Retro's a No-No, or Why the Future's Not in the Past

Might there be a backlash brewing against retro fashion?

British designer Alexander McQueen thinks so. "Retro is another word for 'Whoops, I don't know what to do this season,' " he said at a recent New Yorker Festival panel on fashion held in Manhattan.

The future of fashion lies in technology, according to the sharp-tongued designer who recently left Givenchy to focus on his own line, bankrolled by Italian fashion house Gucci.

"I've always dreamed of weaving fabric into the shape of a person's body with no seams," he said, adding that he wants to "teach the general public that it's not unusual to wear a suit all in one piece."

Also on the panel was Stella McCartney, who like McQueen, is now working for Gucci. (Until early April, she was the designer for Paris-based Chloe.)

Well-known as an animal rights supporter, McCartney got some flak for signing with the leather goods giant. But she said the move will not compromise her reluctance to use animal products in her designs, intimating that she might even try to encourage Gucci to lay off the hides. She said, "I very much believe in infiltrating from within."

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Thomas Perse, owner of the high-profile Maxfield boutique in West Hollywood agreed Tuesday to pay a $175,000 fine for importing and selling shahtoosh shawls made from the wool of the chiru, an endangered Tibetan antelope.

The agreement with the U.S. attorney's office in Newark, N.J., settled government allegations that Perse, as owner of Maxfield Enterprises Inc., imported and sold several of the shawls between 1994 and 1996, violating federal laws. The civil fine is one of the largest under the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act, the statutes used to protect wildlife, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chagares.

Perse also will be required to pay for and publish a public service announcement in either Vanity Fair or Harper's Bazaar that details the plight of the chiru, the laws that protect it and why possessing, buying or selling shahtoosh shawls is illegal. He's also required to stock his Melrose Avenue boutique with brochures that explain the laws protecting the Tibetan antelope.

The lightweight, warm and expensive shawls emerged as a must-have luxury item for the fashion elite in the 1990s, until 1997 when wildlife conservationists began campaigning to dispel a persistent myth about the real origins of the fine wool. In his public service announcement, the retailer said that he believed that the rare shahtoosh fiber came from a non-endangered goat, the ibex. Perse did not return phone calls.

The United States and 142 other nations have outlawed sales of the shawls, but Tibetan and Chinese gangs continue to poach the 109,000-square-mile Chang Tang Reserve in the Himalayas where the antelope lives, feeding a black market. Since 1990 the animal's numbers have dwindled from an estimated 1 million to 75,000.

The case is part of an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into illegal imports and sales of the shawls. In a criminal case in July, a New Jersey woman, a Hong Kong resident and an India-based export company pleaded guilty to illegally trading in the shawls.

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Times fashion writers and wire reports

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