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Fashion on Furlough : Lifestyles: It's August--the month when haute couture exits to find Eden--giving designers a chance for rest and creative rejuvenation.

August 03, 1995|MAUREEN SAJBEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Forget Paris. Forget Milan. Forget New York. It's August, and nobody's home. At least in the design world.

Europeans and New Yorkers flee their concrete cities in droves this month, partly because of unbearable heat and humidity, and partly because it's the thing to do. For designers in particular, deserted islands and exotic locales can help restore a fresh perspective to the design-jaded eye--a perspective that often shows up in their clothes.

There may be plenty of sailing-inspired clothes in upcoming fashion collections, as a number of designers head out to sea this month. Or perhaps there'll be some vintage fisherman's wife's clothes--refer here to Ingrid Bergman in Roberto Rossellini's 1950 film "Stromboli"--as two designers head to the volcanic island of the same name in search of Rossellini's vision.

Designers also purchase summer houses in areas that are either socially chic or become so when they arrive. Their mere presence validates the taste level and speeds up the social whirl.

This August exodus, incidentally, is not a California phenomenon because local designers, and the population at large, can find Eden in their own back yards. "As far as I'm concerned, Catalina is a fine place to go," says Los Angeles designer Gregory Poe. "Californians are not compelled to leave their daily lives."

"When you live in Utopia, why leave?" seconds Mossimo, whose tranquil home on a cliff in Laguna Beach is as perfect as any found on a tropical island or remote atoll.

For Europeans, however, the custom of taking August off is as ingrained as patronizing sidewalk cafes or throwing coins in the Trevi. One would never even think of sticking around town for fear of contracting a social stigma. Add to this the lavish laws that require employers to give generous vacations, and you end up with major cities turning into ghost towns.

In France, for example, everyone gets at least four weeks of vacation a year. Fabric mills close in August, and nearly half the country heads for the beach. Designers take full advantage of the month to recharge their creative batteries.

Karl Lagerfeld spends August visiting his many houses, including a chateau in the countryside outside Paris, a villa in Monte Carlo, a house in Hamburg and a suite in the Berlin Four Seasons. He'll spend part of the time finishing his photography exhibition "Visages et Paysages" (portraits and landscapes) showing in Manhattan's Leica Gallery this September.

Yves Saint Laurent heads for Deauville, the haute bourgeoisie watering hole in Normandy known for regattas, race courses and palatial homes. The wild and unpredictable John Galliano, successor to Hubert de Givenchy, is off to patronize the nightclubs on wild and crazy Ibiza, an island off Spain.

Rock 'n' roll couturier Gianni Versace, who has rented his Lake Como villa to pal Madonna for her vacation, is bound for Turkey for a change of pace. He'll admire the landscapes, walk through archeological museums, eat in casual seaside fishermen's restaurants and steer clear of tourists and discos.

As will Giorgio Armani, who heads for his tranquil hideaway in Pantelleria, a stark, volcanic island between Sicily and Tunisia. Armani's property includes four low stone buildings in the same quiet, subtle tones he uses in his clothes; a terrace for alfresco dining; dozens of palm trees, and 208 stone steps down to the postcard-blue Mediterranean sea. Numerous flowering plants scent the air.

Madonna's other best pals, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana of Dolce & Gabbana, are perhaps the most mobile. Their travel itinerary starts in Taormina, a panoramic cliff-side town in Sicily, and ends in Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli. In between, the designers and their "intimate group of 10 friends" will sail around the volcanic Aeolian Islands above Sicily, including Vulcano, Alicudi, Filicudi and Panarea.

"These places make us dream and we become lost in our fantasies. Sicily and the Mediterranean is where our roots are. They are very important to us, for our life, for our creativity and work," the pair says through a representative.

New York City's inhospitable Amazon-like weather forces everyone to leave for a few weeks--or at least several four-day weekends.

The beautiful, the tanned and the monied head for the Hamptons at the eastern tip of Long Island. It's a 100 mile drive--or crawl at peak times--up the Long Island Expressway from New York City. Southampton is the site of old family money. East Hampton is younger and newer, and where designers Calvin Klein and Donna Karan have second homes. Ralph Lauren is at the furthest point, in Montauk.

The casual chic feeling of this whole area blends well with the nature of American sportswear, and you can see its influence when the spring collections arrive on the runways in October.

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