Fashion: Up, Up & Away

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Wicked Alternative. For last month's spring showings, Gernreich arrived togged out in one of his favorite zippered Pierre Cardin "cosmocorps" suits, looking every bit as futuristic as his fashions. Standing fully erect, his 5-ft. 6-in., 138-lb. figure poised with a lithe dancers grace, he told the buyers and press: "A woman today can be anything she wants to be a Gainsborough or a Reynolds or a Reynolds Wrap." Then came a preview of the provocative choices ahead. First was a series of simple knit dresses simple except for the clear vinyl bands that saucily bared the navel and the underslope of the bosom. Nor were the bathing suits that followed any letdown. Clear vinyl was at work again to make them the nudest since the topless.

Gernreich confronted the problem of the miniskirt head on. Tights may take care of modesty in the wintertime, believes Rudi, but for summer they are simply too hot. "Since skirts as such are really disappearing, they have to have a different look," he announced, and proceeded to prescribe either puffy bloomers or Siamese skirts with a security panel wrapped between the legs. For braver women, he offered a wicked alternative: a black bikini bottom to match the briefest tent dress ever.

Ostrich Skirts & Ruffled Bibs. It is a sign of the times that Gernreich's fondness for exposing the body raised no heckles. Just four years ago, when Gernreich won his first Coty Award, Norman Norell returned his Hall of Fame plaque because "it no longer has any meaning." Norell has since reconsidered, now says: "I take it all back on the basis of the last two years he's a great designer." But Norell finds that when he tries to match Gernreich's pace and turn out younger clothes, they come out "too well-made." Puzzled by the direction that fashion is taking, Norell adds: "I'd appreciate a few hints."

Most of the New Guard of Seventh Avenue designers, however, swing right along with Rudi. "I have never enjoyed designing more," exclaims Chester Weinberg, 37, who has been on his own for barely a year and a half long enough to pick up the patronage of such Manhattan pacesetters as Best-Dressed Amanda Burden, Pop Art Promoter Ethel Scull and Anne Ford Uzielli. Says Weinberg: "This youth movement is just right for me." Although he experimented with mid-calf midis for his evening clothes, for day-time he kept his dresses short, made them pretty, with lots of ruffles and see-through organza blouses. Declares Weinberg: "If I could have, I would have stuck lilies of the valley under the belt of every dress."

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