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The Power and the Glory – Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Proenza Schouler, J.Mendel

Sober palettes and stark, clean lines plus soft layers with artistic touches equaled plenty of attitude for the season.

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Sober palettes and stark, clean lines plus soft layers with artistic touches equaled plenty of attitude for the season.

Vera Wang: Carpe diem. Or, in Vera Wang’s case, carpe deal. Right now, dueling suitors are in hot pursuit, trying to lure Wang with very different propositions: St. John, reportedly hoping to sign her on as creative director, and, at the other end of the price divide, Kohl’s, said to be eager for some kind of Vera Wang brand of its own. The spectacular collection the designer showed on Thursday, a gorgeous rendering of the season’s dark romance, should only heighten their passions.

Wang continued her recent moodiness into fall, now with a rich, dark palette and mesmerizing ombrés she attributed to a Rothko inspiration. The results looked painterly indeed, with a woman-of-mystery vibe. Yet, while Wang noted a late-Fifties film noir feeling, in their sculptural gentility her clothes also owed a debt to Paul Poiret, especially in large-over-small volumes and high-belted dresses and jackets. By day, her suits made a convincing argument for dressing up. She stripped fur of all grandeur — colored mink for a coat over a wrap skirt or long vest over a sheath — and gave new character to the basic cardigan simply by adding a buttoned belt.

One of the collection’s strengths was in the details with which Wang added surprise without overstatement — a suit with an off-center yoke in back; a pair of big rosettes on the back belt of a brocade jacket, and in a nod to Goth, black or blue corsages placed unexpectedly on the hip of a skirt or the belt of graceful gowns. It all had an aura of seduction with just the right touch of the artist — a touch that, with appropriate modifications, might flourish as beautifully from a home base in the heartland (and if Menomonee Falls, Wis., isn’t heartland, what is?) as one in Irvine, Calif. Stay tuned.

Calvin Klein: What do 1920s Berlin, Lee Miller and a confused customer have in common?

They all inspired Francisco Costa’s fall collection for Calvin Klein. Costa is in a hot seat, and he knows it. Given Phillips-Van Heusen’s recent solid performance, some observers wonder whether the company’s heart is really in the process of reestablishing its designer business. Those coming from a fashion perspective can’t imagine the American industry without a thriving designer-level Calvin Klein. It’s Costa’s job to prove to his bosses that the fashion set has it right. Thus, he proceeded somewhat clinically for fall, building on the appeal of his blockbuster spring collection.

“People liked spring,” he said before his show. “Business is tough, and we have to establish our connection to the customer a little bit more.” Costa chose to continue two major elements from last season — its airiness and its artistic touches — while shifting his palette from white to black with flashes of bright red, which, of course, is no small change. While spring felt directed to an artsy free spirit, fall bore a darker, hipper edge, perhaps more so than Costa intended. So much, in fact, that in his beautiful tailoring — a sheer shirt floating between the slick components of a pantsuit; deep mink cuffs countering the austerity of a jacket — one felt a command of urban sportswear similar to that of Helmut Lang in his heyday. Suffice to say, it was impressive.

At the same time, Costa sought to maintain spring’s delicate balance of a minimalist aesthetic rendered with significant decoration. This time, he honed in on a herringbone motif, manipulating it variously in a gorgeous, slouchy embroidered jacket over tweed pants; inventive sweaters with multiple patterns twisted into each other, and most frequently, as decorative appliqués on sheer dresses. These achieved differing degrees of success; some lovely enough to take your breath away, others overwrought in their artsiness, one or two nearing that nearly naked threshold to tacky. Such indulgence aside, with these two collections, Costa has proven himself worthy of the big leagues. Now it’s up to PVH to determine if it’s serious about staying in the game.

Proenza Schouler: Remember the Power Woman? Much maligned in her Eighties heyday, she enjoyed an impressive renaissance in Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough’s fall Proenza Schouler collection. The key to it all? According to the designers, “a return to a sharper, cleaner line.” Not to mention plenty of attitude. The mood they celebrated stood in marked contrast to the one they put forth last season, as if spring’s muse, a gentle dreamer, had been pushed aside by her cooler, hipper sister. What the two share is a yen for decoration, played out here with savvy control against the stark, clean lines of the clothes. It made for another beautiful outing from this young pair.

The collection addressed several of the trends unfolding in New York this season — sober palette, graphic motifs, art world references and, perhaps most significantly, the turn from gentle girliness. That about-face is not the first of the designers’ young career, but here Hernandez and McCollough toughened up without camping out. Except for some stiff, roomy coats and a fabulous fly-away leather jacket, their shapes were mostly lean with inset waists, the surfaces etched or inlaid with those geometric patterns. At times, as with a lacquered silver dress, the power vibe coursed through with some measure of discretion. At its most overt — a hardware-heavy leather jacket over a shirred purple skirt; draped bustier gowns with grommet-fastened waists — the clothes channeled fantasy superheroines of the best kind — the superchic kind.

J.Mendel: Now that Gilles Mendel has caught the attention of the young Hollywood set — don’t worry, socials, you’ll always be his first love — he’s playing up the gowns as much as the furs. Yes, he has a sure hand with mink and broadtail, but for fall, he displayed equal skill with the pretty chiffon frocks he’s been exploring for the last few seasons. Long and short silhouettes fluttered and flounced in gauzy layers, but the loveliest vision was a gray hand-pleated number anchored with a few rhinestones at the waist, topped with an anthracite mink — just the right amount of glamour for the social or red-carpet circuit. As expected, the designer cut a bevy of beautiful coats, mostly in sliced and slanted broadtail and mink, though the crocodile looks were a tough sidenote that didn’t fit with the rest. And even though Mendel has been doing knitted fur for a while, his white mink Aran cardigan was a fresh, smashing new take.

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