Byline: Bridget Foley

NEW YORK — Forget the fashion versus antifashion debate that waged through Europe. The big contretemps here is tents or no tents, and opinions are still flying on the matter.
“I’m in shock,” says Calvin Klein, characterizing the decision by “the New York designers” to leave the tents as “irresponsible.”
As just about everyone knows by now, Klein is the only one of the Big Three who will present his fall collection at the tents. Donna Karan opted for a more up-close-and-personal atmosphere; Ralph Lauren maintains that late fabric deliveries caused him to change both day and venue.
“I think some of the designers in New York are crazy — I think they ought to have their heads examined,” Klein says. “I read that Donna said the shows attract too much media. What does she think we do this for? Hello. The whole point of all of this is to put on a show to create excitement so that we’ll sell some clothes. I’m in shock. We’ve got something great going here, and it’s taken us forever to get it going. The French and Italians are way ahead. Finally we got there and here we go again, back to showrooms. It’s ridiculous. “And then to say I’ll apologize to the press — people come from all over the world to see these shows, and to apologize when they can’t get in just isn’t enough,” Klein continues. “It makes me wild, this subject, not just Donna, Ralph, too. There’s responsibility involved here. Postponing the show after receiving a big award — I think the New York designers are being really irresponsible.
“This is a global business, and it’s very important for American designers to project an awareness of that. You can’t do it in two shows in a showroom. The press told us that years ago. It doesn’t have to be in a tent or on the pier, but there has to be a sense of a serious show that tries to accommodate everyone. You need space, and New York doesn’t have a lot of space. To go back to the showrooms is telling the world, ‘Forget us, we don’t count.”‘
Karan doesn’t see it that way. “I’m ecstatic, I was ready to go,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to me, to have all those people sitting there. And I’m sorry, the whole media thing bothers me. Why give so much general press to something that won’t be in the stores for six months, when we want people to buy what’s in the stores now?”
“I am truly very sorry if I caused anyone inconvenience,” says Lauren, whose show scheduled for Wednesday, the first day of Passover, is causing problems for some international guests. Lauren attributed his schedule change to late and incorrect fabric deliveries. (One corrected fabric shipment was not scheduled to leave Italy until today.)
Lauren explains simply that there were no available openings in the schedule after his original Saturday night spot: “When there’s something scheduled every hour, you can’t just muscle your way in.”
With all this debate, the preseason buzz has been much more about the politics of fashion than the fashion of fashion. But starting tonight, the clothes take center stage — whether that stage is under a tent, in a 550 showroom or elsewhere.
Fall promises to be a sleek, sexy season, with turned-down voltage on color and — whether it’s presented as Bloomsbury, Seventies or Bloomsbury by way of the Seventies — a long, lean silhouette. And just about everyone agrees it will all be presented with a big dose of reality.
“Too many shows are done to exploit the bizarre and play to eccentricity,” says Bill Blass. “But a show shouldn’t exist merely to amuse. It should be to reassure buyers and customers that the kinds of clothes they need and want to buy and wear will be available to them. Too often, the customer can be put off before she even gets into the store.” Blass says he will show a “purely customer collection” based on smart tailoring and a sportswear attitude. To make the point, he’ll open with 15 looks from his Bill Blass USA line, which for the first season will be available to stores other than Saks Fifth Avenue. For his signature collection, he’ll show plenty of jaunty patterns with an emphasis on warm browns and beiges — including two Agnona fabrics for about $350 per yard, “probably the most expensive I’ve ever used.”
Oscar de la Renta is also into reality. He says that the tents themselves are not problematic, but that they caused a dangerous shift in attitudes. “We all became trapped by the big spaces,” he explains. “We became so swept up in showmanship, we lost the sense of the consumer.”
But now, de la Renta says the lesson has been learned. For fall, he favors a long, narrow silhouette, with interest derived from fabric mixes. “I love combining textures and mixing things up,” he says. “I’ve always stressed it, especially for day, but stores never buy it that way.”
“The fashion world is so hungry for a trend, and then you have women putting it on and looking terrible,” says Lauren. “I think that’s what’s wrong with the fashion business. The most important thing is for clothes to look flattering on a woman.” Ralph promises lots of suedes, leathers and softened colors — as well as an epaulet or two, inspired by some of the collections he did in the Seventies. “You want to capture the mood of the moment,” he says, “without it being yesterday’s look before it gets into the stores.”
Lauren may be waxing a tad philosophical, but Karan remains SA’s Zen meister laureate. “Everything in my life is East-West except the clothes, which are north-south,” Karan explains. “I have both polarities, so it’s balanced.”
That global equilibrium translates into the mood of the season — long and lean. “It all came together after I saw these shoes,” Karan says, holding up a pair of suede clogs on heels. “They have a slipper construction, and they have the height but they’re grounded. The whole idea is to look thinner. That’s my obsession in life.”
Calvin Klein also favors a linear silhouette. “I think I’ve always done anti-fashion,” he says, noting that for fall, his clothes are cut small and narrow, with lots of knits and an “ever so slight” trace of the Seventies. There are plenty of pants, and while the dress lost some of its importance on the European runways, for Klein, it’s “becoming more important as it gets longer.” Calvin is de-emphasizing black, but his colors are “sophisticated autumn colors, the colors of Rothko paintings — browns, indigos, khakis, raisin, with interesting touches of gold.”
Rothko will also waft through Isaac Mizrahi’s collection, although he insists he didn’t start with a theme. “It’s not about just the painting. It’s the colors of the painting on a tomato red wall with someone sitting in front of it in a pastel dress,” he says. “My work is about reckoning with color,” Mizrahi continues. “This collection is all about personality and color — it’s not about brights, it’s not about pales, but it’s about all sorts of colors coming together — maybe a sad Wedgwood blue skirt with a bright tomato red cashmere bouclA twinset.”
Mizrahi is also launching a new label with this collection. You’ve heard of Armani’s ‘Black Label’ and Ralph’s ‘Purple Label?’ Isaac is calling his new, highest-end group “Tiny Label.” It’s a tight selection of neutral-toned pieces, mostly in Agnona and Tiroler Loden fabrics. While it hasn’t been priced yet, Mizrahi says most of the pieces “are about a million dollars.”
Mizrahi’s collection will also put an emphasis on pants and jumpsuits. “I love pants. Early in my career, one of my first headlines said ‘Isaac Mizrahi: It’s Pants.’ Veronica Webb still calls me ‘Isaac It’s Pants Mizrahi.’ You know, like Tony Who’s-the-Boss Danza.”
Perhaps Isaac is refueling his love affair with pants because he himself is so svelte these days, due to his steadfast adherence to a program of “starvation and swimming.” “My psychic told me if I ever wanted to diet, the planetary forces will never be better,” he explains. “He said I could have the kind of body I’ve always wanted.”
Richard Tyler, Anna Sui and Anne Klein’s Patrick Robinson are all on a Bloomsbury wavelength — with a decidedly Seventies spin. “This is probably the most fun I’ve had doing a collection in a long time,” says Tyler. “The time seems right for fashion again.” It’s a daring collection for Tyler, focusing on oddball fabric mixes, from men’s wear plaids with snakeskin to leather and lace and a bold engineered stripe with oversized animal spots in velvet. “I’ve been reading up on Bloomsbury, and what I love about it is that there was a sense of the modern but at the same time, it was so romantic.”
As a schoolgirl, Anna Sui “dressed Twenties” all the time, and she was bitten by the Bloomsbury bug again after watching the film Carrington. Her collection will be a pastiche of English wools, Deco prints, mAlange knits, velvets, scarab jewelry and probably a crocheted cloche or two. As for the Seventies connection, “The last time we saw Twenties stuff was in the Seventies,” Sui says. “There is that whole Seventies-Twenties thing with tight bodies, full pants and longer skirts. I love it.”
Robinson concurs. “The Twenties were discreet and luxurious,” he says. “That was my big influence.” Yet Robinson maintains that this collection “is not about statements, it’s just about looking great.” He promises a casual mood with almost everything shown over turtlenecks or T-shirts, a hint of military and “tons of cashmere.”
Carolina Herrera is fed up with complications. And it’s no wonder. Last week she launched her accessories business, and this week she had two shows scheduled — bridal on Monday, and her ready-to-wear on Friday. Herrera says that for fall she’s been inspired not only by the simplicity of men’s wear, but by young people, specifically her daughters, who “put a jacket with a white shirt and pants.”
This newfound sense of restraint will turn up in simplified cuts — no bias or tricky insets here. “You have to change with the times without losing your identity. It’s very Nineties, no?”
Like other designers, Victor Alfaro is finding some inspiration in the Twenties. “I’ve been looking at the photographs of Jacques-Henri Lartigue,” Alfaro says. “I’m going to do Twenties hair and makeup, and if anything, there’s a little Twenties in the softness of the clothes. But it’s all very vague; I’m not into retro.”
There will be loose cardigan jackets with long dresses and skirts as well as plenty of pants. And Alfaro is also playing with contrast, putting wool crepes and gauzes against camel hair, men’s fabrics and chunky ribbon knits.
“So much is about the fabrics, and that can get lost on a huge runway,” Alfaro says. “I’m excited that people will get to see the clothes up-close.”
Ditto Michael Kors, who points to a model in a sleek, gray wrap sweater over flannel pants. “There’s your basic Danskin in cashmere,” he says. Kors, who this season celebrates his 15th year in the business, says the collection is “all of my favorite things.
It’s sexy, super-spare and incredibly luxurious without being gaudy. It’s all very neat — and a little hard-edged.”
Kors maintains that the suit isn’t always the answer for a woman who wants to look pulled-together. Instead, he offers a crisp shirt and pants, “a coat over something,” and even a sinfully thick cashmere sweater with a 30-inch cowl neck to scrunch and bunch.
So what if the average neck can’t accommodate such luxurious proportions? “Have your neck extended. This is the Nineties. Women have to update.”
Kors, who has presented his collection in his showroom for several seasons, is expanding the space to allow for a single show rather than the two he’s done in the past. “I feel that in a way we started all of this with the tents,” he says. “I think we accommodate the buyers and press who have to be at the show. And call me crazy, but isn’t that what it’s about? This tabloid aspect where everybody has to come — this isn’t “Hard Copy” we’re doing, it’s about clothes.”
As for Mizrahi, who took a one-season sabbatical from the tents a year ago, he’s staying put this time around. But that doesn’t mean he would ever, ever show at the pier, should such a scenario evolve. “Why not just show at the Javits Center, or on a basketball court or something?” Mizrahi muses. “But then, a basketball court would be pretty wonderful, wouldn’t it — if you’re Rei Kawakubo or someone like that.”

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