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Fashion's Spring Song: `I Feel Pretty'

Ready-to-wear designers unveil softer, more feminine looks

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EUROPE'S new fashion wave for spring is washing up everything from pinned and pierced punks with Technicolor hair to chiton-draped Greek goddesses in Platonic sandals.

If you can't imagine yourself with a ring in your nose or dragging your drapes to Mount Olympus, you can also get into the new fashion loop with a hoop - a real Scarlett O'Hara hooped skirt made from the draperies, curtains, and bedspreads at Tara.

Whether it's some kind of madness or a turn-of-the-century turning point, the first clothes of 1994 are as chaotic as the 6 o'clock news. The one new wave both the avant-garde and the old guard are riding is the foamy, frothy, vaporous surge of soft. Fabrics are softer. Colors are softer. The deconstructivists have won. They've torn down the strict structures provided by hard-edge tailoring and replaced the sharp angles with rounded columns and curves.

Deep in the core of these soft clothes for hard times is a denial of new. You see it in the wrinkled and crumpled fabrics, the faded, bleached, and dyed-to-look-old colors and the bits and pieces of recycled clothing salvaged from the flea market to live again as pre-worn, post-thrift shop patchworks.

This is especially true of the young avant-garde designers, led by Martin Margiela, who this season expressed his own denial of new by resuscitating 70 of his favorite designs from the past five years, dating back to his first tattoo-printed T-shirts of 1989. Margiela gave the remakes a second life by dying them all gray.

Another recycler, Lamine Kouyate, is also in a kind of holding pattern this season, recontemplating the $10 tank tops and $50 shirt dresses he brought to life last year, and the castoffs he dismembered, rearranged, and stitched together with such artistry and passion.

John Richmond is also reissuing some of his old favorites. Both Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester have softened and sweetened their cutting-edge clothes, using more diaphanous fabrics in poetic prints.


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