Clothes take shape this fall. After several seasons of easy-fitting styles that rarely touched the body, designers seem to have figured out that women who are fit want clothes to show off their shape.
The shift to fitting clothes is likely to be more than a one-season swing. As comfort was the overriding spirit of clothes of the last decade, shape may well be the major influence in the decade ahead. Comfort as a basic ingredient in clothing seemed to be a spinoff of the Me Decade with its need that everything soothe the senses, that clothes feel good. Fit and shape in clothes, on the other hand, are part of the recent response to the interest in health and exercise, in looking trim.
Although this fall many young women will wear their first fitted clothes, there have been more fashion years with fitted clothes than free-form clothes. What makes the clothes of this generation different is that they keep the elements of comfort. While the clothes often trace the torso, the shoulders are still extended -- though rounder than they have been -- and the armholes are wide, giving a roominess to the top of the silhouette. Fabrics are often knit and have "give"; others are woven with elastic for stretch. The options of hemline length, of flat or high heels, also separate the look and attitude of these body language clothes from those we have known before.
Three years ago designers in Paris and New York started to move toward very fitted clothes. But the designs flopped because the clothes were
Continued on page 38 constructed with strict seams and darts that appeared to bind. (Some designers even went as far as to use bustles and trains.) It's no wonder that what caught on instead was quite the opposite: formless, uncomplicated styles.
Masters of fitted clothes in the past -- Norman Norell, Madame Gres and Claire McArdell -- have clearly influenced those who make clothes that conform to the body today. The main designer leading the way to shapely clothes is Azzedine Alaia of Paris, who is not well known in Washington. His knitted and leather clothes are carved to curve into the figure, often with contrast stitching on the seams to underscore the cut.
The American who has taken the look to the extreme is Donna Karan, who until she introduced her own label this season designed clean, easy-fitting separates for Anne Klein. The center of her look in her very successful new line is the black, second-skin leotard -- sometimes in cashmere.
"It just feels good," Karan says. "I'm not a small woman, (Size 12 to 14) but I find this whole body-conscious style comfortable and becoming. I feel uncomfortable when I am not wearing a bodysuit."
Even those designers for whom ease and comfort has always been a trademark, like Geoffrey Beene and Willi Smith, have started to focus on fit. Surprisingly, Japanese designer Issey Miyake, too, has started to make his clothes very body-conscious, sometimes using stretch fabrics to exaggerate the point. "It struck me while I was watching the Olympics," said Miyake. "It made me understand how beautiful and strong the bodies of the athletes are."
Over those toned-up bodies, designers have put coats that are easy and full, no matter what the length. The outer silhouette provides a contrasting bolder shape, often with exaggerated shoulders and sleeves, to the slender black styles underneath. PAGE 39 Jackets are often cropped -- all the better to show off a skinny dress or skirt underneath. High-rise waistlines on pants or skirts make the point of fit as well. When jackets are long, they often are fitted through the torso or nipped in at the waist and occasionally belted. Many of the Norma Kamali suits have peplum jackets.
Not surprisingly, black is the color designers have chosen to boldly state the new shape. When a change is made in a fashion silhouette, it is always introduced in its purest form, a solid color, often black, and in a flat-surfaced fabric such as wool jersey. Then as the new look is tested and becomes more accepted, designers start to decorate it, first with color, then with print and texture. (Once you see the indulgence in prints -- as we have just witnessed with the recent full, billowing clothes -- it is a clue that the end is near for a tide of fashion.)
White shows off the clear outline of shape almost as well as black. And clear- toned colors, particularly for coats, seem brighter paired with lean black pieces underneath.
Knits become important again because they trace the body without constricting it. Karl Lagerfeld, in his new American sportswear collection, stretches the point further with a fabric for evening that is puckered with elastic and fits like skin.
Details in design make a big difference. Sleeves on sweaters and dresses are longer, slipping down past the wrist, to make the arms look longer. Legs look their leanest and shapeliest in opaque black panty hose. And the turtleneck or stand- up collar returns as a way of extending the shapely silhouette and making the body look more stretched, agile and healthy.
Accessories accentuate the shapely look with lean black turtleneck sweaters as the essential liner under suits or along with skirts or pants under easy coats. Gloves are long to continue the line of the clothes. Heads are con- cealed under face-framing hoods (cagoules, as the French call them) or tight wraps to show off the shape of the head.
With such cleanly sculptured clothes, the jewelry needs to be big in strong shapes. Big pins seem the perfect accents along with cuff bracelets. Belts add the option of shape, for example, to big, full coats. And black panty hose extends the outline down to undecorated flats or heels.
Hair styles shape up with water or mousse -- take your pick. Smoothed close to the head, the hair is a bit longer than last year, and covers the head almost like a cap. Earrings are frequently left off so they don't break up the outline. Or else they are bold and have a shape of their own.
The new emphasis also changes the look of makeup. A face with a matte finish, with dull dark lips and simply outlined eyes heightens the importance of the overall strong silhouette rather than distracting from it.
Will these shapely clothes separate the unfit from the fashionable? Not at all. There is something for everyone, regardless of shape. The woman with a buxom figure might choose clothes that are cut easy, like a big shirt, on top and wear them with a narrow skirt, stirrup pants or leggings. The woman with large hips will find plenty of fitted tops, even body suits, to pair with a full skirt. There are full dresses that get their shape from the broad, rounded shoulders that can be belted or not. And the same silhouette applies to some of the best coats of the season.
These generally leaner clothes will lure some women back to at least thinking about undergarments -- certainly not the old corset or Merry Widow but a controlling or firming one-piece garment that will smooth rather than shape the figure.
Some women, though, will see these attractive, shapelier clothes as the clincher in a list of many reasons to get fit and exercise, which is an added bonus.