Spring is here, defying the calendar, and it's on parade all over Seventh Avenue and other parts of town. That's the way it is in fashion. The seasons come months in advance. New clothes being viewed by retailers and journalists now, over a two-week period, won't turn up in the stores before next March or April. By then it will be fall in the fashion orbit. In the meantime, the fashion-conscious may find wisdom in looking ahead. Those who do should be pleased to hear that American clothes for next season make sense and are generally free of gimmickry.
American designers aren't proposing any wild distortions -- such as hip padding -- the way some of their confreres did at the recent European openings. The call on this side of the Atlantic is for crisp fabrics, clean colors, and neat lines that stay close to the body, with fussy details kept to a minimum.
No two designers are alike, but simplified dressing predominated in the first week of showings here. Some designers drew on the big-band era, the idea being underscored as models in unadorned halter dresses with swing skirts came down runways to the sounds of Glenn Miller and Harry James. Slim little linens or cotton twills with turtlenecks and bare-shouldered cutaway sleeve treatments were at the Cathy Hardwick and Liz Claiborne shows. In a more sophisticated guise, the same style appeared in bright-c olored silk crepes at Carolyne Roehm's showing. It's a look that recalls the 1950s.
Jackets and shirts continue to be wide across the shoulders (the deep-armhole sleeve is still in evidence). But otherwise the silhouette is narrowing. Skinny skirts outnumber full ones. Big tops tend to be pulled in at the waist with broad cinches or ties. The sarong treatment is an ongoing favorite.
Adri used it as a hip wrap in soft suede dyed black, turquoise, or orange (the season's key accent color) to match her hopsack, linen, or silk shantung coordinates. Her separates include city shorts, as well as pants and tapered skirts, which she combines with knit halters or tank tops of glistening rayon and long, loose jackets. She presented her collection at home in her Lower West Side loft -- all-white, equipped with a Jacuzzi, and very modern, like her clothes.
In contrast, Ann Pinkerton mapped out a safari. Following a trail of greenery in her showrooms at the Fashion Atrium Building, guests trekked through exotic byways, observing models decked out in feathered masks and multitudes of African-inspired prints. Pattern mixing has seldom been so uninhibited.
At Mrs. H. Winter, big checked cottons paired with pin dots struck a quieter note. Workaday gray denim was upgraded to distinction, being used for low-flare coats and skirts with jersey hipbands. Raincoats, a specialty of this designer, came in a black plasticized mesh, long in length and full-sleeved.
Like many others, Liz Claiborne's new collection spans both spring and summer. (It will soon be marketed in China. She was opening an office in Shanghai on the day of her show.)
Her line is extensive, ranging from beach gear to what the young professional wants for the office. Besides black and white stripes played off against polka dots, there are watercolor floral cottons, pastel seersuckers, and wonderful Javanese batiks in offbeat hot pink with orange as well as navy with sand. Among her other offerings are cotton sun bras. She's done them in brilliant colors to accompany boxer shorts, Capri pants, or sarong skirts, as the occasion dictates. All her fashions have the fresh,
clean look everyone likes for the warm-weather months and come in the sort of no-problem shapes that make easy transitions from work to play.
Then again, maybe not quite everyone likes them. Some are going to be partial to Hollywood's Bob Mackie, reigning king of glitz, upholder of show-biz tradition. Mackie was the odd man out in a week of subdued fashions, providing megatons of glitter. His customers love it. Choosing from this collection, they could tango around in cascades of beaded fringe or could carioca the night away in outsize chick-a-boom-boom ruffles. Nothing simple about dressing like a star.
For an alternative way to make an impression, there is Pat Kerr, who presented an exquisite collection at the Hotel St. Regis. Her specialty: fragile-looking evening dresses and bridal gowns that are created of rare antique lace, silver embroidery, sparkled net, and frothy silk tulle. (A fairy-tale dress she designed for the bride in the ad for Est'ee Lauder's new perfume, Beautiful, was the grand finale of the show.)
Pat Kerr's black lace dinner dresses are midcalf sheaths with big puffy sleeves. Concoctions of ivory net and lace in the same style are intended for second weddings. The repeat brides' attendants -- their children -- were dressed as miniature editions of their mothers.