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By Design | FASHION / SENSE OF STYLE

Prada Won't Be Strung Along

November 21, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

In a perfect world, celebrities and designers would live in harmony, reaping mutual benefit from their alliance. Dream on, to borrow a sitcom title. Too often, the story of acquiring clothes for public appearances has been as messy as the worst Hollywood marriage, rife with broken promises and divided loyalties.

Before climbing into a limo bound for this year's Academy Awards, Sharon Stone slipped into a long skirt and old Gap turtleneck. Too bad that both Vera Wang and Valentino, at the star's request, had gone to considerable effort and expense to make special gowns for nominee Stone to wear that evening, and Diego Della Valle had created custom shoes to match.

Stone's behavior is far from unique. Gwyneth Paltrow was the Calvin Klein girl earlier this year, photographed at numerous premieres in slinky gowns furnished by the designer. Then she turned up on the cover of Vogue in a Ralph Lauren coat and took the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards dressed by Gucci. Whither fidelity? Out the dressing room window with projecting a consistent image?

To avoid being dumped into a garment-maker's chapter of the first wives club, some designers have recently insisted on prenuptial pacts. Prada, for example, agreed to provide "Romeo and Juliet" star Claire Danes with clothes for the film's premiere and publicity appearances. And just to make sure the 17-year-old star didn't on a whim substitute an Urban Outfitter's jumper for one of the outfits cut just for her, a letter of agreement specified the occasions on which she would wear Prada and its kid sister, Miu Miu, head to toe.

"We aren't sending boxes and boxes of clothes to Hollywood in a wild frenzy, hoping that we'll get some visibility," said Prada spokeswoman Leslie Johnson. "When we're asked to find something special for someone to wear, like for an appearance on [David] Letterman or to promote a film, we'll try to help out. The amount of work that goes into dressing people for something like a premiere is huge, but the return for us is also huge."

Dane's publicist, Cari Ross, had no problem with Prada's terms. "A lot of designers are very generous to celebrities. . . . When you work with a designer closely and over time, a relationship develops and the designer gets to know a person's personal style and can better help them express that. Then everyone wins."

*

Every Picture Tells a Story: Some clothes serve only to cover our nakedness and keep us warm. But the rare costume tells a story. A highlight of Miu Miu's spring collection was a group of gutsy, ribbed wool sweaters worn with ball-gown skirts of stiff cotton duck. So evocative was the combination of rough, navy pullovers with floor-length skirts that the models instantly became characters in a romantic narrative: A girl goes out on a summer evening in a sweeping, strapless dress. She and her beau leave the dance floor to walk on the beach. The evening has turned chilly.

"Do you have anything warm in the car, honey?" she asks.

He protects her with his old sailing sweater, creating a look at once fragile and sporty. Miuccia Prada described the oddly coupled skirts and sweaters as "aristocratic basics for summer on the beach."

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