Early-Early Spring at Zara, H&M, and Joyce Leslie

Either the economy is really picking up, or Zara is a horrible place to work where people quit all the time—why else would the words "Now Hiring" be permanently affixed to the shop's glass door? In any case, it seems odd to staff up in mid-January, a notorious fashion interregnum when shelves are stocked alternatively with pilly left-overs that have been knocking around since last July and a few wispy sheer things you won't be able to wear for five months.

At Zara on Broadway in Soho, early-early spring, or what the uptown stores call "resort," has not exactly stormed the aisles. Places like Bergdorf's and Saks may already be offering flimsy chiffon dresses andfloaty cotton skirts, but the sped-up calendar is not in force here, maybe because the shop's typical customer is not packing for a midwinter cruise anytime soon. Among the sparse selection of brand-new merchandise is a stack of those tiresome fake-old souvenir T-shirts we hoped we had seen the last of a year ago. A brand new example featuring faux-faded Brighton Beach broncos, a martini glass, the slogan "a bucking good time," and a smattering of sequins is $15.

On the other hand, those watery Prada prints that look like they got caught in the rain have been knocked off to good effect. They're on sale at Prada across the street too, but, let's face it, this pattern is pretty much over. Still, if you like it—and it is attractive—get it at Zara, where it has been made up into a nice sheath dress for $39.99. Or maybe you just want to finish out the winter in a new down coat, in which case Zara has many on tap—all on sale. Despite the assertion by various fashion pundits that these coats are indeed attractive, we still cling to our conviction that down outerware, in any or all of its guises, is monumentally unflattering. But it's warm.

Over at H&M, early spring hasn't quite arrived either. The Karl Lagerfeld-designed items, which were released to great fanfare some months ago, are still in plentiful supply, despite dire warnings that unless you queued up on the first day you'd never get a piece. Among several attractive non-Karl items is a poufy pink-and-yellow dress (spring, supposedly, will be all about poufy skirts . . . ) that looks like the authentic vintage '50s dresses at Alice Underground across the street. A black chiffon shrug is a miracle of beadwork and a steal at $39.90. (The label admits that it's made in India.)

Downstairs—which we think smells faintly like a dead mouse, but maybe we're just in a bad mood because the perennially broken escalator forces us to walk down—one of those fake fur things that ties with a ribbon and is meant to be flung around your neck (fashion editors, but no one else, call these tippets) is available in teddy-bear brown. It's $12.90, and you need not the fear of animal rights activist when you wear it—no one will ever mistake it for the real thing.

There's a tippet, if you will, at the redoubtable Joyce Leslie as well, and it's quite successfully rendered in ballet pink. A pair of chiffon low-riser trousers sports a rhinestone-studded belt and more spangles outlining its pockets—could they have been made to commemorate the anniversary of Elvis, who would have been 70 this month? Whatever the case, they're here in winter white and, if they're the sort of thing you might wear—who are we to judge?—they could carry you right through to resort season, whenever that is.

 
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