AMES TARANTINO COULD be dubbed the new Mr. Clean. In the fashion industry, such high praise is reserved for the very few--Balenciaga in the '50s, Halston in the '70s and Armani in the '80s--who turn tides with nuances rather than grand gestures. Such designers are beyond fad, perfectly in tune with the way women want to look: dignified, feminine, sensual.
At 30 and in business only since 1986, Tarantino has already developed a clear vision. In 1986, he won the California Mart's Rising Star Award, and this year Christian Lacroix presented him with the Fil d'Argent Award for new designers at the International Linen Festival in Monte Carlo.
Tarantino, who studied at the Parsons School of Design, works in a small downtown Los Angeles studio, making modern clothes the old-fashioned way: sketching, draping, fitting and working out original ideas. The result is classically styled, high-quality dresses and suits with his distinctive, sleek signature. Tarantino's clothes are made in upbeat colors and crisp fabrics that glide over a woman's body, accentuating curves gracefully. They're no-nonsense, smart clothes.
Bloomingdale's discovered Tarantino about a year ago when its East Coast merchandise marauders arrived to put together a storewide spring 1989 California promotion. Tarantino's work was a great success, says Barbara Kennedy, merchandise vice president of dresses, coats and suits for Bloomingdale's. "We reordered almost every style, and for fall we sold out, too. His is a very sophisticated taste level."
Customers recognize that. "I grew up wearing my grandmother's Galanos and Geoffrey Beene, so I'm not that easy to please," says Wendy Fritz of Chicago, New York and Palm Beach. "James' clothes are elegant, simple and finished so well. They fit like Claude Montana or Thierry Mugler and when I wear them, everyone wants to know who the designer is. They're delighted when they learn about the price."
An average dress sells for about $380, a suit about $550, which is less than what some designers charge. It's an investment that requires some thought, but not serious debt, at stores including Nordstrom, Bullocks, I. Magnin, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fred Segal Santa Monica and Ron Ross in Encino.