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Sexy swimwear to silk raincoats

Shafir, Rucci, Valvo, Sui among featured designers
/ Source: The Associated Press

What would spring Fashion Week be without swimwear on the runways? As the spring 2004 previews headed toward the Friday finish line, Michal Shafir, designer for Gottex swimwear, showed on Thursday how a few mere swatches of fabric could reprise iconic looks of mod girls from the 1960s and Shafir’s “sexy divas” of the 1980s.

This was no ordinary poolside attire. The traffic-stopping styles were complete ensembles, starting with daisy print bikinis that recalled the hippie era, accessorized with high-heel slides that repeated the flower power theme. Swimsuits with Op art patterns and mod cutouts on the sides suggested the mod generation.

To find models suitable for wearing the skimpy fabric that passes as swimwear, Gottex at least 10 to 20 models a day for about a week before Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, said Lauren Weiss, a Gottex account executive.

How did Gottex pick the best of the best?

“Some people don’t feel comfortable in swimwear, and you can see it immediately in how they present themselves,” Weiss said.

But surely you have to have a model’s figure?

“You need a fuller - I don’t know the appropriate word for it, but you need to fill out the swimsuit,” Weiss replied tactfully.

Other swimsuit looks conjured up a “very rich, secure woman, sexy and successful,” said Shafir, who added that her inspiration came from watching shows from past decades, such as “Dynasty” and “Dallas.”

That translated into a group of metallic swimsuits, including bronze maillots with matching high-heel bronze slides and plenty of bangles adorning the arm. Perhaps surprisingly, the favored look is one piece, not two.

“A bikini can be very beautiful, but it’s such a small item,” Shafir said. “On a one-piece you have more space to work with.”

Rucci's fashions buck trends
Ralph Rucci, whose line is called Chado, named for a Japanese tea ceremony, is an American designer with a reputation for high-end tailored clothing that fits within the couture style of Paris, where he has shown his line.

His Fashion Week show on Thursday started with a shirtwaist dress in a brown inkblot print. Observers can interpret it as they see fit, but what was apparent is that Rucci does not follow trends. His looks, often ensembles such as a white silk raincoat with a white silk chiffon shell and white lambskin jeans, were often shown with polished and proper gloves. And rather than the season’s ubiquitous high heels, he often opted for simple flats.

A black silk jersey turtleneck was paired with a hand-painted white lambskin skirt in a black splatter print that also covered high gloves.

What did the retail world like?

“Everything,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president at Neiman Marcus, herself dressed in a silk shantung gray-green Ralph Rucci pantsuit, for which she pointed out the handstitching down the legs.

“He has been a very important couture designer for us. You could almost wear his clothes inside out,” she said, citing the workmanship, including expensive fabrics and attention to detail.

For sticker shock, at Neiman Marcus his line could run at around $1,500 for pants and $5,000 for a suit.

Inspired by gardens and beaches
Eveningwear designer Carmen Marc Valvo took his cue from his own garden and cultivated the theme with silk chiffon gowns in floral prints and a black cocktail dress with leaf-embroidered lace. He also gave a nod to several trends showing up on runways this week, notably soft colors such as high-heel slingbacks in pink, feminine details including tiers of ruffles, sheer chiffon and ribbon applique and lingerie influences including bustiers in pink silk, white crocodile and black lace.

On Wednesday night, the fashion flock converged on Anna Sui’s “Beach Party,” as she called her spring collection. But since a Sui show would hardly be recognizable without a major 1960s influence, this collection might have been more aptly dubbed “Hippie Meets Surfer.”

In exuberant, electrifying shades of hot pink, turquoise and the season’s favored hue of orange, Sui sent out groovy paisley baby doll dresses, embroidered tunics and daisy print flower power trench coats, recalling the summer of love. Then she mixed it up with a dose of Beach Boys chic, conjuring up surfer girls with wild surf skirts, seashell earrings and jams gussied up with lace trim or beading.

Also on the runways Wednesday night was Diesel Style Lab, a young urban show dominated by black wigs and tattooed face makeup. If the mood was meant to be anti-fashion, the message came across in a T-shirt that said, “Look: No Style.”

Black pants and T-shirts printed with shark faces underscored the rebellious mood, as did ripped minidresses, tattered fishnet hems and a black sweat shirt with a skull print. Parachute styles, such as skirts and pants with drawstring hems, gave a nod to current trends when paired with pointy-toed high heels.