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FASHION

The Well-Dressed Hippie

Three decades later, '60s styles are all the rage, but with a chic twist. The rich and famous of Malibu are taking the look and calling it their own.

April 16, 1998|KYLE RODERICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While mega-shouldered 1980s power suits are mercifully dead, and '70s gaudy disco looks lie dormant, Summer of Love-inspired 1960s fashions endure to this day.

In small pockets of Malibu, a few stores are triumphantly dressing customers around theworld who want to look like rich, but tasteful, hippies.

The current spectrum of retro-1960s styles brings this fashionable aspiration within reach of most women, allowing them to boomerang through barriers of time, space and lifestyle. Yuppie moms, girls too young to know what happened at Woodstock, matrons gliding through menopause undaunted are outfitting themselves at Malibu boutiques like Atlantis Clothing Cafe, Bu Bayou and Theodore Beach. While these are West Coast beachheads of rich-hippie fashion, far-flung parallel sources include New York's newly opened Tracy Feith boutique in SoHo, and the ultra-expensive London Shop, Voyage.

Hippie chic clothes are vibrant, comfortable, versatile and dramatic. According to Bu Bayou's owner, Gaye Rappaport, "There's a certain kind of woman who, regardless of age, size or income, likes wearing designs that are alive with artistic, cross-cultural or romantic bohemian influences."

Rappaport, a former model and swimwear designer, says that most of her customers "come from all over L.A. and range in age from 16 to 60." She also services a sizable out-of-town clientele. "Women from as far away as Nebraska and Florida who first visited as tourists call up and ask me to send Polaroids of new fashions," she says. "Every day I ship orders all over the country via UPS."

A lot of women out there, Rappaport says, "dress wildly even though they live and think conservatively."

On a recent visit to Bu Bayou, this truism was confirmed by a customer in her mid- to late 30s. With power-sculpted abs revealed by low-waisted bell bottoms and a cropped, tight T-shirt, she chose a $28 Bu Bayou label ribbed-cotton tank imprinted with a Technicolor Virgin of Guadalupe. Next came a $350 lilac hip-hugging cotton sarong patterned with cosmic purple whirls, designed by Whistles. She topped this off with one of Ginny Johnson's $110 navel-baring X-form blouses sewn from floral-patterned lilac and fuchsia 1940s silk scarves.

While her purchases were being rung up, she tried on a delicate belt made of stainless-steel guitar strings. Contemplating this jewelry encircling her tanned, toned midriff, she demurred, without apparent irony, "But I can't wear something that's so suggestive. I'm a mom!"

Rappaport shrugged philosophically and turned to help an attractive gray-haired customer who placed an advance order for a pair of $98 black cotton and lycra pants enlivened by dragon heads emblazoned across the pelvis and derriere, as well another pair with mermaids cavorting the length of each leg.

Sitting directly across the Cross Creek Shopping Center from Bu Bayou is Atlantis Clothing Cafe. It sells up-market pearl and colored-stone jewelry but specializes in a trippy blend of lush silk, satin and embroidered velvet garments. While teenage girls are buying silk velvet blouses here by Josephine Loka ($118), their mothers are wistfully eyeing Gabriela Dare to Wear's velvet, silk and cotton separates, and suits appliqued with antique embroideries ($190 to $850).

Klara Miracle's silk velvet dresses and $1,600 silk velvet capes are particularly appealing--and ageless. These come in black and jewel tones and are appliqued with 16th- and 17th-century ecclesiastical embroidery fragments, such as gold-threaded fleurs-de-lis or ornate purple crosses.

"We've sold similar capes to Barbra Streisand, Demi Moore, Stevie Nicks and Barbara Hershey," reports owner Marie Knoos. Although Atlantis numbers many celebrity clients, the clothes are sized and styled for various ages, sizes and incomes.

"The main feedback that I get on our clothes is that they're comfortable, romantic and sensual," Knoos says. "While some of our customers have been dressing this way for most of their lives, we also get career women, grandmothers and young girls who value simple, richly colored, flowing styles in soft fabrics."

Trying on these comfortable clothes may lead one to quickly embrace these fashion values. With St. Vincent's solid-colored sheer silk chiffon T-shirts and tunics ($100 to $128), long-sleeved, ultra-soft cotton T-shirts in psychedelic prints by Custco of Barcelona ($49.50) and accessories such as feather boas, Atlantis conjures up the wardrobe spirit of 1960s counterculture clotheshorse Janis Joplin. One can easily imagine the blues rocker wearing Mo & Su's semi-sheer, vibrant Chinese-inspired separates. Their tangerine and canary yellow backgrounds are festooned with delicate red paisleys and powder blue and lilac Chinese flowers. Well-tailored with a hidden side zipper and priced at $158, the wide-legged pants can be topped with matching blouses or Chinese-style jackets.

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