Bill Blass: Bill Blass is walking a tightrope. And right now, he’s stepping with the mastery of a fashion Wallenda. Last season, he took a turn in a decidedly younger direction — but at the same time managed to keep his mature clientele happy. That’s precisely why his fall retail sales are up 30 percent over last year, and the collection he showed on Thursday should keep those registers ringing. At the heart of it all is the suit. The Forties just don’t beckon to everyone — certainly not the Ladies on Blass’s client list. And so he shaped his suits with classic dash. Jackets were short or long, but there was no hem-hedging. Below-the-knee skirts won’t fly in this market, and Blass isn’t going to pretend it will, not even for the runway.
His one big nod to the trends of the season was the bustier. He sent it out countless times in woven or sweater-knit versions and made a huge statement with the bustier dress under a jacket — a smart way for his customer to corset up.
Blass, of course, is no Johnny-come-lately to fashion’s recent fascination with color. He’s an old hand at it, which may be why he gets it right so effortlessly. This time out, he’s mad about pink, and opened the collection with a wonderfully cheery group of suits and dresses. But he also provided ample relief with black and white checks and pinstripes.
In fact, one of Blass’s best evening looks was the bugle-beaded pinstriped pants worn with a silk and cashmere cardigan and bustier. Long, graceful dresses in ombré chiffon had a hint of Galliano, and a little black dress with inset lace midriff should sell up a storm. But for the most part, it seemed that Blass was in a whole different mind-set at night, when the good, chic sense of day got lost in a black hole of tricks.

Oscar de la Renta: Oscar de la Renta is walking the same tightrope as Bill Blass, and he’s not negotiating it as well. The collection he showed on Thursday was too bland, especially when you consider that Oscar himself is a real hot tamale. How many cookie-cutter tulip dresses is a woman going to buy in one season? A lot, if she’s shopping exclusively at Oscar, who, once again, managed to pull out the most socially impressive audience, running the gamut from Brooke Astor to Mickey Rourke. That’s right, Mickey and Brooke in the same room — and one of them didn’t have a shirt on.
As for the clothes, there’s no question that de la Renta is capable of much more. In fact, his opening segment promised a great show: crisp patent leather raincoats in bold colors, and chic, ice-cream-colored wool suits and dresses with interesting seamed details. For evening, there were short, glittery looks and long, simple evening dresses in jersey or cashmere knit. These were real knockouts, but their punch just wasn’t strong enough to sustain the show.

Richard Tyler: First things first: Richard Tyler makes a great suit. No one doubts it, but he proved it again in his collection last night. A Tyler suit is all about glamour, and this time out he packed it with every drop-dead touch in the book — bold shoulders, cinched waists, knee-covering hobble skirts. They came in neutral wool with satin girdle insets, chinois-print silks and laminated stretch silk. There were also chic Garbo-esque pantsuits in houndstooth or Prince of Wales plaid. Tyler’s attention to detail and painstaking craftsmanship are second to none in New York, and each piece was impeccably detailed — reversed seams on a tuxedo; graceful back pleats in a satin jacket.
But the rest of the collection didn’t live up to that standard and for one reason: It was way too tight. Tyler may be obsessed with those vise-like siren dresses, but no one is going to wear them — anywhere. They accentuated the models’ rear ends like nothing short of a Westwood bustle.
The finale was one hourglass after another. But Tyler did include two surprises — breathtaking gray beaded sweaters, one short, one long and fitted, to slide on over that slippery charmeuse.

Victor Alfaro: Victor Alfaro is intent on broadening the scope of his collection. Last season, he worked on building a daytime business with terrific, hip suits. Now, he’s focusing on sweaters, and they couldn’t be better — tight little cashmere or cotton Ts and polos that stop at the waist or hips. While so many others are going the skin-tight route, Victor paired his shrunken treasures with fluid skirts, either bias-cut or pleated, often in gentle layers. Most of these were some version of New Length, from just-above-the-knee to well below, and sometimes it worked beautifully — in the lace-edged Empire panné velvet dress, for example. But often it didn’t. Alfaro may have committed himself to jumping on the current length bandwagon, but he just didn’t seem comfortable. The results frequently came off as dowdy, and some of the fabrics didn’t help. But when Victor did short, as with his aqua satin wrap dress, it looked sexy and chic. Alfaro also sent out some nicely shaped suits with jackets cut close to the body, which managed to avoid looking retro.
When he first burst upon the scene, it was with eveningwear. He still loves the high-glamour bit, and it showed. Alfaro’s painted, sequined halter gown may be the evening dress of the season — perfect for the lady who’s a siren at heart.

Fashion Scoop
Oops: Bianca Jagger has plenty of time to beat the crowds at the cappuccino bar. She showed up on Thursday for Calvin Klein’s show — which is today.
Racy Tracy: Three models, including Beri Smithers, walked off just before Tracy Feith’s show at Show World’s Big Top strip joint Thursday night. Evidently they didn’t realize pole dancing was going to be part of their runway walk.

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