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Strength in Structure

Francisco Costa’s preshow assessment of his fall 2008 Calvin Klein collection was “orderly.” He lived up to this description with a collection that was all about strength and structure, a stark turnaround from last season’s...

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Artsy chic is Vera Wang’s medium, and she gave it a new twist for fall with a sensual collection, which featured rich fabrics in distinctive color combinations, inspired by the Dutch painter Kees van Dongen’s social portraits. Here, one of her striking looks: a rose jacquard jacket over a chiffon slip, punctuated by a shimmering sequined waistband and beaded necklace.

Talk about dichotomy. In one corner, Vera Wang went artsy-sexy all the way with embellishments, curves and a touch of mystery. In the other, Calvin Klein’s Francisco Costa showed the epitome of strength and structure.

Vera Wang: Vera Wang’s program notes cited a “measured study in color, texture, silhouette and proportion.” Come on, Vera, what you really meant was, “I wanted to sex things up.” Mission accomplished, with magnificent results.

Wang has established herself as New York’s empress of artsy chic, an imposing mantle and one that presents its share of challenges, not the least of which is bucking the presumption of schlumpola. With all of the scrunching, bunching, billowing and high-mindedness associated with clothes of an artsy bent, they are seldom perceived as particularly sexy. To reverse that notion, Wang looked to the social portraits of Dutch painter Kees van Dongen and found a steamy undercurrent indeed in his fashion-loving subjects: big-eyed women with a penchant for strong color, assorted chapeaux and the occasional breast-revealing wardrobe malfunction.

Not that Wang went as far as the latter; she didn’t have to. Rather, she mixed and matched sensual fabrics — rich-hued tapestries, string fringes, chiffon plissés, assorted furs — while reining in many of her proportions. Sometimes the difference meant only a slight slimming of a black barrel dress, while at others it became a serious exploration of curves, as with a deceptively chichi knot-front sweater in tobacco cashmere over a side-drape orange skirt, and a gray faille micro dress over skinny pants. Holding everything together was exquisite embellishment, whether in seemingly random cascades of flowers, intense ribbon embroidery or an unexpected flurry of pleats. And oh, yes, the accessories. Lantern hats by Lola and Philip Crangi’s remarkable jewelry, such as a tassel necklace plopped casually on the shoulders or a massive jewel-encrusted cuff, contributed to the aura of mystery. And the shoes, sturdy ankle straps and toeless booties, offered austere counterpoint. It was fabulous, and gave new meaning to the art of seduction.

Calvin Klein: “Orderly,” mused Francisco Costa preshow about his collection, and was it ever. In a stark turnaround from last season’s languid austerity, for fall Costa sent out a collection that was all about strength and structure. At its best it was beautiful and staunchly disciplined, as the attitude stormed to the edge of aggression without crossing over.

Costa set the authoritarian mood on his soundtrack, the repetitive thump of determined walking opening the show. Though effective, this distracted some in the audience, which then focused first on the shoes, terrific shearling-trimmed alligator booties. But no matter, the clothes more than held their own, defined, sculptural shapes in imposing fabrics with inherent body of their own — hammered wool, boiled cashmere, razor-cut shearling.

Often, Costa manipulated the plainness of material and silhouette to impressive effect. The contrast of a black silk and wool twill bustier and a navy wool felt skirt made for a chic, unfettered cocktail dress; rounded pockets exaggerated the curves of a Delft blue dress. Frequently bold geometric elements defined the clothes, for example, a panel of sequins down the front of a dress, a neckline precision-slashed into a pyramid detail, a navy hammered cashmere jacket with black insets, and often these made for important points of interest in austere shapes. At times, however, they turned tricky, as with a big shearling coat slit in front so that it could do double-duty as edgy maternity wear. But no matter. This was an impressive outing for Costa, and certainly one he can build on for the future.

PHOTOS BY JOHN AQUINO AND GEORGE CHINSEE

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