It all began with the guitarist of a band that got old before its time - so says Daniella Clarke, the reigning fashion designer of denim jeans design on the west coast of the United States.
Clarke - married to Gilby Clarke, the former Guns & Roses guitarist - decided three years ago to bring back the cowgirl look of the 1970s and to adapt it for slim curvaceous women, or for those who aspire to such a figure.
"I wanted to design jeans that would attract attention," says Clarke. One look at her husband's skinny legs, and a bid to please their 5-year-old daughter Frankie, who loves low-cut pants, were enough to bring forth the first pair of Frankie B. bumsters. These are particularly low cut and are made of contemporary fabrics, with a few buttons in front and cut a bit higher toward the waist in back.
The line that Clarke designs is not considered expensive - Frankie B. brand name pants cost $60-$100 in California. But she has become the original designer who has made the lives of many women impossible.
Frankie B. made its market breakthrough only after Meg Ryan, Rosanna Arquette, Daryl Hannah and Farrah Fawcett slipped happily into the pants a short time after Clarke displayed them. Two years ago it was still hoped that this look would be the exclusive heritage of Hollywood stars who spend many hours at fitness clubs and live on a diet of high-profile greens.
Experienced women, however, have begun to reconcile themselves to fashion's decree. When a fashion trend penetrates such a broad swath of Hollywood, it's sure to expand beyond. The next step in accentuating the buttocks and the low-slung pants came from Jennifer Lopez. The Latino star adored by 13-year-old girls worldwide underwent an expensive and original operation to augment her buttocks so that she could both fill out the pants better and lower her belt even further. Lopez then became a role model.
Janelle Brown of the online magazine Salon and Roxanne James of New York magazine then felt compelled to write about her, devoting their columns to butt cleavage and low-slung pants.
In last week's issue of Salon Brown declared that the buttocks are going to be the most admired part of the body - by both men and women - in the coming decades, replacing even the immortal breasts. What further proof do we need than Jennifer Lopez's expensive surgery? Brown says that this, unfortunately, is how the desirable look for the modern woman will be measured.
James went so far as to say that rounding out the backside creates "an amazing, original look, providing new opportunities for many women who have given up on their upper part."
This past year it turned out that the low-rise look had also invaded Israel. Castro's latest catalog shows in-house model Sandy Bar in low-rise cotton pants for summer as well as similar stretch suede pants for winter. The catalog makes the powerful declaration that low-cut pants will be on the Israeli fashion scene for a long time.
A survey of several fashion chains reveals that low-rise pants really are the most widely available kind this summer. "We have no other pants," the salespeople happily announce. Even the relatively conservative brands, such as Golf, are highlighting low-rise pants.
What are women to do if they want to remain fashionable but are not enamored of the latest fad but are also not interested in expensive designer clothing? They will most likely get stuck with a dilemma.
Ha'aretz's tour of the clothing stores began at Zara, which did Israelis a great service by lowering prices - but also offers a host of models and fabrics that do not always suit the Israeli climate. A saleswoman at one large busy branch of the chain declared unequivocally that there are no pants with normal waistlines.
Stone-washed jeans adorned with beads sported an unimaginably low belt-line and pin-striped blue and white pants of a fabric reminiscent of overalls looked great on the hanger, but were quite disappointing on the hips. In despair, we went to look instead at the shirts and skirts.
Even at one of Castro's bustling stores, the saleswomen told us that "all the models this year are low cut," and our frustration only increased as we eyed the beautiful fabrics. Whoever is not willing to confront the skin-tight pants is referred to the skirts and dresses, a suitable alternative for Israel's summer.
The Golf chain wasn't much better. A short while ago it seemed as if Golf was trying to provide a solution for the working woman who wanted to wear appropriate pants to work, as well as blouses in nice fabrics or even a shirt-and-sweater set to suit the air conditioning. This goal and the frequent use of knit fabrics created a solid image for the chain, sometimes too solid.
"We have absolutely no pants that are not low cut," said a friendly salesperson at one Golf branch last week. Even if the rest of the clothes were acceptable, the thin cotton or Terylene pants in light beige, pale blue or other similar colors were off limits to anyone who did not want to expose his posterior cleavage at every opportunity.
Our survey of the other stores led to similar conclusions, even at the Levi's flagship store at the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv and at Mango, the most solid, sane Spanish option. Even the Canadian Club Monaco store, whose clothing is known for its clean lines and quality sewing, customers are faced with the new fashion fact - good quality pants, but low cut.
The DKNY store illustrated this sweeping trend as well, our "customer" tried on several pairs of jeans, and the most suitable required shortening and altering because and was too big and not particularly flattering, but she had no other choice - it had the highest waistline of them all - its only selling point.
Why are the low-cut pants so dominant on the market, to the point where women, even those over 30, are confronted with them everywhere? "The low-rise pants trend is really much more evident this year," says Deganit Hollinger-Ram, who designs the Castro Trend line. "It started two years ago and has become particularly prominent in the past two months, so much so that we are beginning to focus on what is worn under the pants - various cuts and colors of panties, even silver, for example."
Hollinger-Ram notes that Castro does not yet manufacture designer panties, but "it is a trend that we will certainly see in the near future."
Castro also has a Castro Concept line of tailored clothing for all ages, with pants that are not cut too low. "But," adds Hollinger-Ram, "Israeli women in general love to latch onto fashion trends from abroad and we are answering the market's demands. It is possible that salespeople want the stores to look fashionable, so they are emphasizing the low-cut line, but we try to meet all the types of requests."
Hollinger-Ram noted that Castro adapted its designs to the Israeli customer who loves to dress low-cut. "Israeli women have fuller figures, so we design pants that are a bit higher in the back and low in the front, so that the fit the buttocks better," she explains, adding that this is a multi-season design and will be around for a while.
Sigal Eshel, a buyer for Tango, which imports Levi's and Dockers, explains why the trend is more widespread in Israel. "The companies that I represent divide the world into the U.S. and Europe," says Eshel. "In the U.S. trends are usually more classic and in Europe, more daring." Tel Aviv, for example, is considered a very fashionable city due to the nightclub activity.
"If you visit our flagship store," says Eshel, "you'll probably find up-to-date models such as low-rise pants with flared cuffs. But we are continuing to sell our more classic models in places with a more conservative target audience, like the Hamashbir Latzarchan. Israeli consumers enthusiastically adopted the low waistlines, and this summer marks the high point of the trend. For the fall-winter seasons we will be importing other models in seven new colors, all with low-cut waists and flared cuffs."
Now all we have to do is wait for one designer to get up the courage to provide us with more restrained, classic models at reasonable prices. His or her success is guaranteed, even in a country in which all the residents are portrayed as incorrigible party goers.
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