Nina Ricci stays cool

HONG KONG'S best-dressed women will be keeping cool this summer in light, fluid outfits designed with comfort and simplicity in mind.

A return to the natural way of life is the recurrent theme in Nina Ricci's ready-to-wear collection.

There is a certain lightness of mood throughout and soft, balanced tailoring offers a much freer silhouette, setting the tone for casual elegance.

Refined details have not been overlooked with sophisticated contrast edging, attractive braiding and draped pleats adding feminine appeal to the garments.

''Now is the time to throw out those jackets with heavy shoulder padding which are still hanging in your wardrobe,'' sales director Joanna Che said.

''This season, there is a return to more natural contours with jackets that are smaller in the shoulder and sometimes even slightly rounded.'' Asymmetric designs create a much more comfortable, carefree, relaxed style.

Long line double-breasted blazers are in. So, too, are the shorter cardigan jackets worn over loose-fitting Palazzo pyjamas.

Nina Ricci has come up with a matching loose coat and slim trousers for an alternative look.

''The chiffon coat creates a flowing feeling but the slim trousers make you look tall and slim,'' Ms Che said.

For evenings, choose a slightly more A-line-style jacket, teamed with a short skirt to show off shapely legs.

The spencer makes a comeback in the collection, ideal with trousers, free-flowing mid-calf-length dresses or pareo-draped skirts and short-sleeved waistcoats.

Flattering georgette blouses with the bias on ruffles, and frilly crisp-white blouses in two-tone or finished with intricate embroidery enhance the spirit of summer romance.

What makes Nina Ricci's summer range so appealing is its wide variety. The blouses can be worn with equal panache, coupled with comfortable trousers, wrap-around mid-calf skirts or full-length evening skirts.

Many women enjoy the chance to wear a flattering summer dress and, this year, it is one of the most important fashion elements.

There are many styles to complement your figure, and match the occasion - printed T-shirt-style, short and pleated, mid-calf, and A-line. For cocktail parties, there is a showy dress, which is bound to attract attention.

''The dresses are always fluid,'' Ms Che said. ''Mostly, they are full-skirted, frilled and often draped.'' Lace, satin, brocade, silk georgette, taffeta and organza bring romance to balmy evenings.

''Evening suits are two-piece and can be worn against the skin for a striking effect,'' Ms Che said.

''Legs are highlighted by short skirts with petal-shaped hems, or seen through transparent fabrics such as Palazzo-style georgette trousers.'' A big trend this season is for natural fabrics, and the collection takes on an almost rustic tone.

Slub and shantung silk, cotton shantung, cool wool, crepe de Chine, silk georgette and mixed fabrics have been used to allow for optimum comfort in a hot climate.

Prints are inspired by nature; baskets full of daisies, violets and tiny flowers form chintz bouquets set against natural backgrounds. A more geometric look is created by navy and white stripes darted with the vibrant colours of exotic dancers.

''Colours fall into four categories,'' Ms Che said. ''Powdered [ivory, beige, pink, celadon], spiced pimento [saffron, cinnamon, tobacco], sun-lit [buttercup yellow, Indian pink, mint green, violet] and basic [stucco white, navy blue, and red].

''This time the collection has taken on a more youthful, trendy look.

''Our customers fall into the over-25 bracket but even the mature woman wants to keep herself looking young in keeping with the general trend,'' she said.

Accessories take on a mix-and-match appeal in line with the personal approach. Nina Ricci's range of jewellery, belts and bags, provides scope and design.

An extravagant silk scarf with strong splashes of colour, worn with a geometric bronze bracelet, adds a final touch to any outfit. The heavy emphasis on beadwork in one of the necklace series re-enforces the natural theme.

There are several main collections: les Spirales, an earthy collection of spiral gold earrings, whip snake and nubuk handbags and matching belts; les Craqueles, a fashionable selection of matt, cracked jewellery with straw or lambskin bags in natural tones; and les Fleurs Emailles, an upbeat trendy look in enamel belts, earrings and necklaces.

''We also have the new embossed Three Graces line of leather goods in pastel colours. The classic metal medallion has been replaced with a more contemporary embossed, tone-on-tone version,'' Ms Che said.