American designers are taking a gentrified stance for next spring and summer. They've been busy polishing up the ladylike look, slimming down the silhouette, brightening the landscape with cheerful colors, and drawing on yesteryear for a fresh appearance. There's no wallowing in nostalgia, but the mood reflects the times when women dressed more carefully. Although the short skimmer dress, a prevalent style, is associated in memory with the days of ``Camelot,'' the latest incarnation is softer and it doesn't have a retro feeling. Among other miscellaneous restorations noted in the second week of showings: little white collars, figure-molding matte jerseys, halter tops, Capri and palazzo pants, ornamental cashmere cardigans, large mother-of-pearl buttons, and a resurgence of classic navy, once the harbinger of spring. These, too, are employed in new ways in line with 1980s minimalism.
The decorative cashmere cardigans at Bill Blass and Ralph Lauren couldn't be called throwbacks. The overall effect at Lauren -- gentle shirtdresses in neat florals, for instance -- is romantic, but the sweaters are modern. So are the crested navy and the ivory flannel pants. The fronts of his V-neck cardigans are of silk printed in miniature houndstooth checks, a quiet plaid, or one of the flowered patterns. Other cashmeres -- halters, tanks, one-shouldered styles -- top long silk skirts or wide pants.
Snappy contrasting linings, bandings, panels of lace, and houndstooth patterns of sequins distinguish the Blass cardigans. He showed cashmeres around the clock -- with everything from chalk-striped flannel to a paisley watered taffeta. Lots of his sweaters, as well as suits and dresses, have off-white Peter Pan collars. When the models at Blass weren't in little round collars, they wore three-strand pearl chokers. Some went so far as to carry long kid gloves with his clean-cut suits and dresses, which m ay be a sign of more mannerly times.
Like most skirts for next season, the ones at Blass are lean and little. Exceptions are seen at Pauline Trigere, who showed sweeping full-circle cuts for coats and dresses, and at Lauren. His lengths -- below the calf -- seem light and graceful since his fabrics are flowing silks, often in his new brown-and-white combinations. At Albert Nipon, where the Peter Pan collar never went away, skirts are easy. They have settled just below the knee for day, a touch longer for later. The collection has fewer dropped waists and blousons, with a general slimming down the rule.
Oscar de la Renta has dancey swing skirts for evening (both he and Lauren had Frank Sinatra, in the lilting arrangements by the late Nelson Riddle, on their sound tracks), and he likes side-draped sarong styles for his red, blue, pink, or emerald jersey dresses. But for day, de la Renta's suit skirts, topped by broad-shouldered jackets, are short and snug. The suits, defined at the waist with wide belts, come in tiny checks and in powdery pale taupe or peach. Many blouses have little white collars . The look is pretty, but those tight little skirts might be the kind that ride up fast. Time will tell.
All in all, the gathered skirt was practically nonexistent in the collections. Geoffrey Beene and Perry Ellis used to be strong on dirndls, but both say a lot of fullness looks out of date to them now. Beene's matte jerseys cling like the dresses Carole Lombard wears on the late-late show. His black linen skinny dresses, trimmed with big white pearl buttons, look as slick as the proverbial whistle but wouldn't allow much moving around. The city shorts at Ellis have deep pleats at the top, but his lines have otherwise been slenderized.
Ellis is in a Chinese frame of mind, so navy, indigo blue, and white -- along with other Chinese porcelain colors -- were starred on his runway. Pearl-buttoned black jersey dresses were pulled in at the waist with obi wraps. Models wore chopstick-like hair ornaments, and dragons, fish scale, and coromandel motifs figured prominently. There's a group of intarsia sweaters in white with blue dragons, plum blossoms, or fretwork. Even more elaborate are the colorful handknits inspired by Famille Rose porcela ins.
Adrienne Vittadini, another favorite with the sweater-collecting public, is also on the Far Eastern wavelength. She, too, has handknits in blue and white and in big rose medallion patterns, as well as gold metallics inlaid with Chinese symbols. But what may well be the hits here are the splashy black and white Indonesian-inspired batiks. They include a slouche pullover as well as cotton halters and sarongs.
Louis dell'Olio's collection for Anne Klein keeps up the firm's tradition for man-tailoring and jackets are lengthier, more padded and voluminous than elsewhere. The designer has, however, turned out what is possibly the smallest of little dresses in a season when dresses are being pared down to little nothings. His version has the requisite cutaway shoulders, hip-grazing cut, and knee-baring skirt, and was shown in silver-gray jersey. That's a color he likes. For evening, it's replaced by platinum. His
separates covered with platinum paillettes are special.
Mary McFadden's offerings are never directional (she pays little attention to trends), but she follows her colleagues by sticking to a palette of clear and vivid colors. (No one's using murky tones for spring.) Her famous pleated evening dresses come in color blocks of brilliant hues. Decorative touches were drawn from Mogul designs.
New Yorkers are enthralled by the South Americans performing in ``Tango Argentino'' on Broadway. So short tango dresses suddenly seem imperative. Blass has them in pale pastel crepe with fluid lines -- d'ecollet'e tops, with low pleats or flares. It's one of those old-but-new fashions that should be getting around again come spring, or even sooner.