So what if last week’s round of ready-to-wear collections didn’t revolutionize the world of fashion. There was enough clear and solid direction established for fall, specifically wide-legged trousers, leathers, and outfits that blend masculinity with femininity, and sufficient innovation in colors and fabrics to satisfy the needy retail hordes.
Compared with past seasons, there were fewer bombs cited by retailers — even off-the-record — and that’s particularly welcome news, considering that the spring fashion business is moving at a snail’s pace.
Burt Tansky, chairman and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus, saw “a lot of strength in the collections.”
“The clothing looked very salable,” Tansky said. “Trends that emerged in Europe are now reinforced by American designers. There’s a continuation of a richness in fabrics, more colors and a strong feeling for eveningwear.”
“It was a very sophisticated week of American collections,” said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale’s senior vice president of fashion direction. “Where there may be a paucity of originality, there is a lot of super-smooth interpretations on European trends, with their own twists.
“It seems designers realize it’s been a little tough going and want to give stores some meaty collections, things flattering to a woman and things they need for their wardrobes.”
Collections by Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Richard Tyler, Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi received the most praise from retailers.
And while there were few flops, there was an undercurrent of criticism that New York is still lacking true originality.
“A lot more was happening in Europe,” said Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president and fashion director of Barneys New York. “I feel we’re a little bit lazy this season and maybe a little too safe. We’re a little stuck on what worked before. There was just a general lack of energy and a dearth of new ideas,” she said.
“After you spend a month in Europe, to keep the rhythm going, you look to New York designers to give their point of view and be as strong as Europe. A few designers are giving us that, but some aren’t.”
Pressman did like Klein’s “well-fitted” side-closure jackets, but thought newness was more in his suitings and jackets than anything else. She also gave kudos to Mizrahi for “his broad assortment of fabrics,” such as donegal tweeds, pony skin and flannel, as well as his color combinations; Karan’s long evening dresses with painted brush patterns, beading and double-face cashmere blazers and coats, and Marc Jacobs’s “clean and minimal” collection.
Joan Kaner, Neiman’s senior vice president and fashion director, said an early strong note was Tyler’s couture and designer sportswear collections. “Both have his stamp.”
And, according to most, the week ended on a strong note with Donna Karan.
“She reached upward and pulled out a collection loaded with individualism and incredible fabric research,” Ruttenstein said. “The clothes were very artistic. One wonders how they could be mass produced. The evening section is very Academy Awards. There’s plenty for Barbra, Liza and Bernadette to wear next March on the Oscars.”
Ruttenstein singled out Lauren for returning to his roots and playing up his best themes, Klein’s “ultra-smooth runway looks and interpretations of subtle men’s wear with feminine grace, Karan’s D line for giving contemporary customers world fashion trends at affordable price points and Mizrahi’s wonderful, original mix of colors and fabrics.”
Wide-legged pants looked exciting, he added, which is a blessing, since “the boot-legs and narrow trousers everyone owns are somewhat dated looking.” And he pronounced the retro fad as “finished.”
Overall, “There were a lot of good, wearable clothes, which is what makes the New York shows stand out,” observed Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor. “The most consistent message during the week was that charcoal gray is an important color.”
Olexa was also impressed by Lauren’s collection. “It was absolutely beautiful and well made.”
Add to her shopping list Bill Blass’s “color explosion” and relaxed jackets, Oscar de la Renta’s strong-shoulder pantsuits and elegant eveningwear, Nicole Miller’s colorful evening dresses and Ellen Tracy’s signature man-tailored looks that “sell so well.”
Joe Denofrio, senior vice president, fashion director for Macy’s East, said that, overall, the collections were “quite evolutionary, with new thinking on tried and true” styles.
Denofrio said Macy’s approached the shows looking for trends that could translate from the designer market to the more mainstream Macy’s customer.
What he found that fit the bill were “a lot of emphasis on knits and sweaters,” a main focus on classic, man-tailored dressing — from pin-striping, plaids and houndstooth to stronger-shouldered jackets — and that the market has not yet had its fill of animal trims and prints.
“I really liked John Bartlett’s knits and men’s wear pieces,” said Barbara Weiser, executive vice president of Charivari, who went to only a few designer shows, keeping her eye out for special items. “I also liked Betsey Johnson’s tie-dye clothes. She really put the energy back into fashion.”
“Overall, we’ve seen the confirmation of trends from Europe — the return of structure and suitings and men’s wear, the whole relaxed chic attitude and luxury casual,” said Nicole Fischelis, vice president, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue.
“There were wonderful men’s wear fabrications,” said Fischelis. She also cited knits mixed with wovens, deep-toned leathers and various coat looks as highlights of show week.
Fischelis cited Klein’s “fabulous underpinnings; Bill Blass’s very modern couture and impeccable tailoring; Mizrahi’s spirit and versatility; Lauren’s silver belts, grays and navies; Marc Jacobs’s bevy of terrific items and new knits; Badgley Mischka’s evening collection; Karan’s silhouettes, soft matte jersey, coats and leathers,” and liked Richard Tyler Couture, John Bartlett, and the Halston collection.
Joseph Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman, was impressed by “clean sportswear separates, dominated by the men’s wear influences, with stronger shoulders, wider pants and soft and sensuous leather.
“Mixing sportswear with evening is a great look,” he said. “There were wonderful underpinnings; the sheers took a man’s suit and made it really sexy. Donna did interesting combinations of sensuous combined with hard, tailored pieces.”

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