NEW YORK
BILL'S BETTER THAN EVER, OSCAR NEEDS A PEP PILL AND VICTOR ALFARO STAKES HIS FUTURE ON THE SWEATER.

Bill Blass: Bill Blass is walking a tightrope. And right now, he's stepping with the mastery of a fashion Wallenda. Last season, he took a turn in a decidedly younger direction--but at the same time managed to keep his mature clientele happy. That's precisely why his fall retail sales are up 30 percent over last year, and the collection he showed on Thursday should keep those registers ringing. At the heart of it all is the suit. The Forties just don't beckon to everyone--certainly not the Ladies on Blass's client list. And so he shaped his suits with classic dash. Jackets were short or long, but there was no hem-hedging. Below-the-knee skirts won't fly in this market, and Blass isn't going to pretend it will, not even for the runway.
His one big nod to the trends of the season was the bustier. He sent it out countless times in woven or sweater-knit versions and made a huge statement with the bustier dress under a jacket--a smart way for his customer to corset up.
Blass, of course, is no Johnny-come-lately to fashion's recent fascination with color. He's an old hand at it, which may be why he gets it right so effortlessly. This time out, he's mad about pink, and opened the collection with a wonderfully cheery group of suits and dresses. But he also provided ample relief with black and white checks and pinstripes.
In fact, one of Blass's best evening looks was the bugle-beaded pinstriped pants worn with a silk and cashmere cardigan and bustier. Long, graceful dresses in ombré chiffon had a hint of Galliano, and a little black dress with inset lace midriff should sell up a storm. But for the most part, it seemed that Blass was in a whole different mind-set at night, when the good, chic sense of day got lost in a black hole of tricks.

Oscar de la Renta: Oscar de la Renta is walking the same tightrope as Bill Blass, and he's not negotiating it as well. The collection he showed on Thursday was too bland, especially when you consider that Oscar himself is a real hot tamale. How many cookie-cutter tulip dresses is a woman going to buy in one season? A lot, if she's shopping exclusively at Oscar, who, once again, managed to pull out the most socially impressive audience, running the gamut from Brooke Astor to Mickey Rourke. That's right, Mickey and Brooke in the same room--and one of them didn't have a shirt on.
As for the clothes, there's no question that de la Renta is capable of much more. In fact, his opening segment promised a great show: crisp patent leather raincoats in bold colors, and chic, ice-cream-colored wool suits and dresses with interesting seamed details. For evening, there were short, glittery looks and long, simple evening dresses in jersey or cashmere knit. These were real knockouts, but their punch just wasn't strong enough to sustain the show.

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