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By Design | FASHION / SENSE OF STYLE

Old Is Just a State of Mod

July 04, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes," Henry David Thoreau once wrote. Wonder how the sage of Walden Pond would have felt about old clothes, or old new clothes. Because some of the most endearingly goofy things around this summer are recycled styles that most people donated to their favorite thrift shop a few closet clean-outs ago.

In 1959, Lilly Pulitzer was a bored society wife who took to making simple shifts and capri pants from flowered cottons. Her fun-in-the-sun prints became the rage among Pulitzer's Palm Beach friends, including the young Jacqueline Kennedy. The perky play clothes were a dependable sign of summer in the East; women who frequented country clubs from Greenwich, Conn., to Shaker Heights, Ohio, amassed collections of "Lilly's" in the '60s and '70s. Now, new dresses and separates that look just like the originals can be found at Fred Hayman in Beverly Hills, priced from $75 to $175.

Several rungs down the socio-economic ladder, but every bit as steeped in nostalgia, is a group of low-waisted polyester and double knit bell-bottoms at Tag Rag in Beverly Hills. The never-worn pants, made in the mid-'70s, were discovered in a warehouse and rescued just in time to fulfill any burning desires ignited by designers' recent elevation of the nerd look. For those who feel authentic bad taste is more satisfying than a newly incarnated imitation, the delightfully awful slacks are $40.

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On the road: When most people think of risk-taking, it's bungee jumping or investing in an undercapitalized business that come to mind. But a real adventurer hands the keys to a pristine new car to a valet. Or turns luxurious luggage over to a commercial airline not known for its sensitive treatment of fine leather goods. Of course, beautiful bags will suffer by being bumped down life's hard road, but, as my grandfather used to say, "If you don't want to get run over by a trolley, don't leave the house."

The handmade leather and canvas bags by Holland Brothers of San Francisco, available at Fred Segal Destinations in Santa Monica, are the type of classic travel pieces that will acquire a patina with age. Their burgundy or cognac leathers are water-resistant, and a laminated coating on the taupe canvas (trimmed with leather) renders it waterproof. Prices range from $82 to $565.

Christie Brinkley puts a utility box usually used for fishing tackle to work as a makeup case and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has worn one of the small backpacks on "Seinfeld." For those who have everything and take it with them, roomy doctor bags are elegantly simple vessels waiting to be filled.

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Beauty Tip: For years, I. Magnin was one of the few places to get Creme de la Mer. The extra-rich moisturizer was developed by NASA physicist Max Huber, who suffered disfiguring burns in 1965 when rocket fuel exploded in his face. In his Canoga Park garage, Huber patiently stewed sea kelp, vitamins, eucalyptus, iron and calcium to produce a fermented broth that would soothe very sensitive skin. Huber died in 1991, but Estee Lauder bought his formula and continues to follow it, down to hand-packing the cream in 2-ounce jars, which sell for $155 at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.

* Sense of Style appears on Thursdays in Life & Style.

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