Daring Adolfo Hemlines Rise a Cut Above

Adolfo is playing with paper dolls for fall. That’s what the Cuban-born, New York-based designer calls his playful, short-skirted dresses with cut-out arm-holes--some with matching coats--that recall the kicky, young look of Rudi Gernreich and Pierre Cardin in the 1960s.

When Adolfo sent a black wool melton, thigh-grazing “paper doll” dress down the runway at his show here this week, there were gasps of delight for the daring of the high-rise hemlines--and gasps of doubt that his customers’ legs were quite up to the new proportions.

But the designer knows who his real “paper dolls” are--the society women of a certain age who pack his shows each season, ready to spend paper, lots of it, on the same clothes Nancy Reagan often chooses to doll up her fashion image in the White House. So the bulk of his collection is skirts cut at the knee--or an inch or two above--rather than the few thigh-high looks he showed to give the crowd a thrill.

Besides the coat-and-dress ensembles--some with Astrakhan fur trims--the coats themselves make a big fall statement. These include red-riding-habit looks with black velvet collars and double rows of black buttons down the front, quilted cire trapeze coats with mink sleeves, black wool military looks with gold-braid trim coupled with pants or dirndl skirts and suits with short bolero jackets that sometimes dip from front to back.

Adolfo’s famous suits, often likened to those designed by Coco Chanel--the Chanel company recently sent a memo requesting that references, such as “Chanel-like,” no longer be used when referring to other sources--lean heavily on plaids for fall in the aforementioned bolero styles as well as in hip-length cardigans. They look youngest and hippest over black cire slim skirts that have a wet look, or the shine of black leather.

A new suit style, in black with a white herringbone stitch trimming that creates a chevron border effect, is a standout. So are the Reagan-red winners with hammered-satin facings and ruffle trims that look destined for the First Lady. The cabled cashmere suits also got applause from the soft-life set in the audience.

For evening, Adolfo says he’s concentrating on richness of fabric texture. Crushed velvet, panne velvet, gold lame, silk cloque and silk moire show up on evening suits, as do even a few sequins and beads on some Art Deco design jackets. A crushed-velvet suit in black or wine with white-lace cuffs and collar could be called the Little Lady Fauntleroy look. Gold panne velvet arabesque-pattern gowns with sable trims look regal. And a crinkled lame evening suit, covered with paillettes in a quilted pattern, look homespun only if your home is in Bel-Air or on Fifth Avenue.

An interesting development at Adolfo is the increase in looks obviously aimed at a younger, “new money” customer. Body dresses with elasticized ruching and short flounces at the hem and dotted moire, off-the-shoulder dresses with full, short skirts look as if they’ll be taken over by women who hang out with all the young tycoons now performing takeovers on the business scene.