What's a girl to do? Everywhere one looks - Milan, London, New York - seems awash in a sea of menswear. Next fall, we are told, we will be comfortable in trousers and shirts and big coats, maybe even a tie or two, and certainly no high heels.
Then what is designer Arabella Pollen - one of Britain's ''rising young stars ,'' according to the London fashion press - doing parading her models down the runways of Studio 54 in short, tight skirts, black turtlenecks, and dangling, rhinestone earrings?
Presumably cutting a swath that is vaguely reminiscent of the '60s, more than a little touched by whimsy, and definitely her own vision.
Admittedly, Ms. Pollen's winter collection, shown in London and New York this spring, is a bit hit-or-miss. It is only her third showing here, and the large New York stores have yet to snap up her collection in a big way. As a rule, American buyers shy away from the heavy, wool tweeds that are characteristic of many British designers. While Pollen's flirty, fun clothes are of undoubted appeal to the young, sophisticated crowd - including the Princess of Wales - that follows this tousled, blond designer from London to New York (private orders are reported to be strong), she intends to bring only an edited collection to New York next season.
Vowing at her last show here that she was ''tired of dirty grays,'' Pollen has this season come up with a revival of Schiaparelli colors. Working directly with Scottish weavers, she has produced wools that are a far cry from traditional, earth-toned tweeds. Her color spectrum currently focuses on black, purple, green, and burgundy all done in knit jerseys and wool plaids for day and velvet and grosgrain for evening.
As for the clothes, they are by turns slouchy, skin-tight, or just plain boxy - but never androgynous. Skirts are short and extremely narrow at the knees. Wearers should be ready to mince. Trousers are still pegged, and jackets looked oversized, but not sloppy. In the show, black turtlenecks were worn with practically everything, as were low-heeled black pumps and the ever-present rhinestone earrings. It was a mixed look that sometimes evoked a young Grace Kelly - shawl color coat and turban-style hat - or a punk Donna Reed - pink wool shirtwaist, leopard print buttons, black leather belt, and black turtleneck.
Green jersey jumpsuits looked comfortable and offbeat, although possibly of limited appeal. But most of the daytime suits were typically tweedy and heavy, despite the flashy colors. Cut as tight as they were, they looked even more uncomfortable. But Pollen's slouchy, double-breasted coat dresses - while not exactly an original fashion statement - managed to make the wools look sleek and sophisticated. One of the best was done in a burgundy wool with a white running stitch throughout. Emerald sleeves and a wide green hip belt contrasted as did tiny slash pockets lined in purple wool.
Belts and hats - also Pollen-designed accessories - were very much in evidence. Hats ranged from the Kellyesque turban to a padded pillbox to the flying-saucer style fast becoming a Pollen haberdashery trademark. Wide, color-coordinated belts rode the hips, reminiscent of Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre's recent look. Narrow, jewel-toned snakeskin belts - some at the waist, some slung over the shoulder bandoleer style - were especially appealing.
Details that didn't work included gimmicky bits of contrasting colored jersey inset at trouser ankles and sideseams and sleeve elbows. Beltless waistbands and covered buttons seemed the product of somebody's home-economics class. As for evening wear, most of the clothes were similar to the day style - jumpsuits, short skirts, pegged trousers, and a variety of tops. Only the coat dresses gave way to beltless, knee-length chemises. And wool plaid yielded to a black snakeskin print jersey and somber-toned velvets. The models' chunky crystal necklaces and wacky head scarves kept the possibly dull black, brown, and burgundy separates au courant.
As an alternative, Pollen also cut her evening wear in the satiny grosgrain. It's a rich-looking fabric she has used before, and this season black velvet hearts punctuated the surface. They added an aggressive touch of whimsy to otherwise simple skirts and jackets. A black bustier top dress looked striking - slinky and fun, though maybe a bit chilly for midwinter.
But best of show was a lush, brown velvet floor-length evening dress. Graced with wild ruffles at the shoulders and exaggerated hip gathers, the dress was a knockout. It looked rich and young at the same time - exactly the way Ms. Pollen , dressed in black tennis shoes and a white P-O-L-L-E-N sweat shirt, looked when it was her turn on the runway.