Ugly Takes a Last Walk

Article excerpt

IT'S DELICIOUSLY APROPOS THAT LISA Marie Presley is on the cover of Vogue this month, because fashion is in a state of Graceland. The hottest spring reek of a retro-tackiness that's being called "the good taste of bad taste." This faddish embrace of the purposely ugly-colors not found in nature, clashing prints, synthetic fabrics, knowingly dowdy lengths and "geek chic"--has been building for at least a year. Things are so bad that, right this minute in young, trend-happy circles, a brown polyester pantsuit is the height of fashion, lime green is being called "the new neutral" and white loafers are all the rage despite the fact that Memorial Day is still seven weeks away. Asked to explain this lust for faux-'70s flea-market looks at caviar prices, New York-based fashion stylist Edward Jowdy can only come up with this rationale: "Say you buy a hideous plaid skirt. You're pretty sure you're not to see 10 other girls wearing it." Who a argue with logic like that?

If anyone is to be credited -- or blame -- for this off-kilter idea, it is Miuccia Prada. Last year the Italian designer dropped her, trademark minimalism for the so-called "beauty of ugliness" in booth her Prada line -- the collection most coveted by the international glamorati these days -- and in Miu Miu, her younger, more moderately priced label. Several weeks ago, when Prada appeared on CNN's "Style" program in one of her own designs--a navy blue "techno-stretch" polyester blouse with a contrasting azure blue collar--she looked not like the most widely copied designer today but like a fast-food counter girl, circa 1976. You kept waiting for her to ask Elsa Klensch, "Do you want fries with that?" Plenty of manufacturers, not to mention designers, have also jumped aboard the ugly express, but without the wit that Prada brings to her collections. Instead of provocative fashion that questioned the nature of classic beauty and good taste, they pushed an esthetic that Elvis Presley would have loved.

But ugly's days are numbered. Last week, when Prada showed her fall Miu Miu collection during the New York ready-to-wear shows, her program notes pronounced that homely is over and pretty is back. A season ago, she may have invited her customers to indulge in bad taste--saucy nurses' uniforms and see-through Velcro-tab skirts--but now Prada is enamored of the kind of well-bred young woman who favors a prim red riding coat and a pleated camel below-the-knee skirt, good-girl clothes that smack of money and refinement. There's still a hint of bad taste -- patchwork ankle-strap shoes, for instance--but it's just a hint. "It's the good passed through the bad, so it's different," the designer explained after the show.

The best shows in New York were on to pretty as well, even when they found their inspiration in the 1970s. …