PLENTY OF PLEATS Skirts in a variety of styles, from subdued to bouncy, hold sway as wardrobe essentials

CHICAGO — Chicago--When a fashion director who travels around the world to ferret out fashion trends goes out on a limb and says, "The single most important piece to add to a fall wardrobe is . . . " you sit up and listen for the end of the sentence. Especially if you don't have to wait until fall to find the gem she's talking about.

Pleated skirts are the items that Joan Kaner believes are the absolute essentials for pepping up a wardrobe. "I'm bullish about pleated skirts," says Ms. Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus stores around the country, "because they change the whole silhouette with their movement, their mobility."


"They're great because they're good with anything from a motorcycle jacket to a blazer," adds Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction for all Bloomingdale's stores. "And, after all of the skin-tight skirts we've been seeing, they're the freshest things around."

The good news is that this isn't a one-season trend. "They're selling right now in rayons and chiffons for as little as $48," says Mr. Ruttenstein, adding, "We're getting some in for fall at $90 and $100."


"And it looks as though pleats are going to be strong continuing into next spring," according to Ms. Kaner, who says that there's an abundance of pleated skirts, shorts and culottes in the European and American designer collections shown recently for resort and holiday wear.

And there's really no bad news.

There are enough variations to suit most figures, with some styles featuring subtle or subdued pleats that should appeal to even the most sophisticated woman; and, of course, there are others that are bouncy enough to conjure thoughts of skipping schoolgirls.

Among winners in the fall collections singled out by fashion pros are those by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and for his own collection (some slit like flying panels, others showing only pleats at each side); Oscar de la Renta (knockouts in plaid for day or, for evening, in chiffon plaid covered with sequins); Gianni Versace (his very short cheerleader types "inspired many others," according to Mr. Ruttenstein); Louis Dell'Olio for Anne Klein (long jackets over long torso tops over a low burst of pleats). His will be the one that sets the pace, predicts Ms. Kaner, referring to his long zip-front jackets in bright marigold, purple, red or green teamed with contrasting skirts in the same colors.

Others to watch for: Calvin Klein's in earth-tone plaids; Marc Jacobs' pastel suits for Perry Ellis as well as his charming combination of blueberries and cream herringbone box jacket with a matching skirt but in a fluttery, filmy chiffon; Michael Kors' classic camels featuring wide box pleats and his pretty pinks featuring slim skirts.