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Neck and neck

Maybe the most stunning thing about the Balenciaga scarf is its price tag.

September 23, 2007|Melissa Magsaysay | Times Staff Writer

Only Nicolas Ghesquière could get away with charging almost $6,000 for something that in many countries you can pick up on a street corner.

True, the fringed, ethnic scarves he sent down the Balenciaga fall runway were rich with colors and adornments, some with bronze coins or relics attached at the hem. His preppy-gone-globe-trotting look owed everything to them; they made fashion gypsies out of girls in nothing more exotic than navy blazers and khaki jodhpurs.

But $5,595 for a scarf? Not when you can buy similar versions dip-dyed, ikat or even embroidered for just a few dollars. The trick is finding the right sunset colors and crafty quality, and tying it with the right casual touch.

Cost Plus World Market has the best array of ethnic scarves, all for less than $30. Some were meant to be sarongs, but if one is folded and gathered around the neck, no one will ever know it was meant as a bikini cover-up. A long navy scarf with a rust-colored center, speckled mustard design and soft fringe at the edge is the most like the Balenciaga original. There are several with metallic gold thread running through the pattern, which dresses up a look that's otherwise sherpa chic.

For Love 21, the accessories arm of the faster-than-you-can-blink fashion chain Forever 21, has jumped on the trend. Its selection is more desert trekker than Tibetan market, with woven kitchen plaid scarves ($6) that are a perfect shape to get a good bunch going when they are tied. The coed's favorite one-stop shop, Urban Outfitters, has a more rocker-edged array for $20 to $48. Online, stocks authentic and ornate scarves with intricate designs for just $14.95.

The alternatives may be a tiny fraction of the runway price, but they lack the richness of the fabric and the silky fringe strands with hefty coins and charms of the Balenciaga. So consider running to the fabric store, buying and adding your own fringe and maybe a couple of antique-looking trinkets to the edges. Look for a roll of soft, matte fringe; cut pieces the length of two sides of the scarf and run it through a sewing machine, tacking the fringe down to just two adjacent sides (do all four sides and you'll look like a lampshade). If you tire of the fringe, detach it with a seam ripper and wear the scarf, fringe-free, next season.

There's no major science to tying these scarves. The key is the cowl shape -- the bunched-up quality that drapes just right on the chest.

The best way to achieve this is to fold a square scarf at a diagonal, so that it is a triangle. Take the two ends and reach them around the back of your neck and tie them together in a loose double knot; the pointed part of the triangle should be sitting on your chest. It will look like a bandit's bandanna from an old western. The scarves with fringe look best just haphazardly thrown around the neck so the ends fall where they may.

And there it is, Ghesquière's fashion gypsy look, a kind of metaphor for the way people dress today, combining bits and pieces from their travels and who knows what else. Nicolas might even approve.


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