- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

One of the shining stars of the fall fashion season is patent leather.

Yes, years ago it was considered a summer item — it was a way to lighten up black accessories to go with lighter clothes. It also has been associated with little-girl Mary Janes and the 1960s mod look.

This year, though, patent is sophisticated. And cool — even wintry. It’s also colored. In addition to black, shoppers will find patent-leather accessories in white, navy, red and camel.

“This patent leather is not aggressive, not for power,” says accessories guru Kate Spade. “It’s for fun, for crispness, for shine.”

With fashion taking a turn toward the more subdued — with notably little embellishment — the gleam of patent leather adds an extra bit of interest to an outfit, she says.

It’s more versatile than one might think.

Miss Spade says it certainly can be dressy, especially in a dark-colored shoe with a high heel. It also can be casual if the shoe is a flat: “I imagine it with skinny cigarette pants and a khaki trench coat. Then there’s the pop of a patent flat.”

Another way to get that splash of shine is on a handbag. Miss Spade says she is carrying a large, square shopper-style bag with patent-leather trim and a patent snake clutch inside — both her designs, of course.

Abbe Held, creative director of Kooba, makes the case that a large patent bag is practical: It keeps its shape, it’s easy to clean, and it’s a great day-into-evening bag.

“I wear patent-leather bags all year round,” she says. “We always do patent leather for the cruise collection. … They’re summery enough to wear on a trip, but you can also wear them in November and December because they’re fresh and sexy.”

Two additions to the line this year are a caramel-colored patent leather and crushed patent.

“We’re known for our cognac- and bourbon-colored leathers. We wanted to bring it into the patent leather,” Miss Held says.

The crushed patent gives off highs and lows of light, creating a vintage look. “It gives an aged effect — the opposite of what you think of patent leather,” she says.

She adds: “I love regular patent leather, but it’s very ladylike. Our bags are slouchier and softer. They hang. I don’t have rules about when and where to wear the patent bags. I’d wear patent with jeans in the daytime or out at night.”

“The simpler the better when it comes to patent leather,” advises Bill Blass designer Michael Vollbracht, who is introducing a collection of Blass-branded shoes for spring. A patent-leather sandal with a metallic heel was featured prominently during the recent spring preview runway show.

There was some shine to the clothes, and the patent leather helped continue that thought, he explains. “I wanted the shoe to be an extension of the leg. The best shoe — one made by Coco Chanel — was nude colored with a black tip. It made the leg look long and the foot small.”

The allure of patent leather is that it always looks new and fresh, but, he adds, it’s a little risky to use white patent leather because no one wants the foot to get all the attention.

“I used patent leather to be delicate, not bold,” Mr. Vollbracht says.

The thought of seasons, however, never entered his head.

“The idea of ‘season’ for us is so narrow — they all run into each other. We have clients who spend part of the year in New York and part in Palm Beach [Fla.], or some of the year in Naples, [Fla.] and some in Grosse Pointe, Mich. No one worries about ‘fall’ or ‘spring’ anymore,” Mr. Vollbracht says.


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