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Keeping Your Cool : Fashion: You can have your rhinestones, your neons, your chichi fabrics. Our fantasy gathering of skiers, however, demands function over flash.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

No rhinestones adorn our parkas. No Dr. Seuss hats flutter from our heads. We never, ever wear neon.

In the realm of skiing, where flash outshines function, ours can be a lonely existence. Last winter’s return of traditional blues and forest greens provided a glimmer of sensibility, but this season has brought another avalanche of fashions better suited for Mardi Gras than Mammoth.

So we gather to commiserate, a convention of the few, the proud, the understated--the imagined.

Olympic skier Picabo Street arrives in overalls and a bandanna, escorted by Robert Redford dressed as the “Downhill Racer.” That sleek suit and silver helmet, those Carrera goggles: Clothes built for speed, not show. John Lennon wears his outfit from “Help!"--all black with old-style leather boots. Audrey Hepburn looks splendid in her “Charade” apres-ski wear.

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I am there, too. So are my friends Steve and Karen, the staunchest anti-fashion skiers I know, and my college buddy Chris. The lunatic fringe--the guys who ski in jeans and Pendleton shirts--sit on the floor. We drink beer and sneer at a ski catalogue.

“Emmegi outfits the entire family in a joyous mix of color,” it says on the first page. The model in the photograph wears a $1,000 ensemble, a silvery print festooned with gray laurels and the likenesses of Middle Eastern kings.

“Clown suit,” Karen moans.

“The only thing missing,” Steve agrees, “is the big red nose.”

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Audrey Hepburn shakes her head. “What would possess a person?”

Altitude, we suspect. Robs the brain of oxygen.

Senses dull, judgment falters. How else to explain MCM’s apres-ski boots, spattered with $300 worth of designer logos and gold chains? Like wearing purses on your feet.

Picabo throws a fit. Jean-Claude Killy has arrived fashionably late. Chris tugs at his bulky wool sweater, the one he got for Christmas a few years back.

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Not that colorful clothes are inherently evil. At some point, however, the notion of making Squaw Valley pret-a-porter becomes ludicrous.

Where to draw the line?

At Bogner’s new down-filled jacket, perhaps. Black and otherwise sensible, it boasts a fur-lined collar and mocha plaid flannel lining, luxuries that boost the price to almost $1,000.

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“Imagine there’s no ermine,” John grumbles.

Or think back to George Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” One of the best chase scenes in James Bond history was outshined, literally, by Lazenby’s baby-blue outfit and bug-eyed goggles. The mention of it causes Jean-Claude to squirm.

“Reminds me of Suzy Chapstick,” Steve says. “That woman gave me the creeps.”

The madness does not end with colors and fabrics. Sensible-looking clothes, such as Postcard’s alpaca coat, can retail at dizzying prices. Even renegade snowboarders have bought into such commercialism. Their nouveau gas-station styles cost more than a gas-station attendant makes in a month.

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But economy is a highly relative term when it comes to skiing. The essentials--skis, boots, thermal underwear--cannot be skimped on. Looking cool and staying warm while saving money requires nerve and concentration.

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I once fell for the “50% off” tag on a sturdy black anorak. Hypnotized, I failed to account for an outlandish neon design on the back. It looked like a Day-Glo Picasso.

Robert Redford gave me that steely-eyed look of his. Closer friends were charitable.

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“One good thing,” they said. “We can spot you anywhere on the mountain.”

It was Steve and Karen who eventually showed me the way. They wear simple jackets--his, deep blue, and hers, purple--with black stretch pants tucked at the boot. It’s a 1950s look that they put together for little more than the cost of Obermeyer’s $230 black velvet tunic and leggings.

“Patience,” Karen counsels.

Some of their gear came from a Patagonia outlet store in Ventura. The rest turned up at various sales over the years.

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“Layers,” Steve advises.

Instead of spending bundles of money on powder suits or bulky parkas, they dress in multiples of thinner clothing. The advantages are twofold. Light jackets can be unzipped and fleece liners tied around the waist when freezing mountaintop winds give way to sweaty waiting lines down at the lift. Second, as we all know, everything looks better when layered.

Physics plays a role, too. Chris chooses natural fabrics for a reason.

“The shiny stuff is too slippery,” he explains. “If I fall, I don’t want to slide all the way down the mountain.”

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If you ski, you have seen her.

She stands by a window in the lodge, tall and stunningly tan, dressed all in white with gold accents that highlight her blond hair.

Redford perks up.

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“The Encino skier,” Karen grumbles.

We have Maria Bogner to blame. Wife of German ski champion Willi Bogner, she introduced colors to the traditional dark ski outfit. The onslaught of modern, unnatural fabrics allowed for increasing deviations. In recent years, this progress has translated into Bogner’s braided Michael Jackson jumpsuit and a particularly excessive zebra-striped outfit.

The hour is late, the beers have dwindled and our gripe session is drawing to a close. Steve pulls on his weathered Ugg boots with duct tape across the toes. He offers a summary.

“Don’t dress to be cool,” he says. “Dress to be functional.”

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The lunatic fringe murmurs in agreement. But I cannot help playing devil’s advocate. I ask: Would you wear a warm and reasonably priced jacket if it had bright colors and too many zippers? Audrey does not hesitate to answer.

“I would rather freeze.”


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