FASHION : Crystal Mail Is Latest Form of Fantasy : Michael Schmidt Draws Inspiration From Jewelry Designs

Most people who know his name think of Michael Schmidt as the man who designed the chain-mail clothes that Cher wore in those health spa ads. Now Schmidt is making a few additional items for her wardrobe. This time he's using a technique he calls "New Age knitting."

He weaves crystals, connected by tiny metal links, into a delicate latticework fabric he refers to as crystal chain mail. He is working the unusual fabric into minidresses, T-shirts and motorcycle jacket trims for Cher, hoping she will bring the clothes to widespread attention when she wears them to premieres, award ceremonies and for the occasional Holiday Health Spa ad. (Schmidt designed the chain-mail top she wore in last year's high-profile ad campaign.)

"I'd like to see her take it and run with it, the way she has with other designs of mine," Schmidt says of his crystal clothing collection.

Uses Past Experience

These new styles, like his earlier, all-metal chain-mail outfits worn by celebrities Diana Ross, Elton John and the rocker Ozzy Osbourne, are inspired by jewelry more than by fashion, he says. "I used to do crystal jewelry a long time ago, and as a result of working with crystals, I came up with this concept."

At that point in his fledgling career he didn't have the cash to produce his crystal-mail fashion fantasies. The materials were too expensive for his limited budget, and he couldn't afford to hire the specialized workers he needed. "It's more fine art than fashion," he says about the hand-done technique. "You'd think it wouldn't work for clothes but it does."

Schmidt's new knits have an appeal based on contrasts. "They're incredibly refined and also have an aggressive, hard quality," he says. "Adapting harsh material to the softness of the human body makes the clothes interesting."

Celebrity Client

Cher is the designer's celebrity client of choice. "Cher's the perfect spokeswoman and model for my work because she embodies glamour and street credibility," he says. But others can also find his styles at the Maxfield boutique.

His future fashion-design plans reinforce his way of combining two optional elements of style: flashiness and originality. Upcoming are motorcycle jackets constructed of crocodile skin (Schmidt's homage to Yves Saint Laurent, who did a version of the look in the mid-'60s). He is also working on T-shirts, dresses and jackets made of gossamer strands of metal that he calls "stainless-steel chiffon."

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