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Spring 2001 NEW YORK COLLECTIONS

Menswear's Feminine Mystique

September 18, 2000|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITER

NEW YORK — Fellas, get ready to explore a softer side of style next spring. At least, that's what menswear designers want you, Big Guy, to do. After all, so many of you embraced those cropped pants this summer. You know, the ones women call pedal pushers.

Now, designers are hoping you'll go for the feminization of their spring 2001 menswear collections--softer silhouettes, fabrics and colors. These were the themes of just about every men's collection presented during the first few days of Fashion Week. Even women in the audience--from buyers to journalists to stylists--eyed the clothing for themselves, often exclaiming, "I'd wear that!"

Designers think the modern man wants European styling with American comfort: suits without button-down shirts, shirts without ties, trousers without pleats, shoes without socks. The well-cut, sophisticated suits, worn with sleeveless shirts or stylish T-shirts, offer new pulled-together looks for casual Friday.

Think Miami Vice 2001.

Designers certainly have, especially when it comes to reinventing colors for guys. There's still the trusted and true shades of navy, black and gray. But next spring's palette is mostly pastels--shades that brides go crazy for on their wedding day: violet, lilac, plum, seafoam, mint, blush and pink. Designers including John Varvatos, Joseph Abboud, Max Azria and Ralph Lauren definitely are moving away from the monochromatic Regis Philbin look for spring and going for bold prints, stripes, plaids and patterns in swirls and florals. Even pinstripes are, well, a stripe of a different color, some in pink, celadon and lilac--and not always vertical.

Silhouettes of suits--either six-buttoned double-breasted or three-, four- and five-buttoned single style--trousers and shirts have been softened. Fabrics such as silk, cotton, soft canvas, crepe, burlap, seersucker and linen--mostly in suits--and blends of these with just a touch of stretch, dominate.

Fewer designers are using the high-tech fabrics--neoprene and spandex, for example--that really never caught on with men, unless their bodies were cut and chiseled. Besides, who wants to sweat in polyester-based garments?

Soft and supple suede and paper-thin leather will be strong in trousers and coats. Set to make a comeback is the leisure jacket of the 1970s--an error of that era--in an updated interpretation with a looser silhouette and fit and sometimes sashed around the waist.

Lightweight sweaters--many of them cropped--are sheer enough to show off pecs. Several shirts are sleeveless and some even in black cotton eyelet. Necks are tieless. Feet are sockless, and shoes next spring have been replaced with what was the hottest footwear for women this past summer: sandals. They were worn with suits in several collections.

Other accessories include scarves, some tightly wound around the forehead as seen in the Pelle Pelle collection by Marc Buchanan, others loose around the neck shown by Azria or cowboy style around the neck as shown by Chris Serluco of NY Based. Belts too have been tweaked. Instead of slipping them through loops around the waist, they're worn as decoration, low on the hip.

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On Thursday, Varvatos made a memorable debut in his first spring collection. He designed relaxed looks of soft linen pinstriped suits, rumpled tuxedo shirts in dusty rose and lavender and earth-tone sweaters, suede coats and pants. "I wanted to be organic with this collection," said Varvatos, who will be at the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus on Thursday. "It's all about men being comfortable in their clothes again."

The BCBG men's collection, inspired by the colors and fabrics in the clothes worn by Catherine Deneuve in the movie "Indochine," was all about men having freedom and breaking the rules. "I don't want to transform my man into a clown with my clothes," said Max Azria of his collection shown Friday. "But men have to learn to have fun with their clothes. I look at my collection for men and I get a smile on my lips," said the Los Angeles designer, turning to a blush-colored silk burlap three-button suit jacket teamed with matching shorts and worn with a silk-cotton T-shirt and sandals.

The look he described as "a mix of American sportswear done in a European way, classy and sexy" included white linen short-sleeved shirts, cotton flat-front trousers, raglan-sleeved T-shirts, slim trousers, colored patent-leather jackets, cotton canvas printed jackets and three-quarter-length coats in moss suede, patent leather and white cotton canvas.

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