NEW YORK: SECONDARY SCHOOL

Look for the big news later in the week. New York opened with top designers trotting out their secondary lines, a ton of celebrities at Versus, a hint of Ann Demeulemeester and a healthy helping of Helmut Lang. How timely, since Lang is rumored to be moving at least part of his burgeoning business to New York.

VERSUS: It’s all downhill from here — at least in terms of celebrity.
“I should have been a designer,” mused Courtney Love over a glass of champagne at Gianni and Donatella Versace’s big dinner at the Independent following Saturday night’s Versus show. “But then I started reading a lot of poetry. And let’s face it, fashion is great, but it doesn’t have the impact of Emily Dickinson.”
Perched on a bar stool, her long legs crossed, Love lit the cigarette she bummed off Leonardo di Caprio and settled in for a little chat.
“If I could do it all over again, though, I’d be a fashion intern,” she continued. “I think I’d work with either John Galliano or Anna Sui. I could make them a lot of money.”
But for Love — who wore Versace to the Oscars — Saturday night’s collection was her first fashion show ever. She flew in from Seattle for the occasion.
Her review: “It was fine. The clothes were beautiful, but you can see a fashion show on TV. I’m glad I was there in person though, because I was searching for anorexia. And I was happy not to see too much.
“When I was in the sixth grade I read that Patti Hansen weighed 136 pounds,” she added. “I loved that. Look at me, I’m not one of those little things. I have a butt and boobs. It’s great. I sometimes tell people I weigh 10 pounds more than I actually do.”
Butts and boobs notwithstanding, Gianni Versace is a man who believes in the fashion event, and nobody’s better at herding in the hip and famous. For the Versus show at the Ace Gallery, he snagged not only Love and di Caprio, but Lauren Holly and Ed Burns, Jennifer Tilly, Annabella Sciorra, Will Smith and the former Prince, who was slathered with more pancake than an IHOP griddle. Versace also imported the British band Republica to perform during the show. But the piece de resistance was the grand entrance of Gianni escorting Love, who was smoldering as much as her cigarette. Versace then took his seat. “This is not my collection,” he told a guest, and settled in next to Courtney to watch sister Donatella’s effort.
Tough Chic? The Versaces wrote the book. They’ve done lady, they’ve done Voyage, but the Versaces are rockers at heart. They like their fashion brash, sexy and more than a little wild — which is just how Donatella played it for fall: “Hard core new age punk,” she wrote in her program notes. Yet for some reason, Donatella wasn’t content to draw from the family archives alone, and Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester were as present here as Courtney.
Black and leather set the tone for a collection that delivered an aggressive attitude of raw sexuality in a package of wearable clothes — for example, oversized mannish jackets worn over bare breasts and leather harnesses. There were also microminis and androgynous baggy pants as well as sexy jersey dresses and cozy sweaters with vibrant yellow stripes. And excessive references aside, most of it looked quite strong. But clothes are not meant for the runway. “Evening melds into day, and vice versa,” read the program notes. As soon as the show was over, the Versace pack headed off to meld into the wee hours.
As Love held court at the Independent bar, the upstairs dining room slowly filled behind her with 100 or so guests. Previously Prince and his wife, Mayte, were escorted by his bodyguard to the center table, stopping in front of a place card which read simply “The Artist.” Nearby, Lauren Holly giggled with Gianni, and Cyndi Lauper sat in a banquet by the window chatting up Lou Reed, who took pride in his familiarity with the catwalk.
“I’ve been to 96 fashion shows since 1977,” he said.
“Hey you,” cried Kristen McMenamy, throwing her arms around Love, who popped up to greet her.
“Give me a good kiss,” McMenamy continued, as a handful of photographers fired away.
“Teach me how to pose,” Love demanded of the model, as the duo hammed it up for the cameras.
“If I ever had a muse, it would be Kristen,” said Love, cozying back up to the bar.
With dinner on the way, and all of the guests in place, several of the party’s organizers approached Love and politely asked her to be seated.
“I’ll sit when I’m ready to sit, thank you,” she said.
“I have juice now,” she added. “But sometimes people don’t know when enough is enough.” Still, after one more smoke, Love took her place next to Donatella and had dinner.
“I was so tired before the show,” Donatella said. “Now all I have is energy. It’s going to be a late night.”
At around 1:30 a.m., Donatella and Courtney hopped into a limo alone and headed out for Twilo, a club in West Chelsea, with the minions following in separate cars.
As the group — which included Versace’s husband, Paul Beck, McMenamy and Steven Meisel, who shadowed Love all night (whatever happened to Madonna?) — pushed its way through the throngs gathered outside, one obviously heterosexual visitor was stopped at the door and dutifully informed: “Excuse me sir, you know it’s boys’ night, right?”
Once inside, huddled in a VIP room overlooking the dance floor, Donatella and Courtney leaned against the balcony, gabbing like childhood friends. Below them, the crowd danced wantonly to house music.
Were they discussing the possibility of Love starring in a Versace campaign?
“I’ve proposed it,” said Donatella. “I hope so. I admire her so much. But if she says no, I’ll still like her.”
“Let’s leave it up in the air for now,” said Love.
By 3 a.m., Love, Versace and McMenamy were drawn to the dance floor, where they were treated like proper disco royalty by the all-male masses.
“I’ve been so sucked into fashion,” an enthusiastic Love said. “It’s strange sometimes. My mother ran the first store in Eugene, Ore., that sold Birkenstocks. So you can understand my beauty problem. I grew up surrounded by hairy legs and sandals.”
D: Donna Karan is fond of referring to D as a laboratory, one that allows her and a particularly adventurous customer the chance to experiment. And certainly, there was an artsy undercurrent to the collection Karan showed on Sunday. Her focus was crystal clear: Lean body clothes with uneven hems, off-beat insets and abstract textural motifs crossed with slouchy, eased-up tailoring.
The collection’s strength lies in an appealing, casual sexiness, one that is confident without being aggressive or tough — for example, the skinny stretch pinstripes with vibrant jersey tops and minidresses shirred or draped at the hip. Karan’s leathers also looked great, as did many of her oversized jackets and baggy pants that play so well into the current androgyny.
Yet sometimes Donna’s experimental itch got the better of her, and too often good clothes fell prey to studied styling — not to mention that Jil Sander and Helmut Lang have done many of the same lab tests before. In addition, there just wasn’t enough substance. D is still in its infancy, and perhaps in an effort to distinguish it definitively from DKNY, Donna focused too keenly on a single mood. Karan is a woman of many thoughts, and one wished she had shared more of them on her runway.

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