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FASHION / SENSE OF STYLE : Yesterday's Todd Is Today's Flash

May 09, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

Many in the whooping, hollering crowd at the fashion show of the AIDS Project Los Angeles gala last week didn't know they were seeing 10 years' worth of highlights from Todd Oldham's collections. Their ignorance is a convincing argument for classics that at first glance seem anything but classical, because the silver-studded gowns, long slinks of multicolored stripes and rhinestone-paved miniskirts from seasons past didn't look a bit dated on the Bergamot Station runway. A retrospective of sequined skirts, in flowered, striped, patchwork and pinwheel patterns, showed that, although the garments had been designed while fashion's focus ranged from grunge to glamour, they could enliven a wardrobe for 20 years, taken out now and then, and worn with different tops.

Models including Veronica Webb, Rachel Hunter, Naomi Campbell and actress Elizabeth Berkley gave their all to showcase Oldham's clothes, but no matter how big their hair or how hard the beauties shimmied to the driving rock beat, they couldn't have put over styles that looked tired. "It's easy to put on a great show when you have 10 years to choose from," Oldham said modestly. "It surprised me how well stuff held up. It just goes to show that if you respect the individual, anything goes."

Fashion has been talking about the rediscovery of color as if the pleasures of the flesh had just been invented. The APLA show demonstrated that Oldham has always lived in Technicolor, even when the rest of the world only tuned in black and white.

Escada, Neiman Marcus and MTV underwrote the party, and Neiman's presented APLA with a $100,000 check, the largest corporate gift the store makes to any charity.

*

The Name Game: Designer Cynthia Rowley has pet names for her clothes. Doesn't everybody? For Rowley, a fuzzy sweater is the Curly, Larry & Mohair turtleneck. The Little Dipper Top is a star-sparkled camisole. "Clothes make people really passionate, so they want to have a little story attached to them," Rowley says.

When I was a child, the designations were rather straightforward: The skirt with rabbit heads for pockets was dubbed the Bunny Skirt, and the duffel coat purchased on a trip to New England was My Boston Coat. The titles now bestowed on what hangs in my closet are more evocative. There's the gray knit Shroud Dress, undoubtedly a copy of Death's costume in an early Ingmar Bergman film, and the Be True to Your School Jacket, DKNY's assurance that a woman out of high school a while can wear an English schoolboy's crested and piped blazer without looking ridiculous.

Well-known people with distinct style personas are a natural source of names for clothes. L.A. designer Taryn de Chellis aptly named the Elvis' Mother Dress a few seasons ago. It isn't hard to picture a cocktail number called Ivana's Revenge. (What was I thinking?) My friend Nancy took to wearing a comfy cotton dress on her weekend flea-market expeditions, and referred to that uniform as My Sunday Best. I showed a recent acquisition, a silk jersey dress with a tight bodice and a pastel botanical print to a friend who once worked at Vogue. "Ooooh," she squealed. "It's so Helen Gurley Brown." And it will henceforth be known as . * Sense of Style appears Thursdays in Life & Style.

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