Slip-sliding into '92 Lingerie looks show in many collections


Valentino presented one. So did Bill Blass, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein.

They all showed versions of a slip dress in their recent ready-to-wear collections. So many New York and European designers included lace dresses, sheer skirts and diaphanous wraps in their shows it looked as though there was a universal directive mandating lacy lingerie looks for spring.

Of course, there isn't such a thing as a seasonal design directive. The impetus came from consumers. Yves Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein were not designing in the dark when they created almost identical lace slip dresses their customers had already indicated their willingness to buy them. And Klein and Saint Laurent had experimented with lingerie looks in previous collections with great success.

The business of fashion is exactly that a business and designers hedge their bets every season. They design with an eye on the balance sheets and the fashion action in the streets and the stores. They consider their best sellers from past seasons and speculate on what their competitors will be doing in the coming one. It's no wonder, then, that they come up with similar looks. Remember 1988 the year of the pouf dress? Or how about all the plaid now saturating stores?

Well, for next spring and summer, one of the most dominant looks is clothing that bears a marked resemblance to lingerie.

Here's how it happened.

Lingerie-inspired ready-to-wear did not just blossom on the runways. The fashion cycle of underwear as outerwear has been building for some time and has yet to run its course.

Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report, says it all started with Madonna and designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Most people probably remember Madonna's early days of black roots and black bustiers. She influenced a decade of MTV fashion with that look.

Few but the most rigorous of fashion trackers remember Gaultier's original ruby-red velvet bra top with the conically accentuated cups that he showed for spring 1988. But its pink satin sister is seared onto the memory banks of millions. Madonna wore it to fashion fame on her "Blonde Ambition" tour in 1990. When the designer and the diva combined forces, they made an indelible mark on the rest of the design community.

"Sex is always a best-selling fashion item. It made headlines when Gaultier first showed it, but Madonna used the power of the media to drive it home to the youth population. She made it OK to wear innerwear as outerwear," Millstein says.

Robert Schlaepfer has a different spin on Madonna's influence. The fabric manufacturer who has been supplying the designer with lace fabrics for years acknowledges the roles played by Gaultier and Madonna, but he believes it was the Madonna wanna-bes who made underwear as outerwear a major fashion trend.

"Fashion is not born it comes into being," Schlaepfer says. "Gaultier is not considered a leading fashion designer. He is a lively and funny guy who likes to shock the petite bourgeoisie. His idea of wearing a corset on the outside was crazy. But he only feels trends, he doesn't make them. It was the youngsters who took a liking to the trend and made it come into being."

Indeed, take a look around any of the large department stores and you'll see acres of bustiers. They're being pushed as the answer to any holiday dressing dilemma. "The customers are buying them because sex is selling now. It is also a sign of the recessionary times. These items are accessories and it is less expensive to buy an accessory than it is to buy a jacket," Field says.

The 35-plus crowd did not take to the music video-style of dangerous-looking underwear they preferred to keep their lingerie under wraps. But they were attracted to the merchandise that was appearing in stores and in the Victoria's Secret catalog. Their purchases of pretty little nothings, combined with the sales of the wanna-bes' bra tops, boosted the sales figures of the lingerie manufacturers.

While their younger sisters were buying studded bra tops, older, wiser and well-heeled women began to embrace slip dresses. Here was a lingerie-style garment they felt comfortable wearing.

Calvin Klein showed one in his spring and summer 1989 collection that turned out to be one of the season's best sellers. It was strikingly simple, a strapless dress made of gold and silver metallic lace. It became a signature look that he has incorporated in each successive collection.

The time was ripe. And designers responded. Why so many of them chose the exact same fabrics and interpretations this season, is, like the origins of the trend, open to speculation.

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