There have been some unexpected developments as the New York collections rolled along. Oscar de la Renta, for example, went surprisingly sporty while Carolina Herrera celebrated Hitchcock’s favorite ladies and Diane Von Furstenberg indulged in a little androgyny.
This story first appeared in the February 11, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Oscar de la Renta: Everybody knows Oscar de la Renta is fashion’s most debonair ladies’ man, but who figured he was so nimble a gymnast? The word’s out now, because in the collection he showed on Monday, de la Renta performed a deft balancing act, playing with style and savvy to both sides of that two-tier audience so coveted these days by designers of a certain age — the mother-daughter set. Oscar will keep both looking lovely this fall.
In the past, de la Renta has dabbled in sportswear, but seldom with anything more than passing interest. Give him the choice of a chunky sweater and a caftan, and he’d direct all of that Latin fire toward the latter.
But this fall Oscar has embraced le sportif with a great big bear hug — and so will his ladies and, yes, his girls. In a play for the youth vote, he opened with the angelic Natalia all layered up in cozy knits — a short cape over a matching turtleneck sweater topped with an Ali MacGraw cap —worn with gauchos. That’s right, a cape-and-gaucho getup, and it looked terrific. Throughout, he worked both items for various effects, always skirting their costumey connotations. And he followed up with more, more, more of the young stuff — oh-so-cozy knits, great coats, dream shearlings — that couldn’t have looked more inviting.
Then suddenly, bye-bye youthful sportif! That’s when de la Renta returned to a milieu more familiar to his ladies: the chi-chi proportions, the vaguely Eastern embroideries, those inevitable caftans. While less fresh, these looked lovely enough, although some of the brocades frumped up and flashed a bit too much. Usually, however, when de la Renta put on the glitz, it was the best kind — courtesy of Fred Leighton, whose dazzling brooches he clipped onto necklines, jacket hems and the back of a fluid black gown.
For evening, it was comme ci, comme ça. Some of the gowns looked uninspired though pretty, and would that those bejeweled sweaters had been shown with sleeker skirts! On the other hand, de la Renta’s black velvet and organza hot canary gown will make that sweet bird of youth long to play the sophisticate.
Carolina Herrera: With politesse and an undercurrent of mystery, Carolina Herrera’s fall collection championed the clean, luxurious sportswear Alfred Hitchcock’s heroines once wore, though her effect was perfectly modern. Think of a latter-day Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint or Janet Leigh, icy, serene, enigmatic and dressed in her tailored best. Herrera’s fall look was American thoroughbred through and through, with slim belted skirts, smart blouses and demure cocktail dresses, all in a palette that played on those screen gems of the Fifties in rich butterscotch, bright sky blue and the racy red of fast cars and a starlet’s lipstick.
And talk about intriguing — Herrera, for one, knows how to do pretty without crossing over to prim. From the cut of her sexy suits to delicate Fifties-style full skirts, she maintained a tone of easy elegance, pairing a boxy fur jacket with a slinky pencil skirt in red satin, while edging a cropped herringbone jacket with beige satin trim.
Of course, for evening, Herrera showed plenty of gowns that today’s screen icons would love. The Oscars’ pick: her beige satin gown bound with velvet ribbons and embellished with a single velvet rosette.
Herrera is one smooth operator. Over the past few seasons, she has been on a roll, and this cinematic sequel to her last collection had the refined allure of the designer’s best efforts to date.
Diane Von Furstenberg: Bond. Jamie Bond. Or Janice or Jane. Because for her fall collection, Diane Von Furstenberg engaged in a little gender chicanery, and it worked like a charm. Before her show, Von Furstenberg said that she has always wanted to live a man’s life in a woman’s body, “to do everything a man does with the advantages of being a woman.” And what better role model than that most dashing of spies, the globe-trotting, lady-killing, enemy-slaying Bond? Can’t quite picture any of the Bonds — not Pierce, not Roger, most definitely not Sean — slipping into a little floral dress-and-boa combo? Not the point. DVF’s mantra is bravura tempered by — or heightened by — those essential feminine wiles.
So bring on the floaty shapes, the florals, the bias stripes — what girl doesn’t look good in a flirty dress? And let’s face it, DVF wrote that book years ago, and now revises it regularly for currency. Still, she knows well the need for variation, and this season incorporated more tailoring than usual, often mocking severity by working men’s wear patterns in jerseys or chiffons — a pinstriped jersey wrap coat over a bustier; a chiffon pinstriped slip dress edged in lace, a boxy coat with a little ribbon at the waist.
Such eclecticism had become nearly as much of a Von Furstenberg signature as that iconic wrap dress, and throughout, she countered romantic with racy, fluid with sleek, plain with fancy. In fact, sometimes it got a tad too much: Cobalt blue velvet blazed too brightly; some sweaters veered toward the heavy side of fall’s emerging cozy trend.
And at DVF, heavy just won’t do. Diane would rather her girls slip into a little jeweled nothing at night, or, for drama of Bond-esque proportions, a power suit gone glam: long, black and trimmed in white fur.