Douglas Hannant has been in business only three years, but already he realizes that simply touting his artfully crafted sportswear and cocktail attire is not enough to meet expectations. In addition to a designer's more reasonable duties, including trunk and fashion shows, he must be ready for his VH1 close-up. His house must be picture perfect for a possible magazine feature. And he must be able to reel off a list of starlets who are fans of his clothes.
This is not the voice of a jaded designer complaining about his lot, but rather a realistic one who is fully aware of the rules of the game.
In town recently for a charity benefit and trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue, he talked about style rather than trends and suggested that in most cases, the most extreme runway looks are never worn by anyone other than the fashion editors who champion them and the stars who get them for free. What really captures the interest of consumers is clothes that can sustain years of wear rather than ones offering a momentary, and expensive, splash. For example, capris have made the leap from runway to city street. Glam rock looks as if it's going no farther than designers' showrooms.
An appreciation for longevity is apparent in the clothes Hannant creates. They are beautifully sculptural, complex but not overwrought. Smart without the burden of being intellectual.
But even for Hannant, the pressure remains to be glib, to glitter, to be larger than life. To some degree, designers are burdened by the monster they created. They have so emphasized the glamour and celebrity of fashion that folks expect them to be, without exception, as glam as the clothes they create and as high-profile as their most famous clients.
The pressure is on for their accomplices in Hollywood, too. They must have a discerning sense of style or risk public ridicule. And so, to be sure that they are on the pulse of all significant fashion trends, they hire stylists. Such folks save them from the embarrassment of turning up in a pair of clunky heels when stilettos are more in vogue. They put them in the "right" designer's clothes. On the way to the American Fashion Awards in New York earlier this month, one stylist, in a moment of panic, made a limo-to-limo phone call to one of her actresses to say that her dress was by Randolph Duke and jewelry by Fred Leighton so that she would be well informed when interrogated by the press. Hollywood hasn't gotten more stylish. Stars haven't necessarily developed better taste. But they're more adept at buying good, detailed advice.
The relationship between fashion and Hollywood used to be symbiotic: The fashion industry helped to invent people, and Hollywood gave designers much-needed publicity. Madonna was pushed toward icon status with the aid of such labels as Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano. Who cares if Demi Moore can act? She looks great in Dolce & Gabbana. "American Gigolo," Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer made Giorgio Armani a household name. Hip-hop performers made Tommy Hilfiger a millionaire many times over.
Increasingly, though, it seems that fashion has become a blob, enveloping everything in its wake. The demand for everyone to be utterly marvelous grows.
Fashion no longer is just Hollywood. It is music, sports, politics. Whatever the topic, there is always a fashion angle. A singer needs good vocal cords, great dance moves . . . and a hot designer outfit to wear in the video. Sports figures are expected to be sleek and stylish. Whether they are wearing a custom-made suit or the latest in urban sportswear, they must evoke some sort of attitude with their dress. Male politicians can't cling to an ill-fitting navy suit and bland red tie without being mocked. And female politicians who continue to shellac their hair in place and trot out patriotic suits in bold blue or red are doomed to being disparaged as hopelessly frumpy. No one wants them to look like fashion victims, but they'd better not look like they got dressed in the dark either.
Fashion has become inescapable. A fashion show is the fallback fund-raiser for every charity group. A few dolled-up spokesmodels are sure to garner a little interest for a cause. Anyone whose name is recognized by more than a dozen people thinks that a signature fashion line is akin to winning the lottery. Fashion is cultural shorthand for glamour, hyperbole, indulgence and, of course, image. But no longer does it mean clothes.
CAPTION: Douglas Hannant's line is artfully practical, offering apparel that eschews the Hollywood glamour that flavors such personalities as Madonna, who favors Gaultier and Galliano. Below, Hannant helps fit radio host Diane Rehm with a jacket at a recent Saks Fifth Avenue show.