Tunics are tops, inside and out, day and night

From the beaches to the runway, tunics are warming up the street-wear fashion scene.

Adaptations of the South Asian tunic have been cropping up everywhere because of their versatility. Whether a full-length and flowing caftan or a short, more tapered kurta, these lightweight pullovers can be worn as a nightgown, a beach cover-up or a casual dress over leggings.

This season, Italian fashion house Etro amped up the sexy factor on the caftan by creating cut-out shoulder pieces and blending bold prints with sheer silk chiffon fabric. Although Etro twisted the traditional caftan in a different direction, the appeal of the Persian summer staple stays the same: relaxed and cool attire for the hot months.

While many caftans can be bulky, with their signature butterfly sleeves and shirred seams, brands such as Etro, Missoni and Calypso St. Barth have focused on making their designs more streamlined. Other designers, instead of playing with the shape of the caftan, have modernized its simpler relative, the kurta.

Etro's caftans and kurtas fall in the higher price range of $800 to $2,000, but similar styles can be found for much less in local Pittsburgh boutiques, including Feathers and The Picket Fence in Shadyside.

Vibrantly patterned Roberta Roller Rabbit kurtas can be seen peeking through the window display at The Picket Fence, where store manager Lucila Andrich claims they have long been a summer best-seller.

"Most people just throw leggings underneath a kurta. It looks very much like a New York or a Palm Beach piece because it's more streamlined, with not as much fabric as a traditional caftan. We have a line of kurtas from Roberta Roller Rabbit that we sell like crazy, to all age groups. It's a different, very light piece and simple to wear, much slimmer on the body," Ms. Andrich said.

Jeff Mulert, owner of local linens boutique Feathers, experienced a similar demand for tunics. "We have been selling more designs ... and during the spring and summer seasons, they are a best-seller in our sleepwear and robe department."

Although boutiques have always carried tunics, when the spring/summer 2013 runways unveiled the colorful and diaphanous kurtas of Alberta Ferretti and Christian Dior, their popularity spiked to new levels. When the iridescent lace tunics and silk slips of the runway are adapted for the street, they make a bright yet casual statement.

The kurtas of ready-to-wear designers John Robshaw and Gretchen Scott focus more on color and print. Feathers carries tunics by Robshaw and Scott in summery patterns that range from deep blue Matisse-like hand prints to coral tropical schemes. The cotton tunics retail for $65 to $80.

"I think the appeal lies in the bright colors, good price points and multiple usages. All ages have been buying them. We are finding that the most common use for the caftan is to be worn out. It's not being confined to just the bedroom or beach anymore," Mr. Mulert said.

Whether embroidered, embellished with beading or peppered in preppy prints, this summer kurtas and caftans promise to be a warm weather staple.

mobilehome - fashion

Noel Um: num@post-gazette.com. First Published July 9, 2013 4:00 AM


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