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Style Counsel 

Forget the sweats, ladies -- living in Cleveland is no longer an excuse for dressing in the past.

Now that the hiking-boot-and-heel hybrid is fading into the backs of closets throughout America, what's a girl to wear? First, make sure those mutations never again see the light of day. Second, have some faith in our city's designers. Once perpetually three steps behind Los Angeles and New York, fashionwise, Cleveland is closing the gap. Carpe denim.

1. The Feminine Mystique and Nary Manivong
Working mostly in silk cut on the bias with lace overlays and shirred ruffles, Nary Manivong goes for a clean, sophisticated look, in which the devil's in the details -- a one-sided lapel, triangular-cut pant legs, a long bodice. "I try to think of a character and of what she would wear," he says. He likes to show skin, but just enough to accent the shapes of narymanivong's ethereal summer dresses. The ambitious 22-year-old certainly has a keen eye for the female figure. "Women are beautiful, and fashion is about defining a woman's beauty."

2. Fashion as a Weapon
"Fuck Jesus" stenciling, bloody doll heads -- DarkLord's offerings are not for everyone. "Only 3 percent of Cleveland really knows what's up in fashion," complains Eric Freeman, designer of DarkLord's Army of the Living Dead line. Then again, Freeman has no desire to cater to those who follow the herd. He alters wares and realities by applying latex and polymers. Purses, corsets, and dresses appear to be covered in the ruby-red striations of human muscle. While his designs fight fashion atrophy, Freeman is sensitive to trends. He favors the shiny metallic fabrics that are resurging in popularity and the pairing of neons with black. "I have no set style, it's always evolving," he says. "To wear the same styles only leads to creative death."

3. Is It Love, Muffy?
Except for monogrammed letters, preppy chic hasn't invaded our streets as it has Boston or New York's, but Lush Boutique is ready to serve. Is Cleveland ready to volley? It's a tough look to pull off. Since it's a quasi-country-club look, the style is best when incongruous -- pairing terry-cloth tank dresses with jeans and dark tops with bright bottoms. Tennis rackets and sailing symbols adorn shrunken polos in blinding colors, such as grass green and sunrise orange. It's certainly not conservative, given the intensity factor. "Everything this season is about white and bright," says co-owner Kathleen McHale. "Yellow is not a scary color anymore."
24349 Cear Road, Lyndhurst, 216-381-8888.

4. Glamazonia
Not only is yellow tolerable, it's a necessity. The high-fashion designers of Myley, Keisha Redley and Patience Myricks, say that yellow stilettos and a great yellow leather bag are must-haves for spring. In fact, the ladies of Myley always wear four-inch stilettos and exemplify their company's credo of classy urban chic. "We combine sleek, modern luxe and polished chic to create clothing that is wearable, sexy, and sophisticated," Redley explains. This season, their city-glam styles are embellished with hand-painted fabrics and metal accents. But it's Myley's revealing yet tasteful swimwear that really makes a splash. Part risqué clubwear, part "classy-woman-on-a-yacht," these designs are true stunners. With side cutouts, plunging necklines, and matching jackets, Myley designs travel from water to land with flair.

5. Nothing Simple About Black and White
Ex-Ray Clothing Collective owner Thomas Patrick Ganley stocks his boutique with fashion-forward designs from across the ocean. "My clothes are always structured, always European, and mostly black and white," he says. It's hard to find a soft silhouette among the angular lines and geometric collars, but Ganley's not interested in playing it safe. Nor are modern Cleveland fashionistas. "People are coming in here the same day a French couture collection shows," he points out. "They're really getting it." So while Ganley does represent -- selectively -- the trend toward neon, his emphasis is on lasting design changes.
2253 Professor avenue, 216-781-5871.

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