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Around Town : Dive or Dance: Designer Gail Simms Pairs Her Swim and Evening Wear

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Designer Gail Simms considers herself a renegade.

After graduating from Otis Parsons in New York in the mid-'60s, she didn’t head for Seventh Avenue. She came to California. And in a decade filled with “girdles, stockings and bras shaped liked torpedoes,” she created “freer shapes in sportswear.” Then in 1971, she designed Catalina’s first no-bra swimsuit.

Her credits also include Pierre Cardin swimwear, which she still ghost designs. But her real love was always after-five fantasy clothing, and two years ago she decided to mix swimwear concepts with evening wear.

Under her own label, she designs “the ‘90s alternative to a blouse and skirt.” But it’s a lot more than that. Body suits, which are made of nylon-Lycra and could pass for swimsuits, are lavishly covered with beads or sequins. Simms says they can go in the pool, but she doubts they ever will. Over the suits go the options: elaborately trimmed short, flirty skirts or floor-length crepe columns; jackets and pants splashed with Austrian crystals; diaphanous scarfs with beaded fringes.

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Simms also designs luxurious dinner suits and couture ball gowns. She created the white ostrich-feather gown Angie Dickinson wore to the Academy Awards last spring. Women’s Wear Daily labeled it the “duck dress,” but Simms and clients who continue to order the gown affectionately call it the “Ginger dress,” because it reminds them of Ginger Rogers.

Simms’ ready-to-wear starts at $425. Selections are at Nordstrom, Fred Hayman in Beverly Hills, Maxfield on Melrose Avenue.


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