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Skating ingenue turns sophisticated


Kristi Yamaguchi's name conjures up a swirling image of skirts, sequins and silver skates, but that image is about to change.

Soon you'll see that shy smile turn into a very knowing look, the ingenue image give way to a sophisticated lady and the princess pose take a punk-chic turn. Yamaguchi goes through these chameleon changes and others in her new role as spokeswoman for acetate fibers.

A preview of the 20-year-old Olympic gold medalist's turn from skating to modeling ran earlier this month in a six-page spread in Women's Wear Daily, the clothing industry trade publication.

The general public will get its first glimpse of Ms. Yamaguchi modeling designs by Carolina Herrera, Jessica McClintock, Sue Wong and others in the October issues of Elle and Vogue magazines (which hit the newsstands next month).

Ellen Sweeney, public relations manager for Hoechst Celanese, the world's largest acetate producer and the company bankrolling the image campaign, says Ms. Yamaguchi was approached after her Olympic victory because "we thought she'd be perfect for our image.

"When we first saw her and met her, we thought she was cute. We liked her clean-cut image, but in shooting the ads we realized she's really beautiful."

The only problem so far has been in fitting the skater's petite frame. "She say's she's a size 2, but she's really a size zero," Sweeney says. "She weighs 92 pounds and most of the 2's are too big."

Many designers eager to participate in the campaign, including Nicole Miller, are fitting their designs specifically for her. "We're building a wardrobe for her in evening wear and daytime clothes; she must have 100 pieces now," Sweeney says. "She's under contract to us and she wears acetate for all her public appearances."

While Yamaguchi's job is to increase public awareness of acetate, Sweeney denies the fiber is in any need of a sales boost.

"It's a hot fiber already and that's why Kristi's so good," Ms. Sweeney says. "We're getting publicity and people are aware that top designers are using it. We're not trying to get in with designers, we're already there."

The initial ads showcase fashions made with acetate fabrics, but don't explain the fiber itself. "The basic ingredient is wood pulp, which rayon also is," she says.

"It's a natural fiber we manufacture, whereas polyester, which we also make, comes from petroleum."

Even though the public part of the campaign hasn't kicked in, industry interest has followed the WWD ads.

"Calls are pouring in," says Dave Lyttle, marketing manager for acetate at Hoechst Celanese.

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