'Tis the season to buy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 December, 1997, 12:00am

It is one of life's quirkier ironies that, in a fashion season defined by luxury and opulence, Asian economies are collapsing, fortunes are floundering - and few, therefore, are in the mood to buy.

Swanky boutiques all over town are peddling beaded sheaths, rich velvet dresses, sequinned robes and luxe satin gowns in an eveningwear season that is led by the glamour of Parisian haute couture. But the price markdowns - sales officially began this week - that inevitably accompany these divine offerings bear testament to the fact that purse-strings have been considerably tightened.

But the festive season is nearly here and if there has ever been a time to splurge on one great party dress, now is probably it.

There is no shortage of shopping options: stocks are plentiful, and the special prices (those listed here are original retail prices and do not include discounts) make this an even more conducive time.

But what has not changed is fashion's current obsession with sparkle. Surface embellishment is the key for fall 1997 eveningwear - be it in sequins, beads or metallic threadwork.

The focus is on luxury, in plush fabrics (ducchesse satin, double-backed crepe, silk-chiffon) and in regal colours (burgundy, ruby, ivory).

Touches of opulence come in trimmings that include fur and marabou feathers.

Much of the return-to-decadence appeal of this season's style offerings has much to do with the skilled revival of haute couture at the hands of John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen.

The Neo-Glamour direction has also been a reflection of an era when the pockets of the United States - the nation is the world's biggest consumer of European designer clothing - have been flush with cash.

Fall/winter's after-work and party clothes are, ironically, intended to make their wearers look rich, no matter what the state of their bank balances.

This is equally an effect that can be achieved by throwing on some of the key accessories of the season - a feather boa, a pair of stilettos, glittery earrings, a gilded chain belt.

Or, as some diehard self-indulgents might prefer, a full fur coat.