Set your Sights on whites

Sunday, March 26, 2006

@Summary Statement:White for spring isn't new, but it is fresh

NEW YORK -- After years of throwing at shoppers every bright color they could concoct -- often punctuated by metallics and beads -- fashion designers are declaring spring a more peaceful and tranquil season.

Many of the button-down shirts, crocheted sweaters, eyelet dresses and high-waisted pants in stores this season are offered in Grand Cayman sand, cappuccino foam or moonlight -- all fancy names for white.

Offering white for spring and summer is, of course, nothing new. But it is both fresh and refreshing.

"I think the interesting thing is we've had quite a few years of bling, bling, bling, bling, bling. To me, it's like too rich of a meal. At some point, you need to cleanse your palate," says designer Michael Kors.

The emphasis of the clothes shifts from an attention-grabbing hue to the cut, subtle details and luxuriousness of fabrics, he says. That's not to say it's a boring fashion season, he adds, but there's a restraint that was needed. "It's romantic minimalism, which, yes, is an oxymoron. ... It's like putting Splenda in the ice tea. It's sweet but not too sugary."

Wearing white, especially in a city, always makes people look as if they're above the fray, Kors says. "In Paris, you'll see a woman on the crummiest, rainy day in a white coat. It immediately gives her a movie star spin."

Kors' spring collection features layers of white in soft silhouettes, accented mostly by simple beiges and blacks. But while it's hard to mix blacks with different color casts, it works for white. The differences only highlight the richness of the lace, embroidery or eyelet that also might be part of the outfit.

"There's cool blueish white, white with a yellow cast, a rosy cast, a creamy cast. It's kind of cool to mix it all up. Wear a vanilla shade, ecru and optic white, and mix it all together. If you're confused about the different whites, go to the local paint store, they'll sort it out," says Kors with a laugh, who wears white, er, ecru, jeans 12 months a year.

White is for all seasons, Kors says, though the ecru and sand-colored shades are easier to pull off than optic white when there's still a chill in the air. For early spring, he suggests a creamy white lace dress with metallic shoes and maybe a fur cape. In the summer, wear that same dress with flip-flops.

White actually can be tricky for shoes, says Coach president and executive director Reed Krakoff, so, if in doubt, go with a casual style or more of a parchment color. He points to the Dori slingback from the current collection that has a creamy color and gold hardware. "It has a natural color, a stacked heel and gold hardware, which breaks it up. It's not a bridesmaid's or nurse's shoe."

For bags, though, almost anything goes. "White is as easy as black, now that people are wearing it year-round," says Krakoff, who is indeed wearing a white shirt during this interview.

Even once this white "trend" is over, Krakoff expects white to stick around as a basic color -- like black and navy -- that will be integrated into future collections.

"We'll always have it. It's a new basic. Now it's particularly popular, but two years from now it won't be as popular. It's like metallic this year. It was huge a year or two ago, and now it's a basic," he says.

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