Fashion: Up, Up & Away

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"I don't care about my customers as long as I amuse myself," says Geoffrey Beene, 40, who has just designed the wedding gown for Lynda Bird Johnson. Beene's bag now is packed with gaily colored evening dresses, with striped T-shirt tops and extravagant ostrich-feather skirts. Jacques Tiffeau, 40, showed the shortest skirts of all (eight inches above the knee) but softened the look by draping bosoms Grecian-style for evening and by using flowing flowered silks for daytime. Oscar de La Renta, 34, best known for his evening gowns, went all out for romance with a group of dresses in white organza and lace petals, including one long-sleeved short culotte that is to be worn with rhinestone-embroidered tights.

Gauging how high the market will go is tricky business. "Last year," admits Bill Blass, 45, "I said the hell with the old customers, and I designed the most extreme collection of my career." Some of the old customers said the same to Blass. "I had to get off the youth kick," he explains. For next year, Blass is back with the baby-doll look, shown with lots of lace and ruffled bibs in a series of fetching high-necked dresses three inches above the knee.

Endless Penelope. Fashions are equally switched on at the boutiques, where the prices are low, the taped rock music is loud, and the amateur salesgirls just can't resist breaking into a frug while waiting on customers. Boutiques are now being shopped by everybody, from teen-agers and secretaries to Jackie Kennedy. She picked up half a dozen bush shirts for her recent trip to Angkor Wat at Manhattan's Paraphernalia. The most successful of them all, it has 34 branches across the country and a brilliant new designer named Betsey Johnson, 25, who only three years ago was an unknown peddling homemade sweaters to her associates at Mademoiselle. "I built my success on Dr. Speck's failure," says Paul Young, Paraphernalia's 38-year-old president. "He told parents that the kids had to make it on their own, and consequently the kids got neglected and turned to their own peer group."

Boutiques are proliferating across the U.S. and abroad as well. In Paris, Pierre Cardin, Yves St. Laurent and André Courrèges have all opened their own to carry their new ready-to-wear designs. The Beatles are backing one called Apple that will open soon in London. To get in on the act, big U.S. department stores are setting up their own boutique sections.

To keep old skirts up to the level of what is latest in the boutiques, girls are playing an endless game of Penelope ripping out stitches, shortening dresses that only last winter looked too daringly high. Wheaton College Senior Cess Cathcart put one dress through so many metamorphoses that she was left with "something I can wear as a belt if I ever get desperate."

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