When a woman puts on my clothes, I want her to feel excited and alive," declares RANDOLPH DUKE, 32. "That's why I design things that are graphic, direct, bold. They're 'now' clothes, and I price them so a woman won't feel guilty if she only wears them for one season." If Duke knows how to put the wow into now—from the dizzying optics of his striped separates to the pop of his canary-yellow cotton twill motorcycle jacket—well, he grew up in Las Vegas. "Everything Randolph does is a little bit heightened," says Lynn Manulis, president of the Martha boutiques. "His fringe is giant fringe, his collar is a marvelous deep collar that embraces you."
Duke, who trained for 10 years to be a concert pianist before switching to fashion, calls his work "dramatic, but not daring. I believe in classic looks," he says. "I just think it's time to redefine them—by altering a silhouette, for instance, or by adding a whimsical button or using an unexpected fabric or color. I don't believe that everyone lives life like a Ralph Lauren ad," he continues. "It's a wonderful sales concept, but it's not real. Change is what inspires me."
Putting A Finish Highbrow Fancy
Mark McNairy and Antoinette Linn have had it with fashion that is so sophisticated that, as McNairy says, "regular people can't wear it." That's why the husband-and-wife team decided to name their two-year-old sportswear line FINIS—Latin for, well, enough already. "We're not out to create new shapes, to come up with a jacket that has a pocket where there's never been one before," explains Linn, 29. "What's important to us," chimes in McNairy, 28, "is that our things can be worn a million different ways." The purse-friendly (generally below $200) Finis style is part preppy and part vintage ("Most of our ideas come from flea markets," says McNairy), with an infusion of earthy African prints ("I don't know how much more people can take of these high-tech looks," adds Linn). The couple-she's from Mississippi, he's from North Carolina—quit fashion sales and merchandising jobs to launch Finis with $2,000 of their own money and are keeping it a family business. "We don't want backers," says McNairy. "We don't want to have to answer to other people. We're just doing things we like and hoping other people like them too." So far there's no finis in sight.
Cheap Thrills From Sensible Soles
Three years ago Sam and Libby Edelman were running Esprit's shoe division and trying to peek around the corner at the style needs of the '90s. "We looked at ourselves," says Libby, "and what was overwhelmingly clear was that we had bills coming from everywhere—nursery school, entertaining, you name it. And we thought there must be other people out there who, like us, can't or won't spend lots of money on fashion."
So, combining his marketing savvy (Sam, 37, is scion of a promotionally ingenious shoe manufacturing family) and her design flair (Libby, 36, is an alum of fashion magazines and Calvin Klein), the California couple founded SAM & LIBBY shoes.
They craft colorful, comfy flats and heels that—at $18 to $40 a pop—appeal both to whimsy and wallet. In 1988, their first year on the market, 2 million women became customers. Last year retail sales topped $50 million. The shoes are made in Brazil and Taiwan, where low-cost labor and high-quality leather are plentiful.
"Because of how and where we manufacture, there's no difference in longevity or quality between a $35 pair of our shoes and anyone else's $80 pair," claims Sam. "And at our prices, women can afford to be daring."