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Russia, volume and a dressed-up approach to day – those are the trends emerging in the first days of the New York fall collections. And the early returns indicate a strong season.

Carolina Herrera: With much of New York pumping up the volume in a major way, Carolina Herrera is having none of it. Nor, for that matter, is she on board for Russia along with several of her colleagues. Rather, for the collection she showed on Monday morning, Herrera focused on classic notions of chic, with the faintest nod to the Forties. She first visited the decade last spring, then inspired by its interiors. For fall, she took merely the notion of a curvy silhouette, staking a clear claim for dressed-up elegance around the clock.

By day, that meant banishment of the sportswear tendencies that had infiltrated her collections of late, replaced by glorious jackets, cut short and lean and detailed impeccably, if not always obviously. Thus, while a bow-fastened yellow jacket took a mammoth lynx collar, suitings were dealt with more discretely, with intricate seaming or subtle lamé trim on gray tweed. Chic, to be sure, yet a tad problematic, as the accompanying skirts, supertight and often trumpeted, were cut to a length probably unflattering to nonmodel physiques. But then, one could always turn to the terrific classic trousers.

Though most often in tailored mode, Herrera didn’t ignore dresses, seemingly simple until you considered how perfectly the silk flannel draped at the hip, or that the Plain Jane was actually cut in broadtail. Yet the collection took its greatest joy in color, such as nongarish shades of yellow, raspberry and violet, often worn with charcoal or brown.

Evening came both constructed and fluid, sometimes beaded in spots with big, unfussy semiprecious stones. Typically, these tinkered gracefully with the red-carpet look du jour — bare-shouldered and skinny through the torso. But one beauty, a long, bubble-printed shirtdress, offered a Forties redux spectacular in its reserve.

Oscar de la Renta: Oscar, you trend maven, you. Oscar de la Renta is a man of the world, and this isn’t the first time he’s waxed Russian on his runway. But with the collection he showed on Monday, he found himself in the forefront of two other trends taking hold in New York’s early going — volume and flat shoes. Which made for an outing of high interest, as intentionally or otherwise, the presentation highlighted de la Renta’s innate currency, many of his signatures fitting ever so easily into the whims of the moment. The show also exposed the savvy — one might say calculated, were Oscar capable of such — evolution of an aesthetic. A while back when he celebrated Russia, there were Cossack hats all around and cozy muffs galore. Not this time. But then, since the designer’s last Siberian trek, the chic young set has given him a great big bear hug — yes, that was the dazzling Beyoncé in his front row — and since then he has responded with a wealth of cross-generational gems.

This story first appeared in the February 8, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This collection, though imperfect, continues the run, as Oscar might as well coin a new slogan: It’s not what you love, it’s how you love it. Thus his precious ikats — Indian last season but not anymore, now printed on sturdy shearling. Ditto the weighty gold embroidery he fancies. Oscar played down its exotica on sweaters, jackets and a fab green princess coat. And while he said nyet to those cossack hats, it was da! da! da! to fur, from a little nothing stole to a grandly casual white sheared mink coat, worn skin side out.  

As for the collection’s imperfect state, major volume is always tough to negotiate, especially in a weight-obsessed world, and sans heels, no less. While one or two skirts were non-negotiable clunkers, most will fare beautifully in real life, since, let’s face it, mass conversion to flats won’t happen overnight. Among the knockouts: a trio of gorgeous embroidered skirts in jewel-toned velvets.

Evening was something of a pastiche, some ill-fated taffeta rustling in on alluring romantics, sirens and a Sarah Jessica Parker party frock. But then, especially at night, de la Renta loves to give his ladies plenty of choice. How else to woo Beyoncé and be ready to take the call should Mrs. Bush call again?

Diane von Furstenberg: Russian literary heroines inspired Diane von Furstenberg’s fall collection, women — she wrote in her program notes — known for their fragility and strength. She forgot one key trait that saw many such gals through their complicated travails, a trait she shares with them by the bushel — cleverness.

Diane is one savvy lady, whose hard-core realism has served her well. So here’s to her heroines, but don’t expect them to Trotsky around in full-on, fur-laden Julie Christie regalia. Rather, enjoy von Furstenberg’s appropriation of foreign elements for her very own. Who else would open a Russian reverie with a black jersey dress, made faux-austere with military touches? Von Furstenberg went on to offer a minibouquet of dresses in black, countering their low-key allure with vibrant jacquards and prints.

Throughout, she worked the contrast of masculine and feminine, although, truth be told, her heart’s with the latter. Thus, she indulged her penchant for peasantry — now something of a signature — with invitingly casual tiered full skirts. Diane knows where to put the volume — and where not to: hence, a shapely caftan dress that someone might actually want to wear. When she did break out the tailoring, it was with considerable élan and a subliminal take-charge attitude. This went two ways: casual with a twill and fake-fur jacket over trousers, and polished to perfection in a silvery tweed coat and suit. Either way, it made for high chic in this so-smartly controlled game of Russian dressing.

Tuleh: One can look at fashion on many levels. Take Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley, who before his show explained his inspiration as “Contex — the role contextualization plays in perception.” Alrighty then. Surely, the savvy fashion follower could not miss his point: For fall, Bradley would offer a moody, evocative study, one that combined the best elements of last season’s new — and oddly discordant — deeper, darker Tuleh with the delightful prettiness on which he built the house’s reputation, winning the hearts and closets of the young social set.

In other words, welcome to the dark side of fluff, a place free of remnants of chichi kitsch, but also of annoying, feigned angst. More importantly, it’s a place where those devoted clients, perhaps shell shocked through spring, can revel once more, and now compare notes — and purchases — with more brooding types looking to pretty up without going prissy. Both types should go giddy over Bradley’s glorious coats, especially those that didn’t waft retro — the glam trench over a swooshy dress; the black beaded stunner that opened the show. But there’s plenty beyond the coats. Bradley flexed major muscle by reinventing the core of Tuleh’s image, those lovely dresses, into something more than merely pretty. To do so he used familiar tools — florals, ribbons, ruffles — extracting the sugar and injecting greater sophistication and nuance. And for perhaps the first time, he showed a comfort level with sportswear concepts. Low-slung, shiny cargo shorts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they were smartly executed, and delivered a bit of tough-girl cachet. And talk about range: Any takers for a girly pink mink shrug? How about urban warrior-ready camouflage fox?

Though most of the styling worked, a handful of digressions into overt vintage-y homage felt musty and out of place. But no matter. This collection was clearly a breakthrough for Bradley — and an impressive one at that.