October 25, 1993 12:00 PM

STYLE STRENGTH: Fine-tuned funk

PHILOSOPHY: Only Buys what’s Unforgettable

Right from the downbeat, Natalie Cole loved fashion. “Even when I had no money, I spent everything I had on clothes,” says the 43-year-old, six-time Grammy winner. “I always wanted to look real sharp.” The obsession may be the result of going to Catholic school in L.A. “We had to wear hideous pinafore-style uniforms,” she recalls with a shudder.

No matter what she wears, though, Cole is musical royalty. (Her father was the legendarily natty crooner Nat King Cole, and her lush platinum album Unforgettable echoed his classy repertoire.) In the L.A. house she, her son, Robert, 16, and record-producer husband Andre Fischer share, the major renovation was enlarging Cole’s closet—the singer estimates she spends up to 30 percent of her earnings on clothes. And she has packed that closet with everything from bib overalls to elegant Klein, Lauren and Armani. She may still lapse into pop diva overdress—at the ’93 Oscars she squeezed all of her 5’9″, 145-pound frame into a jeweled tomato-red gown—but now her clothes match her dad’s dapper restraint. “If you don’t shop smart,” she says, “you get a little trendy.”

But Cole still boutique hops, as often as twice a week, with her stylist of seven years, Cecille Parker. At New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman, personal shoppers, whom she recently discovered, “serve you lunch and show you beautiful clothes. It’s like being queen for a day.” Cole clearly hasn’t lost her taste for noblesse oblige, showing up for the Grammys in a silk taffeta emerald-and-violet iridescent gown, also by Johnson. “I warned Natalie that I’m a great fan of old Hollywood,” says Johnson. Cole didn’t mind, but holding back is still difficult. Is there anything she won’t buy? “Empire dresses,” she says. “They make me look pregnant. I’ve always hated those.”

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