Degen Pener
June 21, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Does anyone really care what Linda Evangelista and Marcus Schenkenberg are thinking as they prowl the runways? In fashion, style and substance often cancel each other out. The hip dress on the far cutting edge usually shows too much skin to be practical. And on the World Wide Web, the imbalance increases. While dozens of fashion sites now lace the Internet (including online versions of some of the biggest print magazines), the flashiest — style webzines and designers’ corporate addresses — force a choice between seductive image and helpful information.

The sleekest designs come courtesy of — who else? — the designers. From such big names as Armani Exchange, Guess?, Nicole Miller, Levi’s, and Donna Karan to fringier scenes like Pleasure Swell, Diesel, X-Girl, and Walter Van Beirendonck’s Wild & Lethal Trash, the looks are great and the sell is soft. But even with fun-and-games content like Levi’s tour of Tokyo and Giorgio Armani’s mother’s pasta recipe, the intent remains obviously commercial. The designers want to lure customers to the nearest store; the Guess? site, which includes a virtual trip to Hawaii that constantly touts the label’s new boutique there, emerges as the most blatant. But if shopping’s a priority, make your first stop Fashion Net, which features links to many of the major labels as well as myriad fashion-related spots. From here, you can link to online shopping centers like Fashion Mall and sites glorifying models (Boss Models and are the best), as well as to such oddities as Is Fashion Silly?, an impenetrable deconstructionist look at dressing.

On the other side of the style divide, fashion webzines offer news and less-biased views, though none approach the visual excellence of Diesel or Donna, let alone that of a Harper’s Bazaar cover.

The most extensive and best laid out is Fashion Internet, a chatty mag that features advice, trend reports, and runway reviews all done up in pinks, oranges, and greens. Here, you can check out solid service pieces, such as a men’s guide to dress shoes; ask makeup wonder woman Bobbi Brown about facial-hair removal; and read pithy reviews of other sites. You can safely avoid the fluffy photos of model James King’s 17th-birthday party. And you might consider forgiving the misspellings Herve Legers and Dolce & Gabbano in an otherwise decent layout of brightly striped clothing for fall.

For a break from the cheeriness, alight at Lumiere, which dresses in black, gives haughtier attitude, and appears to enjoy the best access to fashion’s most haute echelons. The site showcases designers John Galliano and Jil Sander and photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino (who discusses his distressing interest in mutilating models’ faces by computer). No mustache dilemmas here: The queries posted touch on more rarefied problems, such as ”How do I style my new ‘Amber Valletta’ haircut?”

The also-ran in this beauty contest is The Look On-Line. Its home page sports graphics that manage to look dreary despite the rainbow colors, and a fashion spread on the new rage for waitress uniforms makes for a rather cold dish. The one hilarious saving grace is a compendium of oblivious quotes from supermodels. (”I’ve looked in the mirror every day for 20 years,” says Claudia Schiffer. ”It’s the same face.”)

And if that doesn’t curl your hair, there are even more style nuggets at three pop-culture E-zines with well-dressed spots: New York Web, Spiv, and Total New York. Still, like an underfed waif, fashion on the World Wide Web has a lot of growing to do. That could happen when ABC — which owns Women’s Wear Daily and W — and America Online introduce the Style Channel (set to debut this month). Until then, the Internet equivalent of Cindy Crawford has yet to hit the runway.
Fashion Internet: B+
Lumiere: B
The Look On-Line: C-

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