Designer-inspired fashions at bargain-basement prices

Many companies do it. But only one company brags about it. This company says it owes its fashion inspiration to such designers as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne, Perry Ellis, and others.

The firm, Russ Togs, doesn't want to call its creations ''copies,'' nor does it like the word ''knockoff.'' It prefers terms such as ''designer inspired.''

The happy fact is that women can now buy these ''designer-inspired'' fashions at about one-tenth of the price of the originals. Credit goes to Maxine Forman.

''Everybody does it. I just talk about it,'' says Ms. Forman, who was dressed in an Anne Klein mauve suede dress when interviewed. ''I wear the originals and later give them to our design team to work with. People often say, 'Look at what Maxine is wearing. That's what the company will be doing next season.' ''

''Why should a woman with fashion flair have to suffer because she can't find what she wants in her price range?'' says Ms. Forman, senior vice-president of the Russ Division of Russ Togs.

For fall, Russ has done a mid-calf tartan skirt, inspired by a Perry Ellis design. The skirt is tagged at $34. (The Perry Ellis original sold for $320.) It's teamed with a jabot blouse and double-breasted, hand-knit cardigan, both adaptations of Ellen Tracy creations. The blouse is $32, the cardigan $45.

Naturally, there is a difference in the fabrics. Most fall originals are wool. The Russ versions are apt to be done in wool/polyester blends.

It's not unusual for the company to sell as many as 36,000 skirts in one style. Such stores as Jordan Marsh, Filene's, and Bloomingdale's carry the line.

Do the designers complain?

''We never hear from them. Besides, everybody does it - we just admit it. We have an entirely different market. After all, how many women can afford the originals?'' says Ms. Forman.

One of the new trends in the company's fall collection is in length. ''We've dropped the hemline to mid-calf. We're proving again that you can have both fashion and moderate prices. Women today don't want to, or can't, spend large amounts of money. But they want to look good and fashionable.''

Ms. Forman suggests the following fashion tips:


* A classically styled suit in a neutral color such as camel, gray, navy, black. One that can be worn with almost any blouse. You'll be able to mix and match the suit with different skirts, jackets, pants, and blouses, to dress it up or down.

* A textured suit, herringbone or tweed, for less formal office or day wear.

* A dressy dress in a solid or a pattern that complements your suit jacket.

* A two-piece dress in a solid color or print. You can mix it with other pieces.

Skirts: Have hemlines hit just below the knee. This length is always in style. (The newer, longer skirts make good wardrobe alternatives.)

Blouses: Be sure your jacket sleeves hit at the wristbone. Allow between three-quarters to one-half inch of your blouse cuff to show.

Dresses: For prints, stay with conservative smaller patterns. These will go best with your jackets. The same applies to solid color dresses. Two-piece dresses can be used to mix and match.

Accessories: Be creative yet conservative. Scarfs done in muted paisleys, stripes, and floral prints team well with many outfits.

As Ms. Forman says, ''A few well-chosen outfits, carefully mixed and complemented by a range of attractive coordinates, will make you look like a million - no matter what your budget.''

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