07/15/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
In the world of fashion, nearly all hot trends undergo the same evolution: stage one, excitement; stage two, overexposure; stage three, oblivion. But judging from the enduring popularity of illusion—that sheer, stretchy fabric popularized in the late '80s by designer Vera Wang—not every style must go the way of Day-Glo. In recent months the ethereal material has appeared on such Hollywood standard-barers as Helen Hunt, Whitney Houston and Melrose Place's Daphne Zuniga. "It's sexy with a feminine touch," enthuses Paula Abdul
, who showed up in a gray Badgley Mischka gown with illusion insets down the sides at this year's American Music Awards. Adds country star Shania Twain, who recently wore a floor-length illusion ensemble to the Grammys: "It's just fun. I was comfortable and felt great."
With designers including Donna Karan and Giorgio Armani flying the fabric for fall, fashion stylist Phillip Bloch, who outfitted Caroline in the City's Lea Thompson in a black Armani illusion top for the Screen Actors Guild Awards in February, calls the look classic. "It's a great way to be sexy without being obvious," he says. "It keeps your virtue intact." Adds Wang, who has used illusion on Sharon Stone, Holly Hunter and Nancy Kerrigan: "It's totally sensual, it adheres to the body." And it benefits bare skin. "Skin looks better under netting—all flaws suddenly become invisible," says Maggie Barry, a designer with the Los Angeles clothing company Van Buren. So how long will illusion reign? Probably forever, says Barry. "Being sexy is not a trend," she says. "It's a way of life."