackets and sheer white blouses with embroidered butterflies had fashion magazine editors clamoring for samples to photograph.

There was less enthusiasm in the Hong Kong factories where Tam's clothes are manufactured.

"It was really hard finding someone who would do the work," she said. Specifically the Chairman Mao designs. "They were afraid. As it gets closer to 1999, people there worry about what the future political climate will be." In 1999, Hong Kong returns to its pre-British colony status as part of mainland China.

Tam's beautiful Audrey Hepburn cocktail dresses, imprinted with black-and-white photographic images of Mao, reflect her own position on the leader of old regime. "He did some positive things and he did some negative things."

Tarentino Style: "Pulp Fiction" wormed its way through the New York collections in the form of gangster girl looks and Urge Overkill's subtly creepy rendition of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." Come to think of it, a lot of cool guys here look like the group's lead singer, Nash Kato (who looks like a young Michael Caine): silky parted-down-the-middle hair, oversized blue-tinted shades and skinny hip-huggers. Meanwhile, "Pulp" star Uma Thurmond, bounding out of a store on 57th Street near the Plaza Hotel, looks more grungette than gangster. And in the Quentin Tarentino-produced "White Man's Burden," African American designer Tracy Reese and her collection will appear in a benefit fashion show. "Burden" depicts a world in which the ruling class is black.

Infantile Fantasies: Models are indisputably young, but they're getting a little competition from some even younger faces at the New York shows. The model Gisela carried her velvet-clad baby boy down the runway at DKNY. Richard Tyler and Lisa Trafficante's baby boy greeted well-wishers with a smile after Dad's Anne Klein show. Then there was the red-headed toddler who, during the Michael Kors show, was determined to get her tiny Maryjane-shod tootsies up onto the runway, even if it meant crawling over a photographer's head. Girl, you'll be a woman soon enough.

You're So Fine You Blow My Mind: As tabloid TV has noted with glee, the spirit--not to mention the sweaty, stubbled body--of lover-fighter-actor Mickey Rourke hung like a dark cloud over the fashion scene here. Even we weren't entirely Mickey-free. Upgraded by some lucky fluke to our hotel's penthouse, we were more than a little disappointed by its resemblance to a decadent '70s bachelor pad. The dark brown sueded walls, the nubby beige playpen sofa, the mirrored walls and the sauna in the dining room created a semi-revolting atmosphere. We shared our thoughts with the front desk gal. "Well . . . you know who used to live there, don't you?" she confided. Uh, Vinny Barbarino? "Mickey Rourke! He had the whole place decorated to his taste." Make that lover-fighter-actor-decorator.

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