Tough times might have sapped some of the excitement out of fashion, but that shouldn’t be the case come September, when several major houses feature the debut collections of new designers.

Seventh on Sixth will be celebrating its 10th anniversary of staging fashion shows in the tents at Bryant Park, during which three of America’s most well-known brands will be helmed by new designers.

  • At Bill Blass, Michael Vollbracht, who worked with Blass on a retrospective exhibit in Indiana before his death last year, will premiere his spring line under the legendary label, becoming the third designer to do so since Blass retired in 2000. Vollbracht, who discontinued his signature line in the late Eighties, promises a Bill Blass look more in line with the house’s traditional image of classic eveningwear, dresses and suits.

  • At Anne Klein, bridge veteran Michael Smaldone has stepped up to helm the collection following the unexpected retirement this spring of Charles Nolan, who went to work for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. Smaldone designed for Bananaand Tahari before being hired last year to take on the better-priced AK Anne Klein collection.

  • Francisco Costa was lured from Gucci to join Calvin Klein as design director of its women’s collection in March 2002, but after Klein decided to step back from his day-to-day duties following the sale of his company to Phillips-Van Heusen in February, Costa and his men’s wear counterpart, Italo Zucchelli, have been given greater responsibility to design the respective collections. Costa will be taking the bow at Klein’s spring 2004 show for the first time, while Calvin Klein said he plans to sit in the front row.

  • The biggest designer to take over a collection, though, will be Jil Sander, who made amends with her former bosses at Prada Group to return to her signature line. After showing a quickly assembled men’s wear collection in Milan, Sander is expected to return with a more definitive statement with a women’s runway show this fall.

  • Also of interest: David Cardona will be making his debut at Cerruti, Lars Nilsson is coming back from his defeat at Bill Blass with a new post at Nina Ricci, Rick Owens is designing Revillon, Tony Melillo is taking on Generra and Patrick Robinson is designing women’s sportswear at Perry Ellis.

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