Put your glad rags on and party

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 December, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 December, 1999, 12:00am

Throw out those basic black dresses - unless, of course, they are enveloped in feathers, trimmed with fur or lavishly embroidered with dangling paillettes. For that, fundamentally, is the flavour of fashion this festive season - all opulence, extravagance and out- and-out glamour.

That could well be the result of millennium mania, with all its accompanying talk of the mother-of-all-celebrations. After all, if you are not going to wear that one plumed and beaded ensemble this New Year's Eve, then when will you? But style trends in the run-up to the millennium appear to have reflected those of mainstream, everyday fashion. The past couple of seasons have seen a return to a level of exuberance in dressing that fell by the wayside when minimalism took hold, in the mid-1990s.

And while there will always be a place for that understated, low-key style, the fashion of the times is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Tailoring has been replaced by softness and femininity, muted shades sidelined in favour of vivid reds, sharp greens and luscious plum and burgundy colours and simplicity has slowly given way to fabulous flourishes.

And customers are lapping it all up: at Loewe, a shipment of dresses and shell tops encrusted with semi-precious stones sold out within a week of arriving. Sexy, slithery lace pants given a sheen of metallic threadwork, part of Gucci's latest collection, were also snapped up.

At Lane Crawford, a customer a few weeks ago walked in and bought five evening dresses from New York design label Badgley Mischka, known for its rich embroidery and pretty, painterly colours . . . the customer shelled out about $125,000 for the gowns.

Retailers agree that customers are evidently in the mood to celebrate, with stores fast running out of flirty, fun items.

At Seibu, chief oper ations officer Sarah O'Donnell said the trend was much more towards individualism, and item-driven shop ping, as opposed to buy ing an entire ensemble from the same label.

Buyers at Lane Crawford agree: cur rently hot labels such as Catherine, Patty Shelabarger and Easel are very much focused on individualistic, eclectic pieces that can be worn with anything existing in your ward robe. (Sequinned Argyle knit sweaters and tasseled skirts are strong, feisty, festive items.) And Joyce reports a healthy response to its more fun, frou-frou collections.

Brands with mass appeal, such as Marks & Spencer, are putting their own spin on the of-the-moment look. Tight cropped T-shirts with a band of transparent sequins across the front, A-line wool tunic tops with fur trim and swirling velvet skirts in shades of bordeaux and moss green - two of the season's most important colours - are hip interpretations of the catwalk's hottest looks.