December 09, 1996 12:00 PM

HOT CHOCOLATE

“It’s the happening color,” says Chicago Hope’s Christine Lahti of brown, that once no-hum hue now overrunning Hollywood. A fave of celebs including Sharon Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mariah Carey, who seem to have had their fill of black, brown has suddenly become the freshest way to stand out. “You get noticed more in brown because black is so common,” says designer Tom Mark, who outfits Drew Barrymore and Tori Spelling under his Mark Wong Nark label. “The rich and elegant browns you’re seeing this season are very grown-up.” Adds Baywatch’s Yasmine Bleeth, who recently bought a sleeveless, chocolate-colored Nark gown: “I love brown—it’s much more sophisticated. There’s something warm about it. It’s not as stark.”

Last big during the ’60s and ’70s, brown is “beautiful and classic,” according to Hollywood fashion stylist Deborah Waknin, who recently put clients Lauren Holly and Angela Bassett in the earthy tone. “It’s a little edgy—it harkens back to Paco Rabanne and Mary Quant,” she says. Best of all, “it’s great for anyone’s skin tone. A lot of people can wear it.” But, Mark cautions, the shade takes “a bit of homework—you have to think about changing your shoes, bag, even your makeup.” Still, the effort can pay off. At Beverly Hills’ Carousel of Hope ball last month, actress Marlee Matlin was visibly aglow over her brown taffeta gown by Nolan Miller. “This is my fantasy outfit,” she said. “The best thing is, it matches my hair.”

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