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Desperately Seeking...A Fad

Marketing: FASHION


Will the Evita look light a fire under shoppers?

When Madonna burst onto the pop scene in the early 1980s wearing a lacy bustier and a chunky crucifix, she started a fashion phenomenon. Suddenly, lingerie and religious-inspired jewelry were flying off store shelves. Now, the beleaguered fashion industry is praying she can spark an even bigger trend playing stylish Eva Peron in the upcoming movie Evita.

The hope? That Evita will inspire a craving for the kinds of tailored clothes and accessories that have fallen out of style in favor of casual dress in the 1990s. But that's too big a job even for Madonna and her powerful marketing machine, say many fashion experts. The idea of returning to big, 1940s-style shoulder pads, tiny-waisted jackets, and long, ruffled skirts leaves many working women and soccer moms cold. Julie Webb, a real estate executive in Salt Lake City, doubts the Evita look will fly in her office. "It's too overstated for today's times," she says. "You need a wardrobe that's comfortable and multifunctional."

Still, with no other big trend out there, apparel makers and retailers have latched onto Evita in an attempt to boost sales. Bloomingdale's is opening Evita boutiques in nine stores on Dec. 1, and it has commissioned exclusive Evita-inspired items from well-known designers such as Nicole Miller, Tahari, and Victor Costa. "This could put a jolt back into fashion," gushes Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomie's senior vice-president for fashion, an industry veteran known for his Midas touch. Other apparel companies, such as ABS USA. in Los Angeles, are rolling out their own lines of Evita-wear.

Cosmetic giant Estee Lauder Inc., which usually passes on trendy promotions, is also getting into the act, with a "Face of Evita" line for Bloomingdale's that includes three shades of red lipstick, red nail polish, and fancy gold compacts. Already, Madonna has appeared in Evita garb on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair.

No question, the women's apparel industry needs a boost. Sales have been lackluster since 1994, despite a healthy economy. The problem: Surveys show that most women are bored with the current fashions. That's hardly surprising, given the minimalist black and neutral outfits offered by designers in recent years, says David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group, a New York consulting firm. "Fashion sure needs a savior," he says. "It could be Evita."

"PASSE." Trouble is, the women's apparel market isn't crying for Evita. "What dictates fashion is lifestyle," says Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report. "Formal wear is passe." Casual clothing for women is what's selling well this year, and it's likely to score big again next year. Surveys by retail consultant Kurt Salmon Associates show that in 1997, women expect to buy fewer dresses, suits, and hosiery--all important parts of the Evita look.

Plenty of other factors are working against an Evita fashion coup. The movie doesn't open until Dec. 25 in New York and Los Angeles and not until January in the rest of the country, long after the holiday shopping season is over, except for markdowns. The odds that the movie flops are high, since musicals aimed at adults have done poorly over the past decade. And few films, with the exception of Annie Hall 20 years ago, have had much impact on fashion.

Perhaps most important, sexy Madonna is an unlikely model for the middle-aged working women who spend the most on clothes. It's no wonder apparel makers and retailers are desperately seeking a fashion phenomenon. But they'd probably be better off looking for inspiration from Madonna's real-life role as a working mom, than her celluloid turn as a dictator's glamorous young spouse.By Susan Chandler in ChicagoReturn to top

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