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Understated, with attitude; Fashion: A European sense of style offers an individual greater options, says Ziba Franks of Phoenix


When she was a girl, Ziba Franks' family left Iran to live in Europe. There, she acquired a secure and understated sense of style that sets her apart but doesn't scream, "TREND ALERT!" Europeans are less beholden to fashion autocracy than Americans, where even in cosmopolitan cities, "the very wealthy all seem to blend together in their dress," says Franks, 31. The differences between Europe and American are paradoxical, she says. Europe is small, but fashion options are greater there, while in the United States, cookie-cutter shops in cookie-cutter malls are the rule.

As the mother of two young children, Franks, herself, spends many days on the crayon patrol clad solely in Gap. But the wife of Gregory C. Franks, a top executive in Merrill Lynch's Baltimore office, also has occasion to wear carefully selected pieces from European designers Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Moschino and Prada.

On Tuesday, Franks, of Phoenix, co-chairs this year's "Great Chefs" Dinner, an annual benefit for the Family Tree, a Maryland agency that focuses on the prevention of child abuse. This year, chef Alessandro Stratta will prepare a four-course dinner at Linwoods/ Due for the Merrill Lynch-sponsored event. For tickets, at $200, call 410-889-2300.

How does a sense of style evolve?

It's not a matter of being that fashionable or stylish or anything like that. It's a very personal thing that one develops: what looks good, the colors, the hair style. It's the package. It's an attitude. It's being comfortable about yourself.

Why do European designers primarily work for you?

It's a question of what looks good on me. I'm a size 0 now. American designers don't cut clothes that small. Even the 2s are too big. But Italian designers like Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino do make clothing that small. And I have quite a few Armani things. They are really just very basic, like a black suit with beautiful lines. I really believe it's truly forever. I can wear that jacket 10 years from now.

Is cost a factor?

I love fashion and I enjoy clothes. But if the price doesn't make sense to me, I can't do it.

Are you a recreational shopper?

No. I never go browsing. Ruth Shaw may call and say she has the new Dolce & Gabbana line in. I will go in and look and see. If it looks good, I may get it. The whole thing takes me 10 minutes. I belong to the Saks 5th Avenue Club, and I'll call ahead, and my personal shopper will have everything ready for me. I'll see if it's right or not and then I leave.

Do you have many opportunities to really dress up?

Occasions for evening dresses are far and few in between. I tend to get a lot of wear out of one or two. Separates are more useful. I do love to dress up for black tie, but fewer and fewer people do.

Do you have any cardinal "don'ts" for day-to-day dressing?

I'm anti-sweat pants. Even my little boy only wears them for his gym class and naps. No matter how hard you try, they still manage to look sloppy. Leggings, on the other hand, are kind of neat and just as comfortable.

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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