Perry Ellis has spent a lot of time in California recently. In fact, right after the presentation of his spring collection in his Seventh Avenue showroom, he planned to hop on a plane to Los Angeles, where the birth of his child is imminent. "The mother is an old friend for 15 years," the designer said of the child's mother, Barbara Gallagher, a free-lance television writer. "No, we don't expect to be married."
But California holds more than a personal attraction for Ellis. It shows in the names he gave to pieces in his new collection -- "Suited for Chasen's," "Paramount Polka Dots," "Malibu Linens" -- and in the pale shades, particularly when adapted to the men's clothes. And it shows in the sultry sophistication of the clothes, a change for Ellis.
"He has taken a Hollywood silver-screen scenario and turned it into credible, modern clothes," said Geraldine Stutz, president of Henri Bendel.
Long, fingertip-length jackets are cut with a softness -- far more West Coast than New York -- that characterizes the blouses and pants worn with them. Katharine Hepburn might not have worn the short wrap skirt Ellis offers as an option in this look, but she would approve of the total effect. "Washington women will love it," said Val Cook of Saks Jandel.
Ellis has taken an equally independent turn on the print explosion of the season. While others have scattered flowers across fabric, Ellis uses one huge bloom, often a carnation or a rose, carefully spaced on silk. His patterned sweaters, inspired by playing cards, are of a tunic shape, while other sweaters are the leanest and longest in town, done in silk-knit with matching skirts. "I guess I've seen a lot of skinny bodies in California," he said after the Thursday show.
There was nothing too tight about the clothes Ralph Lauren showed in his spring collection the evening before in his showroom.
While the main shirt Ellis showed was in silk and softly draped from a shoulder yoke, Lauren's collection was built around a big white cotton shirt with a stand-up collar. In a season when the shirt is the linchpin of most collections from Europe to Seventh Avenue, Lauren is a master. He knows not only how to cut a shirt, but how to pair it with a short skirt, a sarong, shorts or pants, in a fabric mix that makes it look modern.
He showed the white shirt with pastel suede walking shorts, and then with a wonderful floral print chintz sarong skirt. He also offered the floral print in a jacket with white pants, and a floral print T-shirt with white pants in linen, tapered and kept in place with a strap under the foot.
A nifty ensemble for work when the weather gets warm would be Lauren's white shirt, pinstripe trousers and brown reptile belt tipped in silver, or the white shirt with a simple, short wrap black or white linen skirt. And for evening, that same cotton shirt looks great with white Charmeuse trousers and a silk tweed jacket.
Oscar de la Renta found something new to do with shirts, too. For his customers, he beaded them.
Those customers, who are also his friends -- many of the same women who were at Bill Blass' show -- were out in force at his show Wednesday at the Parsons School of Design. Nancy Kissinger, Marie-Helene de Rothschild, Princess Firyl and the Duchess of Feria were among those who applauded the slim suits, wrapped jersey dresses and evening clothes.
De la Renta made it respectable to go to dinner in a beaded shirt with pastel pants. Just to make sure everyone got the message, he showed nine of them, in different colors.
Adrienne Vittadini's shirts were cut in a big way, in florals or striped cotton, or white silk, often teamed with pants or wide-leg shorts.
She has apparently been doing her homework at the primitive exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Her bold sweater patterns build on this theme, a welcome alternative to the many florals around.
Someone left the place cards for seating at the Alfred Sung show on the subway Wednesday morning, but that was the only misstep in his presentation at the Hotel Pierre.
Sung, who was born in Shanghai, was trained in New York and is based in Toronto, is totally in touch with the kind of casual dressing appropriate for Washington -- where he happens to have a boutique, in Georgetown Park.
He takes well-chosen fabrics, such as a satin-striped navy linen, gingham checks or summer tartans, and uses them well in this season's favorite shapes without foolish exaggerations. He's also willing to experiment, as in a shirtdress open at the back of the waist and swinging away from the body, and a sweater cut out at the back.
In a season of safe clothes on Seventh Avenue, even a little experimentation is welcome.