London Designers Are Feelin' Groovy All Over Again

Designers took a not-so-magical mystery tour at spring, 1989, fashion showings that took place here over the weekend. Their destination, the fashion past, had a '60s hippie revival feeling overlaid with nostalgia for Hollywood clothes of the 1940s, '30s and '20s.

Perhaps the only designer with a crystal-clear sense of direction was Rifat Ozbek, who was named Designer of the Year by the Right Honorable Margaret Thatcher at a reception she held this weekend for press and buyers at No. 10 Downing Street.

The Turkish-born Ozbek has always had elements of ethnic folklore in his collections, and for summer he has honed his look to a chic sexiness found nowhere else in London.

His midriff-baring tops go over wide-leg pants with pockets framed in passementerie trim. Jackets are as casual as pajamas. Gauze blouses float above wrapped, sarong skirts. Tenty dress shapes had silver-ball buttons down the front. These were just a few of the ingredients in a collection where the colors--bronze, moss, cocoa, aquamarine, mango, pomegranate, lemon and eggplant--enhanced the mood.

More mood enhancers were the silver, ethnic jewelry wrapped around high knotted chignons, hip belts slung on those navel-baring pants, the silver Turkish slippers and the steady beat of Turkish bazaar music that paced the rhythm of the show, which had a professional smoothness lacking in many of the other presentations.

Bell-Bottom Trousers

Katharine Hamnett is another Londoner going back to the '60s for the summer, but with an energy level that is totally contemporary. She filled the runway with male and female models in sequined bell bottoms, updates of the Nehru suit, patchwork prints, chain belts slung low on knee-baring, sleeveless chemise dresses, Op Art stripes and cork-soled platform sandals. And all of this to the throbbing sound of the Rolling Stones.

London is the only fashion capital where what is happening on the music scene, in the streets and the clubs filters upward to become commercial fashion. This time around, the talk is of Acid House, the latest British youth movement with no less than 23 clubs, whose symbol is the smiley face.

The smiley face is everywhere. And it is being commercialized by Robert Rose and David Solomon, owners of the Pink Soda accessory firm and by the ready-to-wear firm BOY, whose stand at the Olympia fashion exhibition was mobbed.

BOY, whose shop on King's Road has been selling black leather, chains, and skull-and-crossbones T-shirts since the early days of Punk, has changed its look for summer with oversized, tie-dye sweaters, shirts emblazoned "Acid House" and with that smiley face grinning from everything.

And there was more tie-dye from Workers for Freedom, designed by Richard Nott and Graham Frazer, who had their first runway show.

Still Large Crowds

Worries that the London audience would evaporate in the long gap between the end of the Milan shows and the beginning of the Paris collections were put to rest by the size of the crowds, estimated at more than 6,000.

"We won't know whether the show has been a success until the orders start coming in," said Sir Edward Rayne, chairman of the British Fashion Council, "but the mood here is certainly upbeat . . . ." Last year, Britain's fashion exports were 1.428 billion, up from 996.8 million in 1984, the year the group was organized. American stores, including Bergdorf Goodman, Bendel's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy's Northeast, plus specialty shops such as Martha and Charivari were all here shopping the shows.

When runway shows didn't have that redeeming ethnic or folkloric touch, the clothes had a strong retro element: bias cuts a la Carole Lombard; Theda Bara "vamp" head scarfs and Lana Turner's all-white playsuit from "The Postman Always Rings Twice" were just a few of the fantasies.

Jasper Conran has one of the surer senses of color in London. His long, double-breasted suede jacket in old rose, over a Nile-green chiffon skirt (or in mango suede with old rose chiffon skirt) were the standouts in his collection. Conran is often chosen by the Princess of Wales and many of the late-day dresses look designed for her. Less successful were the navy gabardine, thigh-high playsuits that opened the collection and the wrap-waist jackets which bared the back.

John Galliano seemed to be trying to marry Madeleine Vionnet to Yohji Yamamoto: an unsuccessful union. You had to admire the ingenuity of his bias cuts but these were clothes that asked: "Where would you wear me?"

Hollywood was the inspiration for Anthony Price's outfits, everything from Rosalind Russell pompadours to Helen Rose-style ball gowns, with Price going in for a revival of the mid-calf strapless dress, its huge skirt floating on masses of crinolines.

Betty Jackson, like many of the other British designers, confused the issue by showing her menswear on the runway with her women's wear. In this season of wide-leg trousers, vests and shirts, it was sometimes difficult to tell who was who. Her best looks were the flower-appliqued jackets snuggled over flared silk culottes in what looked like a Matisse collage print.

Monday night, the collections ended with Vivienne Westwood, originator of Punk Fashion who, for summer, says she is "civilized."

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