Magic fibersThis winter's weather has proved that...

Magic fibers

This winter's weather has proved that "miracle" fibers are magic. Last week, when one day was a balmy 62 degrees and the next was in the teens, a microfiber coat was the ideal solution.


Microfiber is the name for fabrics woven of polyester and nylon threads. The finest weave feels like silky velvet, is lightweight and yet wears like iron. Microfiber coats are water repellent and warm as toast, yet porous enough to allow the garment to "breathe" when the thermometer climbs.

Searle makes a quilted microfiber coat with a boxy shape. This versatile garment is perfect for average temperatures in winter or spring. When a button-in shell of fur or wool is added, the coat is an excellent foil against the deep freeze. Imagine a time when wholesale is a status symbol and one extreme, "shop till you drop," is replaced with another "drop shopping."


"It's the end of the world," suggests New York-based retail analyst Kurt Barnard.

No, it's the beginning of 1992.

This new spirit cannot be pegged only to the recession, or to the fact that aging baby boomers now have houses and families to support and less cash for grown-up toys. There's another, more fundamental source: shame.

"People are embarrassed by the amount they spent and bought in the late '80s," says Susan Hayward, senior vice president of Yankelovich Monitor, a New York-based marketing research company.

You can already see it in the way shoppers swap toll-free numbers for their favorite mail-order catalogs (of the J. Crew/Tweeds variety) and compare notes on the hottest in-and-out jeans and T-shirt stores. The moderate price tags and the pepped-up generic styling will make their offerings more than just popular in the new year -- it will make them status symbols. Already, people boast about wearing the labels, and lately, some have started sneering at those who don't.

"It's stupid to spend $80 on a DKNY T-shirt when you can get one at the Gap for $32," says Denise Cohen-Scher, fashion director for the California Mart. Dress for success these days translates into recessionary dressing for many men who must balance yearnings for style with the reality of bank balances. The economy was a hotter topic than necktie widths at the Men's Fashion Association meeting here this past weekend.

"Fashion has no priority today for men," says Ron Chereskin, menswear designer. "When they do shop, they're adding to their wardrobe. Men are finally learning to do what women have been doing for years -- using an existing wardrobe and buying items, learning about color and how to put clothes together. Men don't buy total looks anymore. The only total look he might buy is a suit."

Many designers and manufacturers were particularly worried about Macy's future. On the more positive side was talk about the GAP and its phenomenal sales with affordable, basic clothing. This has inspired designers to launch lower-priced lines to compete, resulting in a rash of new labels in stores with Roman numerals (Joseph Abboud's JAII line) or Studio Collection added to the designer name.


Chip Tolbert, fashion director of the association, says the message that consumers are sending to designers is "value and versatility." Other labels Mr. Tolbert used as examples of lines offering both style and a price break included Haggar, Perry Ellis Portfolio, John Henry, and Pendleton. Andrea Quinn Robinson, a former Vogue beauty editor, revitalized Revlon's Ultima II line of cosmetics when she joined the company. Now, Revlon has named her president of Visage Beaute, whose specialty is custom-made colors, and she has come up with an idea to expand that business.

She calls it "Made to Order." Customers will be offered a choice of 500 eye shadow colors, 500 lip colors and 200 cheek colors, which will be made up on the spot.

"With the custom line, you can spend an hour developing the color," she said. "With Made to Order, you can test the color on the spot and it can be made up in a few minutes from the recipe on the back of the tester. And it's not a major investment for the stores because it doesn't involve that many stock-keeping units. They need just the testers and the components."