Collared, Right on the Button

What happens when a Japanese designer meets a button-down shirt? The result is something no western designer would have dreamed up. And it is great.

Robin Hurley, American representative for Mitsuhiro Matsuda, was in Washington recently checking out stores, particularly Silhouette in Georgetown, where Matsuda for men is carried. He was wearing a black coat, a tweed jacket and a button-down shirt.

If the other items, in their special fabrics and shapes, were not discernibly different to people passing by, they couldn't have missed the shirt. The long peaked collar was "buttoned down" with silver metal buttons connected to each other by a chain -- all of which come off for laundering. Shawl's Well at The Wrap Show

"We scarcely know a truer test of a gentlewoman's taste in dress than her selection of a shawl and her manner of wearing it." That's a quote from Le Journal de Dames et Desmoiselles, 1857, but it serves well today with the return of scarves and shawls as a manner of decorating the current crop of classic clothes.

The Kashmir and paisley shawl is the focus of a small but worthy exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The 15 shawls on exhibit were produced in India and Europe from the late 18th to late 19th centuries.

The origins of these shawls have been pegged to the 15th century, when a Kashmiri ruler imported skilled weavers from Persia and central Asia to India. Early versions were hand-woven and so complex they could take two years to complete. In India they were a man's garment, worn as a mantle, and in Persia they girdled the waist.

By the 18th century they were well known and admired in England and France -- Josephine was said to own 300. To meet the demand, the shawls were pieced together in India, and soon much cheaper copies came from mass production looms. It was the town of Paisley, Scotland, that gave the name for the butamotif prominent in these shawl patterns.

The exhibition, which is supported by a grant from Baltimore boutique owner Ruth Shaw, will continue through April 13th. Shades of the Past

Back to the future is a favorite scheme of designers reshaping classic styles. Now it is being applied to advertising. Christian Dior ads will mix old black and white ads with contemporary Dior products in color. The Chiat/Dayagency had dipped into Dior archives for old Willie Maywald and Coffin photos as backdrops for today's fashions.

Colombe Nicholas, president of Christian Dior-New York told Advertising Age that the connotation of Dior as timeless elegance usually came through as "old." Bill Blass: Clothes, but No Cigarette

Bill Blass will never look the same again. You've probably never seen a picture of him without a cigarette dripping out of his mouth -- because he was rarely without one. It is as much his signature as the open shirt, the rolled-back cuffs, the shoes without socks.

But no more. Blass stopped smoking a month ago when he had such a bad cold that smoking made him feel worse. He's now a crusader. "It is the most disgusting habit in the entire world," he says. Closets of the Rich & Infamous

When Evita Peron decided to buy something at Christian Dior she bought one of each design in the collection. "Dior told me that himself," confirms Diana Vreeland, the sage of style.

Others, including Catherine the Great and Queen Elizabeth I, amassed huge wardrobes. During the French Revolution, records of what Marie Antoinette spent on clothes were burned to protect her from others who might discover how much of the national treasury she squandered. "Imelda Marcos is not the first nor is she likely to be the last," says Jean Druesedow, the associate curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Many powerful women over the centuries have amassed vast wardrobes."

For them as for Marcos, there weren't enough hours in the day to wear all the clothes acquired, even if they wanted to. But for some, the buying binge is more important than the wearing. "There are women today who order clothes from me and never put them on, says Bill Blass, cautious not to reveal names. "It is part of their jag, a high that comes in the purchasing."

But Imelda Marcos may have broken all the records. Nina Solarz, wife of Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.) and the first to enter the private quarters where the clothes and accessories were kept, was staggered by "a credenza full of panty hose -- greater than the full stock of Garfinckel'or Bloomingdale's," the 3,000 pairs of shoes "including four pairs of identical black silk pumps, worn only once." Shoes had labels from every designer -- Walter Steiger, Pancalil, di, Magli, but she could find no labels in the racks of dresses.

Solarz, who is executive director of Peace Links, a nuclear war concern, got access to the area through women she had met on previous visits with her husband to the Malacanang presidential palace. In the early 1980s on her first visits there, "by 10 in the morning Mrs. Marcos was in a sweeping gown with butterfly sleeves and dripping with jewels. More recently she has appeared in street clothes, a little matronly like from [designer] Guy Laroche, with one gorgeous strand of pearls or a beautiful pin."

Imelda Marcos was not the only clothes collector in the family. Solarz estimated that Ferdinand Marcos had 250 barong tagalogs , the national dress shirt, still unopened in their plastic covers, and a rack of at least 30 loud Hawaiian shirts, the kind he wore frequently in the recent campaign.

While the vast assortment of purchases are now on public view, many costume curators hope the clothes will be preserved for study and museum display. Says Elizabeth Jachimowicz, the curator of costume at the Chicago Historical Society, "If the wardrobes of people (such as Catherine the Great of Elizabeth I) had been preserved, how much would it tell us about their time in power.