Spare Changes

Wasn't it just a couple of months back that the fashion folk were flavoring their descriptions of new clothes with words like "spare" and "clean" and "sparse"? The last round of shows in April in New York, Paris and Milan were touted as streamlined at their best.

Now the word from the Paris couture is fussy and fancy, ethnic and elaborate. And with it comes a distinct change from a sleek and body-conforming silhoutte to wasp waists and full skirts. So what happened?

A lot of things, in fact. In fashion, ethnic is the opposite of streamlined, so it is only natural for these opposite styles to be touted to make news. Christian Lacroix, with his new couture house, helped put over the idea of ethnic clothes. He developed the poufed and petticoated styles he did for Jean Patou last season into a line based on the traditional garb of the Arles region where he is from.

The truth is, from now on in fashion, there will always be alternatives. Fussy and ethnic does not mean the end of the spare and simple. There's a place for both.

Beene, There and Back Again Bathing suits are the best designed things today, says Geoffrey Beene, who made a casual study of the subject while on vacation in the south of France recently. It's not the sexiness of them that has caught his attention, he says, "but the wonderful cuts that are so modern. The necklines are so pretty and bare and the graphics so neat." One listens when Beene makes such observations not just because of his interesting view of the scene, but because it may well influence his next collection. "You're right," says Beene. "I may well put bathing suit tops on some of my dresses for spring {to be shown in November}."

Also coming up, the return of the Beene Bag collection. Beene gave up his lower-priced sportswear line three years back when the quality declined "and the clothes lost their wit," says Beene. No such problems this round. Warnaco, under the guidance of Linda Wachner, is making the collection and Beene has designed every piece -- in fact he cut short his vacation to do so. "There will be lots of menswear shirtings in denim and cotton knit, and other very American things always associated with my clothes," explained Beene.

The first Beene Bag collection made by Warnaco will be shown in October and will be shipped to stores in February. The Beene couture collection for spring will be shown in November, and will start to be shipped shortly after.

Blass, Short With Sass "I'm warning you: They are short and some of them are going to scare the hell out of you," Bill Blass said to the crowd at Neiman-Marcus last week. But by the time he left Washington a few hours later, he concluded, "Washington doesn't seem to have any problems about short skirts."

The big sellers, so far this season, have been Blass' black tweed tent dress with a bias ruffle, his red and green plaid suit and coat, and of course, every single one of his short black cocktail dresses. No takers in Washington for the $98,000 sable-lined, pink satin costume. "Listen, babe, I've sold five of them so far and that ain't bad," said Blass.

Other changes at Blass? "My Washington customer is no longer the very rich woman who buys lots of things, but more women who can afford just one or two things a season." Another change? Blass is smoking again. "I just couldn't keep the weight off," he said.

Sorry, Charlie ::

Admittedly, the ad sends mixed messages: A woman with long blond hair, wearing a miniskirt and jacket, a Rolex watch and carrying an attache' case, is walking with a man and patting his fanny. It is part of a series of print ads, called "She's very Charlie," for Revlon's Charlie fragrance, and is scheduled to run in fashion magazines, Ms., Sports Illustrated and New Woman ... but not The New York Times.

The Times rejected the ad for its fashion issue, explaining in a letter: "Consider for a moment, the reaction that might reasonably be expected had the situation been reversed; that is, where a young man is shown placing his hand on a young woman's derriere. We're sure you'll agree that such an advertisement would be considered, by many of our readers, to be in poor taste. Does the level of taste change then, depending on who is touching who: We don't think so." Keeping Up With the Joneses Chris Jones, international model and singer, has a good reason for not telling his age. "If I did it would give away the age of my sister Grace, and she certainly doesn't want that," said Jones, who is a few years older than Grace. Chris Jones, who was in Washington for performances at the Bank, will appear at Ibex on Friday.

Each of his performances is a one-man fashion show, as he described it, with Jones going from a Ninja outfit to a suit he designed but that was made by his mother (who has a fashion business called Jones of Jamaica), and to a captain's outfit that started as an Yves Saint Laurent jacket "and then I added a few things."

Randy Coe, Jones' Washington-born manager, who was graduated from Churchill High School, has appeared as a backup singer for Grace, but so far she hasn't included her brother in her act. "My music career just got started," he said.

But like his sister, Chris Jones' love of clothes is a lifelong thing. They share an attraction to the same designers -- Issey Miyake, Kenzo, Yves Saint Laurent and Azzedine Alaia. Chris Jones was so mad for his sister's fur coat that he used it in a record cover.

Jones will appear on his birthday at Tracks on Aug. 21 when he will be ... "Sorry, you can't trick me. Just say I'm in my thirties."

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS Clockwise from above, fall ensembles from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix.