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BY DESIGN : Made in Metropolis : Your Next Suit Could Look a Lot Like Something Clark Kent Might Have Worn

NEWSDAY

Sporting a silver hoop in his newly pierced brow--a misplaced bit of decadence on a boyishly handsome face--John Bartlett asked the question, “Who is more glamorous--Forrest Gump or Ivana Trump?” He answered with a collection that, once again, confirmed his status as the shining-est light of the New York menswear shows.

Bringing together the bumpkinish naivete of Gump and the jaded danger of Jean Genet’s classic, naval steamer of a novel, “Querelle,” the 31-year-old designer cropped pants, shrunk suits, dropped the pockets of cargo pants to ankle level, and made pastel-green argyle sweaters and glen plaid Sansabelt-style slacks somehow seem alarmingly au courant.

Alas, the spring season was otherwise short on thrills. Except forthe spectacle of singer RuPaul modeling out of drag for designer Matthew Batanian--a show highlighted by paper-bag-waist pants and iridescent shirts in mineral blue and jade green--there were no major surprises. Actor Billy Baldwin sat front and center at Calvin Klein. Tommy Hilfiger didn’t reinvent menswear. Wolfgang Joop’s show was still scary.

In general, suits are getting sharper; lapels and neckties, narrower. Pressed, once again, looks better than rumpled. Loafers are gaining on sandals as the shoe of choice. Shine looks very fine, particularly when it’s the satin pants shown in the Artifact line by Jon Weiser. Forrest Gump is the fashion inspiration most often cited, with the Las Vegas Rat Pack following close behind in all its pinkie-ringed splendor.

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In Calvin Klein’s show, pants were Gumpishly hiked to the ankles and worn with white socks and loafers, and there were enough models in Clark Kent glasses to revive the whole nerd-chic thing we did in the 1980s. This was during the portion of his show devoted to his younger, hipper line--CK Calvin Klein. For innovation, it outshone his upper-priced signature collection. The best CK looks were crisp linen jackets and pants worn with rumpled checked shirts.

In Klein’s more grown-up collection, flat-front skinny-legged pants in pin-stripe or crinkled fabrics looked best, as did flap-pocket military and draftsman’s jackets.

New Republic Clothier, a smart, retro-inspired line by Thom Oatman and Jim Silverman, and Basco, the well-priced line designed by Lance Karesh, both featured sharp suits in crisp fabrics. New Republic’s green tropical wool “Vegas” suit and Basco’s gray “modern sharkskin” suit had skinny trousers and narrow lapels--both pointing to the future of tailored clothing.

“Rustic is over. Low key and minimal is happening again,” Karesh said during his presentation on the lanes of a Greenwich Village bowling alley.

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Donna Karan offered something truly fashion-brave among her drawstring pants, high-necked linen jackets and gauzy sweaters: a gray djellaba (a nice word for caftan) worn with striped linen trousers.

The best looks in her DKNY collection were a charcoal linen tattersall suit with a matching sweater vest, a sand-and-cream suit worn with a white V-neck T-shirt, and a linen sweater in stripes of gray, beige and greige worn with gray trousers. Sarongs continue to be featured.

Boing! a line designed by Ari Fruchter and Joe Soto, began with an iron-bodied model in a silver Lurex twin set with a feather brooch. Silver satin shirts and striped satin jeans tread the same path a little easier.

Everyone left Joop! by German designer Wolfgang Joop, talking about the iridescent neckties, which were among the few things that looked good. “Did you get it?” someone asked outside. “No,” was the most common answer.

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