Sold on Evita Women are being bombarded with the agressive marketing of a legendary woman who had no taste

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An aggressive red mouth, strong brows, brassy blond hair, flashy jewelry. We could be describing Madonna on her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. We could be describing Evita Peron's politically ambitious European grand tour in 1947.

The hype generated for Evita-the-movie, starring Madonna-the-mom as Eva-the-saint, is a tribute to the American genius for selling an idea sight unseen. The film will not open here until January, yet the fashion industry has already jumped ahead of the release date in anticipation of an Evita trend. October's Vogue cover touted the Madonna role as the next fashion force, and marketing promotions, spinoffs and copies have followed suit.

This Madonna/Evita symbiosis seems a natural for fashion marketing -- both women were touched by a genius for calling attention to themselves. Take the rosary as accessory: Evita used it to great effect in her public devotions; Madonna found it equally effective in her public exhibitions.

Now Bloomingdale's, the retail trendsetter, has installed in-store Evita boutiques featuring designs evocative of the Argentinian strumpet-turned-icon. They have tango dresses, and nipped-waist '40s suits and fussy furs.

Jewelry makers, including Carolee, Christian Dior and Erwin Pearl, have collections based on Evita's extravagant baubles. Estee Lauder has introduced a limited edition makeup line called The Face of Evita. Madonna's makeup artist and friend, Laura Mercier, also has launched her own Madonna brand colors.

Top hair stylists are brushing up on tricks to achieve Eva Peron's signature chignon. The folks who invented the Hairdini, an updo gadget seen on TV, are ready to show you how to do it yourself on a budget.

Will women buy into this retro rerun? If Hollywood Pictures is betting a billion that we're again hungry for a big-budget musical, we may also swallow the idea of a return to some old-fashioned glamour.

"We did a glamour poll in November and Eva Peron was nowhere," says Donald Ziccardi of Ziccardi & Partners Advertising, which represents powerful clients interested in upscale merchandising. In the same poll, repeated 10 days ago, American women listed Eva Peron as the third most glamorous woman in history. In history! She followed Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn. Of those queried, however, only 1 percent had any idea of the role Eva Peron played in the events of the 20th century. No one expects fashionistas to be history scholars, but that 1 percent is very telling. "The turn-around suggests that the Evita hype is working," Ziccardi says, although he expects the Evita furor to burn itself out quickly. He does, however, believe that we are again ready to embrace glamour.

"Our definition of glamour has changed. In the glitzy '80s, glamour acquired a negative association to conspicuous consumption. Glamour went underground and hid for a while, to be recognized only by insiders." Now, Ziccardi says, his polls show we miss that emotional flash.

Eva Peron had that. Her real story has more drama than any Andrew Lloyd Webber soap operetta could ever package. An illegitimate and lonely child born in the Argentinian provinces, she lost herself in movie dreams. At 15 she ran away with a tango dancer to the big city where she met hunger and homelessness.

She survived on bit acting parts and the kindness of gentlemen. One of them, Juan Peron, who was twice her age, made her his mistress and later his wife. He rose to become president, she the first lady. The poor worshiped her largesse and charities. She fought for voting rights for women and meddled in politics. She died young and miserably of cancer at 33 in 1952. She was also somewhat of a monster.

Some investigators say the orphanages, schools and clinics she established were paid for by the treasures purloined by the Nazis. The poor idolized her anyway; they loved her common language, her blondness, her jewels, her affectations.

She had glamour and style, but abominable taste. Who was to guide her? Although she was acceptable mistress material, the Argentinian social elite snubbed her. She had an appetite for lots of flounce, gaudy hats and pretentious jewelry.

That appetite for jewels could not be appeased. In the recent biography "Eva Peron," Alicia Dujovne Ortiz describes how Evita ate jewelry. Because of a predisposition to plumpness, Eva dieted and nearly starved herself, so she literally tasted, licked and chewed her jewelry like it was candy. All the candy she wanted.

"When we researched the Peron jewelry designs, we went through hundreds of photographs and in every one Evita was wearing very visible, very gaudy jewelry," says Carolee Friedlander, whose company has introduced a five-strand graduated pearl Evita necklace -- one of Evita's more discreet pieces.

"Her jewelry makes sense. She came from a very poor family and hoarded jewels. She was there to flaunt -- I've arrived; I can have these," Friedlander says. "Frankly I don't see '40s retro clothing taking off again; women don't want the constriction. However, accessories are a wonderful way to heighten that look."

Fashion maven Ruth Shaw did not buy into the Evita look for her store in Cross Keys, and she does not expect to see a dramatic Evita influence at clothing retail. "Evita was of the lower classes and very overdone," says Shaw. "Madonna on the other hand looks fabulous."

Mortal modern women may have a difficult time making an Evita look fit.

"It's ridiculous -- high heels, hats and gloves. Madonna has a fabulous body so all those tight-waisted peplum suits, those hats, work for her," says Shaw. "On the average woman, those clothes and that face look like something dragged out of the attic."

Shaw recommends Evita fashion in small doses. What can be translated may be the new strong makeup. A large piece of estate costume jewelry can also be interesting. Some of the fitted jackets could be combined with a long straight skirt or a slim pant.

"As a star Madonna has found her look," says Shaw. "The average modern woman had best leave costumes alone."

Playing Evita

Styling directions for women who want to try out an Evita scenario:

Become a blonde. Sweep hair into a bun. If you have enough length, gather it into a ponytail, twist and pin. You can also buy instant chignons and tresses at your local neighborhood wig stand.

Paint a strong, visible mouth. The lipstick doesn't have to have an Evita/Madonna endorsement, just a real red color. Use a visible powder finish. Evita had perfect skin and used virtually no makeup except lipstick. Her dark brows were not drawn, just natural brunette.

Wear a brooch -- as big as possible -- preferably done up in rhinestones and colored crystals. Flower spray designs are particularly in keeping with vintage Evita.

Find a fitted jacket in the thrift stores where the prices are right. Wear it with the pin.

Dare to wear your grandmother's muskrat coat and tell the truth when asked if it's faux.

Wear a hat with a nose-tip veil. We dare you. If you get compliments, you're a fashion natural.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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