First to go were the ruffles, then the glitz. In their creations for next spring, designers have cut back on the clutter. Clothes pared to a sparer form are apt to be more long-wearing and more versatile and they adapt to easy changes with accessories women have long collected.
This architectural look, unadorned shapes enhanced by angular cuts and ingenious seaming, reminds one of the clothes made for "The Avant Garde in Russia, 1910-1930" last year at the Hirshhorn, and the Space Age clothes of Andre'Courre ges and Pierre Cardin in Paris in the early 1960s. But now the fabric is softer, the construction less rigid, and the look is beginning to show up in the top collections for spring.
Ironically, though much simpler, this simpler style does not ensure lower price tags. Clean shapes require stronger fabrics since they have little to hide behind. A ruffle or pleat can mask a less-than-top-quality fabric while unadorned material distinguished only by its interesting cut and seaming relies on the fabric to make its statement.
"Architectural" is the flattering catchword applied to successful collections this season, particularly to those of Gian Franco Ferre in Milan, Claude Montana and France Andrevie in Paris, and Halston, Bill Blass, Harriet Winter and Oscar de la Renta in New York. In addition, the Fashion Institute of Techology in New York is planning a three-day spring symposium on "The Architects of Fashion."
But all along there have been two designers in New York who have made architectural clothes -- Ronaldus Shamask and Zoran. Both were students of architecture in Europe before coming to New York, and neither has drifted from the clean, sharp designs that are their signatures. Both have small businesses that are growing as fast as the designers want them to.
Both were dressed in black during a recent New York visit, Shamask in his second-floor shop on Madison Avenue, Zoran in his loft in the Village.
"I don't do ruffles or bows," says Shamask. "They are for people who have sins to hide." He is sitting in his all-white shop where the only decorations are the architecturally shaped clothes on chrome poles.
"You should notice the person first, then her clothes," says Shamask. "If you wear something that distracts, that's a mistake. So you must keep clothes simple. If you want to stand out against a background of rococo, wear something simple."
His clothes look as simple as graphic shapes, but they are deceiving. Seams are never just decorative but a tool for structure and design. He pushes to find new ways to cut fabric and use seams, to create new shapes, and he often succeeds, making him one of the rare innovators in the fashion business today.
In a coat, the spiral seams wind around the body from the arms and meet in the back so that, if the fabric were wide enough, the coat could be made from one piece of fabric. In his new pants, the seams that wind around the legs incorporate darts and develop the pockets as well. Another pair of pants is prism-shaped. On a jacket, the turned-back corners in front become pockets.
Whe he started his business 2 1/2 years ago, everything was black or white or red -- "When you are small you can't afford to buy many colors" -- but now there are more, mostly primary shades. For spring, he lines the seams in a contrast color, giving the effect of a lantern when the dress or skirt is worn.
Shamask, 35, wearing a black sweater, black corduroy trousers and black boxing referee's shoes "because they are comfortable and I move around a lot," slips easily into the lingo as well as the lines of architecture. Though he studied architecture, he says his real schooling "was having an idea in mind and getting the medium to get there."
He finds designing clothes not very different from designing furniture. "All art has the same rules -- only the sensitivity changes. In photography it is a question of light, in clothing, gravity."
He was brought up in Holland "where you are taught nothing is possible. You learn history." Then his family moved to Australia "where you are taught everything is possible." At 25, he did fashion illustrations for advertising, something he had never done before. When he saw designs by American designer Charles James, clothing began to intrigue him. "They made me realize that clothes could be an art form, more than just trends. Charles James clothes are like perfect-cut diamonds." He never met James, who died several years ago. "I only wanted to meet him after I was successful," says Shamask, whose clothes will be featured along with the those of James and Balenciaga in the FIT symposium next spring.
Shamask came to the United States with a grant from the Council of the Arts for a project pitched to bringing more culture to Buffalo. His role was artist-in-residence at a multimedia company creating sets, costumes and posters, "working hard to beat the cold and keep from being depressed."
He first made clothes in New York with a sewing machine on a kitchen table, then opened the Madison Avenue shop. "This way I could work on a small scale and solve problems as they came up. I could learn by my mistakes," he said. Lily Auchincloss discovered the shop the first year. So did Bianca Jagger and Polly Bergen. Murray Moss, Shamask's partner in the business, which is called Moss Shamask Ltd., had been in his family's X-ray business in Chicago. (Saks-Jandel and Saks Fifth Avenue carry the clothes in Washington.)
This year he won the fashion industry's top accolade, the Coty Award, and European shops are bidding to carry his designs. But the fact that others are copying his style is not always flattering, he says. According to Shamask, a 57th Street store recently traced a photograph of one of his coats to advertise a cheaper copy. "We are all influenced and there is nothing wrong with admiring what someone else does. But when someone copies my coat, and puts in extra seams on the side . . ." His voice trails off. That, of course, is the ultimate injury.
"My clothes are for secure people -- ones who don't go to psychiatrists," says designer Zoran. Zoran is his first name; he has abandoned using his last name, Ladicorbic. He is wearing a black cashmere knit sweat shirt and pants, both his own design, black short socks and black driving shoes. He is sitting with one foot tucked underneath in the deep window of his high-ceilinged loft on Sullivan Street in the Village. The space is virtually undecorated except for one thick sky-blue block of foam. "That way I don't have to worry about anyone spilling coffee. No one will ruin my sheets," he laughs.
Zoran, who recently shed a beard that has been his signature for 15 years, makes clothes so simple you wonder why someone didn't think of the ideas eons ago. He makes loose, easy sweaters, tank tops, tunics, short and long skirts, kimonos, short pants and long pants, all with elasticized waistlines so they are not sized, all in heavyweight cashmere (for warm weather he uses a cashmere and silk blend), silk crepe de chine and gabardine. There's an occasional bare sweater or beaded tunic, but for the most part they are simple, basic clothes that glide over the body, the kind of clothes that Jackie Onassis collects and New York fashion magazine editors swear by. Lauren Hutton, Margaret Trudeau, Yasmine Khan, Candice Bergen, Farrah Fawcett and Marion Javits have joined the Zoran cult. CBS' Diane Sawyer is a new customer and Helga Orfila, wife of the secretary general of the Organization of American States, is not only a customer but a friend. "We are interested in different things, but fashion is not our only subject," says Zoran.
Zoran, 34, doesn't say much about growing up in Yugoslavia, except that no one in his family ever wore the expected print dresses. "They understood quality. Fabrics had to be luxurious and the shapes simple."
He attended architecture school in Belgrade, took a holiday trip to the United States 10 years ago and stayed. It was not a good period for architects, he says. "Architects are still not needed. People are cutting back, not building up." Besides, after nine years at the drafting table he was ready to try something else. "Clothes are more fun. More free thinking. And you are less confined to a table." He first worked for Julio and five years ago opened his own business. Had he come here in the 1950s his designs would have been different, he says. "When America was doing well, people had bigger cars, women dressed like Christmas trees, with pearls, hats, gloves. Women would buy six things at a time."
Those times are past, says Zoran. "After you pay $600 for a studio apartment in New York you don't have much left to buy anything else. Closets are smaller, doors are narrower, cars are smaller." All that affects the shape of clothes, he says.
"I don't create. I just provide the necessary pieces."
Those pieces are usually black or white or ivory. "Women say they need color to perk them up. They don't understand life is inside. The color of a dress won't change one's life. Wear black or ivory and then work on the inside."
When he shows his clothes, the models wear sneakers "just to be free and easy." No stockings and no makeup. "The models are young. At age 20 you don't need makeup. For some, even clothes aren't necessary. But makeup is not right."
When a private customer comes to his loft, he suggests she take a shower, and then without jewelry, without distracting makeup, she tries on clothes for two hours. "At first they think it is avant-garde. Then they realize it is more classic than Chanel." He's thinking of opening a studio in Washington to work with private clients here one week each month.
At first, Zoran's clothes were slimmer, made that way to please the store buyers who were afraid their customers would not understand Zoran's shapes. Now they fit loosely but with control. "I'm getting older and more selective about what I do," he says. "There is not much news as I get more secure." (Saks Fifth Avenue carries Zoran's clothes here.)
The knits are made in Hong Kong, where he had factories change their machine gauges to handle his heavyweight cashmere knits. "They find it difficult to understand the shapes. They find it hard to do things without details. They always want to add buttons," he says.
"Being simple is definitely more difficult."