Recycling on the Runways: A Fashion Pastiche in Europe

Ready-to-wear designers show knack for piecing together unusual fabrics, revisiting historic eras

RECYCLING is the big message in European Xfashion for next fall and winter. The French call it recuperation or recup. The Italians call it riciclaggio. In both languages, it's the one link between the avant-garde and the old guard.

In Paris, young designers such as Martin Margiela reuse second-hand or bargain-basement clothes the French call fripe by taking them apart and putting them together again as creative patchworks. Or they may boil old woolens to create a heavy overcoat-quality wool felt, or chop off the bottoms of men's shirts and undershirts, sewing them to the bottom halves of old knit tube dresses.

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons brings the recup look to artistic heights with bias-cut dresses that combine inlays of knits and woven fabrics in alternating bands.

She merges new and old, masculine and feminine in such outfits as sheer black button-front dresses with bodices sewn to heavy tweed sleeves and shoulder extensions that look like they once belonged to a man's worsted jacket.

The old guard is into recycling of another order: the restoration, in whole or in part, of costume ideas from the past. Historical links

In chronological order, here are the periods influencing European fashion:

* 2001 BC, where caveman furs are interwoven, knitted, patched, and sometimes just glombed-on in Fendi's fur collection by Karl Lagerfeld.

* Medieval Europe, where long, close-fitting knit Maid Marian dresses with sleeves that bell from elbow to wrist are reinvented by Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia, and panne-velvet Camelot dresses with laced-together necklines reappear at Prada.

The monks of the Middle Ages also inspire the French. Karl Lagerfeld gives his spiffy signature collection of streamlined suits medieval helmets, and Jean-Paul Gaultier updates the medieval costumes of Hasidic Jews, offering big, platter-like fur rabbinical hats, yarmulkes, and fake forelocks.

* The 18th century is reiterated in frock coats and long lace cuffs (manchettes in French) that starred in the recent haute-couture collections. Madame Recamier's Empire-seamed dresses are revived at Gucci and Cerruti, and Marie Antoinette's milkmaid dresses from Versailles are skimmed-over again at Dolce e Gabbana.

At the end of the 18th century, Beau Brummel, who invented shoe polish and changed his clothes three times a day, always made sure the points of his starched collar stood high on either side of his face. He's the role model of the season, especially the latter-day versions by Gianfranco Ferre in both his signature collection and the one he designs for Christian Dior.

* The Edwardian era is memorialized with dandies in puff-sleeved pinstriped suits or brocade frock coats that swell their necks (that's where the expression "the swells" comes from) in starch-stiffened white collars at Dolce e Gabbana.

* The 1920s are revisited in fringe-tiered dresses at Chloe. And the '30s are reinvented by Sonia Rykiel, whose fluid knits and bias-cut evening clothes earned raves from buyers.

* Screen sirens from the '40s. All those movie goddesses from MGM are up in lights again at Thierry Mugler. His new knit collection is especially noteworthy, including gripper-closing twin-sweater sets Lana Turner would envy.

* The decade of the '70s refuses to die. This is the third season that patchworks, crochets, love beads, Mongolian-lamb trims, and feather boas strut their Superfly stuff. The best are at Dolce e Gabbana. Maxi coats and hot-pants are still hot at Byblos, while love and peace symbols coexist with coverups made of pieced-together happy-face cutouts at Moschino. The patches of those times also inspired Fendi's exceptional boucle coats.

Flower children blossom again at Christian Lacroix, where his brilliantly colored collages of patchworks, knits, and appliques earned him a standing ovation. The one casualty of the '70s is bell-bottom pants. They've gone back to the sea from whence they came.

* Entering the '90s (skipping over the '80s, the decade everyone loves to hate) with three special collections: Claude Montana, Valentino, and Chanel.

Montana once more proved himself the post-modernist of record with a landmark collection of sportswear-evolved shapes and an ingenious application of those hook-and-loop fasteners we call Velcro. By using the patches in bright colors as closures for dark or neutral-toned coats and suits, he made the mundane fasteners into a design element.

In the spirit of a generally softer fashion mood, Montana took the hard edge off his impeccably-cut trapeze jackets by finishing - or unfinishing - them in pinking for a kind of modern zigzag effect.

Lagerfeld's Chanel collection is a masterpiece of mixing elements no one thought of before. For openers, try a black crushed-velvet long jacket with white cotton shirt hanging below. Assemble that with baggy sweatpants and Chanel tennis shoes. Then consider white cotton shirts tucked into petticoated black velvet ballgown-skirts that end in trains. In between, the man who gave us the favorite skirt of the season - the long see-through black chiffon - now shows them in georgette and accessorizes them with

down-filled after-ski boots.

The new Chanel accessories include quilted black rubber handbags, quilted hot-water bottle bags, belts made of bike chains complete with padlocks, cuffs dangling with silver beads, and hair with velvet bows pinned in back, streamers trailing to the hem. Trends for 1993

The plaid lumberjack shirt is safe, but other elements of America's grunge movement have been Italianized into sophisticated sportswear.

The most modern collections in Milan are by the city's two fashion giants, Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace. In a season of politically and economically correct colors, like dry-cleaner-safe blacks, browns, and navies, Armani has come up the most colorful collection in Milan. The man who made neutrals fashionable uses Matisse as inspiration. Armani sent retailers into raptures with his purple fly-front jacket with matching ribbed-knit pants, pink jersey fringed vests, green suede jackets, and peach blaz er with matching vest.

With this collection, Versace does for knitwear what he did two years ago for prints - reinvent them for the '90s. His knits include long curvy tube dresses made of crocheted silk and shown with high-heeled lace-up boots, patchwork chenille sweaters with striped tights, long sweater dresses with matching coats, long sweaters pulled over openwork tights and knee-high combat boots.

The three most wearable collections in Paris belong to Hubert de Givenchy, whose just-above-the-knee lengths brought buyer approval; Oscar de la Renta for Pierre Balmain, who made the most beautiful coat of the season - an off-white double-breasted trench coat; and Cerruti, where the layering was both creative and wearable.

The five trademark items of the season, versions of which are in many collections, are pantsuits of every description; white cotton shirts worn untucked and often hanging below the jackets they accompany; the ribbed-knit tube dress, often with matching long coat; the see-through black chiffon skirt (day and night); and the frock coat. Boots are back in a big way, with the laced-up, ankle-high granny boot the best bet of the season.

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