A gem of an ideaAt first glance,...


A gem of an idea

At first glance, Precis might be a jewelry store: The windows glow with hues of turquoise, garnet, topaz and citrine. . . . No, they're not gems, they're shoes, but they're jewels nevertheless: pumps, mules, boots, flats in every imaginable shape and color. There are plain shoes, shoes with cutouts or studs, shoes with zippers and laces, shoes with sequins, shoes with heels in every style and height.

"Our customers are very fashion-oriented," says Paula Hite, special project coordinator for the St. Louis-based Edison Brothers Stores Inc., Precis' parent. "We try to represent all the new looks." However, she adds, though the look is upscale, the prices are not. Most of the shoes are priced between $30 and $70.

The store also carries accessories -- handbags, tights, jewelry -- in a setting that incorporates post-modern fixtures, triple-screen music videos, gilded cherubs and eclectic chairs in styles reminiscent of Mission and French garden furniture.

The store, in Towson Town Center, is one of 17 across the country. It's the first in Maryland, though there's one at Tyson's Corner, Va. Besides its own Precis line, the store carries shoes by Esprit, Keds, Sam & Libby and others. Paris is off on a hayride. Left behind at the spring couture shows are the usual luxurious trimmings of satin ribbons and lace. Instead, the braids, edgings, fringes and accessories are mostly of straw or raffia. In the sensitive fingers of couture artisans, these materials have been transformed into gilded objects. The prevailing whim is to dip the straw into gold paint.

Every designer seems to have at least one pair of gauntlets with straw cuffs. And at Christian Lacroix's presentation, the big-brimmed farmer-style hats glistened with their lacquer finish. Even the metal fastenings on his handbags were shaped like wrapped strands of straw.

Gianni Versace's models sashayed down the runway wearing over-the-top outfits, many bristling with radiantly hued raffia. (The program notes implied a Hawaiian connection, but in the hands of this ebullient designer they were a far cry from the classic hula costume.)

At Jean-Louis Scherrer's show, the tops of evening gowns were beautifully composed of natural raffia interspersed with wooden beads. At Dior, Gianfranco Ferre even managed to create a sleeveless jacket out of a large-brimmed straw hat. It cannot be described; it has to be seen.

For the Chanel collection on Tuesday, Karl Lagerfeld went a step further: he showed sheer skirts with the hems painstakingly shredded to flutter like straws in the wind.

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