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Two of New York’s fashion heavyweights turned in collections full of feathered and furred luxury, while the newly revived house of Halston went for minimalism with shaky Seventies retreads.

This story first appeared in the February 5, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Oscar de la Renta: Asked before his show what inspired his fall collection, Oscar de la Renta offered only: “Making beautiful clothes for beautiful women.”

That simple mandate took him in two directions, both of which looked terrific. Obviously, de la Renta is betting that most of his ladies are recession-proof because many of the clothes were luxed up to the nines, as he worked in rich brocades and metallic tweeds, often adding glistening embroideries or fur for a vaguely Russian feel. Yet he rendered it all with impressive control, even in something as gussied up as a lean-cut shearling coat lacquered with gold paint and then strewn with sequins. Otherwise, a tweed skirt might get a deep fox border, or a lean dress an intricately embroidered bodice. On the other hand, for the more pragmatic among his fans, he offered a host of far simpler looks, such as a high-waisted bird’s-eye tweed dress and a sporty granite boiled cashmere coat. Throughout, the biggest news came in the shape that was often, well, big, in full flamboyant skirts and glam trousers, both worn with jackets cinched at the waist to belie notions that a gal has lost her shape.

For evening, de la Renta showed some exquisitely embellished gowns perfect for the red carpet. But that’s not the only kind of big night to pique his interest. He may already be thinking inauguration, and so went more discreet with a series of black columns. Of course, some powerful women like to wear the pants, even by night. Should one such lady have a date with destiny next winter, he’ll be ready with an ultrachic blouse-and-pants ensemble. Call it power dressing of the prettiest sort.

Carolina Herrera: In its polished, chic cuts and artsy embellishments, the collection Carolina Herrera showed on Monday was typical of the designer’s recent work. Yet those elements played second fiddle to an overarching thematic trick that felt oddly out of character. The theme: equestrian/hunting, rendered with a literal romance that approached costumery, while evoking the work of somebody else.


Of course, nobody owns a theme — not Seventies, nor grunge, nor Talitha Getty nor rock ‘n’ roll. Except in New York, where Ralph Lauren does kind of own equestrian, and if someone else — especially a highly experienced peer designer rather than a kid — is going to canter in that direction, she should take it somewhere decidedly different. Yet Herrera failed to do that, save for injecting a bit of a Sherlock Holmes swagger into it all.

Her lineup featured lots of tweedy jackets and chunky knits, many liberally embellished with fur, over pants tucked into boots with jaunty tally-ho precision. Many of the individual pieces were lovely, and the textural plays — tweeds, jacquards, velvets, chiffons — often worked. Yet Herrera’s relentless fascination with her theme too often got in her way. For example, the entire collection was topped off with dramatic riding fedoras by Albertus Swanepoel. Terrific, yes, but one or two would have made the point. Similarly, the clothes sprouted feathers, some of the expected wispy variety, and others, big stalky appendages, with an omnipresence that, given the hunting theme, got a little uncomfortable. In the end, the whole thing made for just too much horseplay.

Halston: Iconic house revival — it’s one of fashion’s greatest fascinations. Yet almost always it sets those who dare to go for it on a course rife with pratfalls. Of course, there have been megahits — hello, Dior and Balenciaga — but the fashion annals are filled with abysmal failures, as well. The latest attempt, designed by Versace alum Marco Zanini, made its debut on Monday, and while no collection should be judged definitively on a single outing, it’s clear that Zanini has a long way to go before he can assume the mantle of one of America’s greatest talents and make it his own.

But then, therein lies the rub, no? Halston the man is long gone. Halston the label has been inactive for a while after numerous, mostly pathetic, attempts at revival. Yet Halston the fashion aura has never really gone away, his tenet of sensual simplicity having inspired legions of successors, most successfully Tom Ford and Donna Karan. Thus, the return of the Halston label can only be as significant as the vision behind it, which must amount to something more than mere archival assaults.

Zanini recruited that most famous of Halstonettes, Liza herself, who worked her entrance like the retro diva she is, loving every minute, yet showing her nervousness. Done up in red and black from the real Halston heyday, Liza tossed her coat across a seat and requested of a fashion editor nearby: “Be careful — it’s the real thing.” Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the clothes Zanini put on the runway, which seemed lost in a limbo between historical reverence and the yen to update. Zanini started strongly enough with smart, pulled-together sportswear worked in a palette of taupes and grays: a bold knitted cashmere cape, classic pants and turtleneck, a gently cut cashmere blanket coat, all worn with monotone suede boots.

Soon, however, it became clear that Zanini didn’t really know to embrace the renowned Halston simplicity and take it somewhere fresh. He tried by interspersing dated, floaty gowns in neutral tones with shots of color, but these ranged from dull to unpleasant. And ultimately, there was just not enough to hold our interest.



Photos: John Aquino, Talaya Centeno and Robert Mitra



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