The Glamorous Life: It Only <i> Looks</i> Expensive

Times Fashion Editor

Harper’s Bazaar was a bit premature when, in the fall of 1992, it invited readers to “Enter the Era of Elegance.” What the magazine should have said was “Enter the Era of Grunge, Psychedelia and Hip-Hop.”

There would be two more funky years in fashion’s May-December love affair with the street, during which even the aristocratic Karl Lagerfeld evinced a weakness for rappers.

This season, the era of elegance really has dawned. Not because a magazine editor said so. But because--to paraphrase art historian Anne Hollander--our collective impulse to look elegant is coinciding with the production of elegant designs.

Bill Blass said he detected a shift in the winds of fashion when former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died and magazines were filled with tributes to her sense of style: “The fact that there was such a response tells me something.” Blass and Oscar de la Renta, another designer of ladylike fashion, have rung up record-breaking sales during recent trunk shows.


And while Blass and De la Renta have always claimed a loyal following among women of a certain age, it’s the younger women who seem most excited about dressing up. Trendsetter Sofia Coppola appeared at a charity affair in pretty pumps and silk charmeuse. Actress Nicole Kidman has reportedly signed contracts with agency makeup, hair and wardrobe people to polish her off-screen image. Sixteen-year-old runway models are learning to walk in four-inch heels. The Wonderbra is as indispensable as a Filofax.

Which brings us to the cloud in fall’s silver lining: This is not an easy elegance. Exacting might be a better word--with well-defined waistlines, perfectly applied red lipstick, matching polish and shiny, emphatic hair. Indeed, there’s something aggressively feminine about the new (old) glamour, captured provocatively in photographer Steven Meisel’s black-and-white ad campaign for Anne Klein. The photos telegraph the allure of the hard-edged woman--a type not seen since flowery rayon dresses became the rule.

What’s nice about artifice, of course, is that a woman needn’t be a natural beauty to play the game. (Ask any transvestite.) Deftly applied eyeliner and, as Geoffrey Beene said recently, a well-cut double-faced wool jacket, give hope to us all.

A woman needn’t be an heiress, either, to incorporate fall’s dominant trends into her wardrobe. Kmart has a full supply of kilts, while several of the junior clothing chains have whipped out low-cost versions of the mohair sweaters, vinyl skirts and itty-bitty suits seen on every designer’s runway last spring.


And in some cases, low cost means lighter-weight fabrics--an advantage during the scorching months that Californians call fall.