If it's November, it must be spring.
They came, as they did for the European fashion shows, in a great swell to see the Perry Ellis spring show yesterday. Sitting almost joined at the hip on bleachers, Diana Ross at top decibel on tape, the crowd chit-chatted about such important matters as the gossip of the last Paris party at La Palace.
Unlike most of the European shows, this is not a stretch-the-eye (or test-the-endurance) collection. On seventh Avenue, where most American stores make their money, Ellis is a goldmine this season. (How appropriate that his showroom is a converted bank with marble walls and two-story windows.)
To show their appreciation, buyers put on their best Perry Ellis clothes from this past season. Geraldine Stutz, now an owner as well as president of Henri Bendel, was in Ellis' corduroy full-cropped pants, the most identifiable item chosen by at least a dozen others at the show. Lauren Hutton, on a break from filming "Paternity" in New York, dashed in to catch the show wearing one of Ellis' handknit sweaters, another obvious crowd pleaser.
Ellis wasn't the first to do the funny, soft pants that dominated shows in Paris and Milan this past month -- Sonia Rykiel may deserve the nod for innovation, and Giorgio Armani for having done them with such concentration a year and a half back that everyone took notice -- but Ellis has sewn up the ones that American women are now wearing. (maybe not yet in the District Building, but they have been sellng well in all the Washington stores that have them.)
If Ellis had only done more of the same, he would have been ahead this season. But with the confidence that comes from having a best seller, Ellis has gone on to playing with the pants silhouette, now even making skirts so full they look like his pants. He controls the silhouette with snug jackets with peplums, laced-up corselets, tight fitting strapless tops and wrap sweaters (crocheted for him in China this season) and blouses that wrap and tie around the torso. Some jackets have lacing up the back to tighten the fit.
Ellis' two-season-old cropped pants are now longer -- they cut off above the ankle -- and his new pants are banded at the bottom like golfers' pants or pleated knickers. He calls them his Blue Boy pants (as in Gainsborough). Others are full-blown zoaves, some sittng so low on the hips they would take the control of a belly dancer to keep them in place. He does short bloomers and pleated short culottes, not intended for Capitol Hill, but bound to score in Rehoboth. And his argyle knits, when worn with shorts, are clearly meant for the beach as well.
He has stashed away his old signature -- padded shoulders and rumpled slouchy styles. Instead he now has taken the oppostie tack -- clothes that stick well to the body, with width coming only from the rounded shape of the sleeve, which fashion pros will pronounce Juliet sleeves. Shape comes as well from the new stiffer fabrics, like faille and cotton twill.
And now he is so confident about the shapes that he has begun to decorate, them, with prints, mostly stipes. "I've gone stripe-crazy. I bought one, then two, then 10, then 20, then 25 . . . classic stripes, many striped with navy. They were so beautiful I couldn't stop," Ellis said before the show.
Most of Ellis' fabrics are from Europe, where they are dyed in the yarn and then woven rather than printed in massive quantities here. The difference is the richness of color and quality of fabric, said Ellis, who may be the biggest user of European Fabric in America. (In fact, he pushed up the opening of his spring collection, usually scheduled for the first Monday in November, so he could get to Interstoff, the hugh European fabrics fair which opens in Germany next week.)
Ellis, who could pay the rent with his cropped pants alone, said he's got to experiment even to the point of some silly cut-off jodphurs. "I want to change things not for the sake of undoing something, but simply as a designer's drive to create, to show new ways," he said.
As for the cropped pants, he said, "I'll give them up fully only when they become totally bastardized by everyone else. At the moment, though, I'm still loving them."
So is everyone else.