What exactly is a “designer in residence”? You may have found yourself wondering that about three weeks ago, when WWD broke the news that Oscar de la Renta had invited John Galliano to join his studio insaid role. During a preview of his fall collection last week, de laRenta defined Galliano’s presence only in vague terms with no word onthe length of the arrangement. “He has been working with me,” said de laRenta of Galliano, who was working that day, but avoided the studioduring the preview. “I work with people. I don’t work by myself. It’s sowonderful to have somebody with an eye. He’ll show me something and wetalk about it.”

Despite numerous rumors about Galliano’s presenceat de la Renta’s show on Tuesday evening — he would sit front row; hewould join de la Renta for the bow — Galliano stayed backstage and outof sight. Still, his presence was felt. Perhaps it was the power ofsuggestion, but the opening sequence of wrap coats and jackets worn overslim, knee-length skirts seemed descended from the house of Dior, wherethe Bar jacket, with its nipped waist and sculpted peplum, was aperennial focus. The de la Renta versions in eggplant flannel, teal andblack were stripped down, cut in lean lines with a dose of melancholyedge. Some of the girls wore streamlined cloche hats and one jacket camein black leather, expertly draped and folded at the waist with a hintof origami technique.

A departure from the girly froth and funthat de la Renta has pursued the past few seasons — no question. Yetmany looks were devout to de la Renta’s canon, such as a fit-and-flareblack silk organza dress with white floral embroidery, and the fullybeaded silver T-shirt and skirt worn by Lindsey Wixon. As the showprogressed, the lineup seemed to tell a story. While not a traditionalnarrative per se, it moved from shadowy elegance — hooded capes wornover skinny leather pants — to romantic-yet-bold toile motifs on A-lineskirts and dresses.

Then came evening. Beginning with the chicand spare — a black jacket worn over a naked torso and fluidfloor-length skirt — the story built into a world of color withjewel-toned dresses and gorgeous ballgowns in vivid silk faille, theirskirt volumes tempered into perfect modern lines. The show’s beauty wastelling, too. While typically de la Renta favors a single classic,pretty look, here, it changed with the clothes. The first girls out wereplainfaced but for the shock of orange lipstick; those done up forevening wore lavish, dark-eyed makeup and hair greased into waves, alook that might have been transplanted from a Galliano runway of yore.So what was the plot line? A tale of two designers, it had mystery,suspense, harmony, beauty, optimism — and some truly great clothes.

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