Luxury leather

No list of investment-quality fashion acquisitions will be complete this season without luxury leathers. Designers have employed the most pliant, thinnest skins they could find and used them with the kind of skill and craftsmanship that is usually devoted to fine wools, silks, and velvets.

Wearing a skirt or a sweat-shirt-shaped top of angelskin suede that is soft as butter is going to be a new experience. Most women have associated leather with rugged outdoorsy sportswear or with the toughie brand of fashions inspired by the black leather-jacketed motorcycle gangland. The rich new leathers have no such connotations.

For one thing, they are surprisingly adaptable -- a selling point, since a good leather garment is pricey. Kasper for J. L. Sport's pale suede tunic, with a contrasting sash, retails for around $175; the full skirt in taupe suede to wear with it: $160.

Such separates will, however, give plenty of fashion mileage. The outstanding examples from Anne Klein can go right through the day. An aubergine suede top or a pair of olive calf trousers combines handsomely with wool jersey or tweed in a.m. and early p.m. hours. The same pieces work beautifully with metallic separates for after-dark festivities.

Anne Klein designers Donna Karan and Louis dell'Olio created gathered dirndls of black suede. They also used the thin skins for Zouave pants, a variety of draped tops, and wide cummerbunds. It was a lesson in proving that anything fabric can do, leather can do just as well.

Nearly every major designer has leather. Some, like the hide Bill Haire used for a tiered skirt, is pearlized. Some are metallicized in gold, bronze, or pewter. The appeal of gold leather was in fact so strong that several designers made it into harem pants, an Arabian Nights idea whose time seemed to have come in this season of opulence.

Adri made her leather statement with sleeveless cowl-neck tops. Calvin Klein piped edges of blanket wraps with calfskin to match the extra-wide belts which cinch the waistlines of his voluminous coats and dresses. Ralph Lauren has created frontier skirts, ruffle-trimmed blouses, and whole dresses of natural chamois, which will be a treat for the neighborhood cleaners.

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