NEW YORK – All you need to be in step with the latest fashion bigs this fall is some kid's finger paint and an old pair of jeans.
From runway models to funky teenagers, the fashion crowd these days is decked out in styles that could have been inspired by a preschool project or a modern artist.
Designer lines such as Marc Jacobs, Roberto Cavalli and D&G — as well as more ubiquitous stores like Express and Urban Outfitters — are brushing, splattering and spraying paint onto everything from jeans to T-shirts and handbags.
Some enterprising fashionistas are taking fashion into their own hands — literally.
"People can take an old pair of jeans and update them by dripping some fabric paint on them or any old paint around the house," said Joerge Ramon, senior fashion editor at Teen People magazine. "And if they see the fashion out there, it helps people get their own personal style down."
This certainly isn't the first time a little paint on jeans, along with a few strategic rips or patches, has been popular. D.I.Y. (do it yourself) fashion has been popular since the psychedelic, tie-dye days of the 1960s, and enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s.
"The graffiti trend, as well as the paint dribble, is a way for young people to relive the high days of the '80s, when Madonna could take a pair of stockings and make them into a shirt," said Ramon. "That's where the influence is coming from… It's all that punk, '80s, retro revival."
But while the '80s look was mostly confined to rebellious mall-rats and grimy rock stars, today's style has reached the haute-couture set as well as celebrities and average kids.
The most popular canvas for paint-happy trendsetters is denim. From full-length jackets edged with colored fur and tinted with spray paint-ish streaks to a simple pair of used-looking jeans with handprints or colored edges, denim is being dressed up.
"There's a lot of interesting things to do to denim, from scratching to painting to distressing," said Giorgiana Magnolfi, a spokesman for Just Cavalli, whose signature look is artsy denim. "Just Cavalli is denim, but it's still elegant and sexy. The splashing is one of the few key items [of the line]."
While Magnolfi names young celebrities such as the up-and-coming pop singers Willa Ford and Alicia Keys, and even members of 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, among its customers, she said average teens are just as tuned in.
Sure, fashion victims can drop as much as $250 on a pair of painted jeans. But they can also visit the local craft store and spend about $6 to decorate a pair of plain old Levi's.
"This trend of personalizing jeans is really easy to do yourself," Ramon said. "People can get the same look, or their own look, for less and be fashionable."
The style also harkens back another '80s fad: Spin-art stores once thrilled kids who painted T-shirts with psychedelic colors and popped them into a spinning machine that pulled the paint out in streaks. The unfortunate end products were usually messy globs of color that peeled off after two washings.
But Dave Hawk, co-owner of Washington-based Spin Art USA, which makes spin-art machines, has noticed the proliferation of splatter paint in designer ads. But nowadays most spin-art enthusiasts stick to decorating greeting cards and Frisbees, he said.
Hawk had a recommendation for those who want to try it at home. "It has to be done with fabric paint. And you have to make sure it sets in, and then wash it very carefully."