FIGHTING SPIRIT, CHIC LUXE AND REFINED STYLE
THE FASHION BATTLE RAGES…IN THE RING, WITH JOHN GALLIANO’S FIGHTING LOOKS AT DIOR, AND OUT OF IT, WITH THE CHIC LUXE OF VALENTINO. OLIVIER THEYSKENS, TOO, TONED THINGS DOWN A BIT, WHILE ENNIO CAPASA DID THE DEFINITIVE BLACK SUITS AT COSTUME NATIONAL.

Christian Dior: Still crazy after all these years? You betcha. But sometimes lunacy has irresistible appeal, as it did in the collection John Galliano showed for Christian Dior on Tuesday.
In his program notes, Galliano wrote, “Trash and Destroy have given way to a new romantic ideal,” apparently, one would think, a direct response to the hits he’s taken over such thematic musings as S&M, Jesus-bashing and trailer-park chic. New romance, you say? So settle in for a gentle frolic chez Dior? Hold the New Look, honey — John sure has. Then again, the handle could be revived at the house because, on the runway at least, Galliano has taken Dior in a direction no one ever thought it would go — wild, raucous and antithetical to all common notions of glamour. And lest his notes to the audience be taken too literally, he had other instructions for his models, written on a board backstage: “Ravers & gypsies at a fight club: LSD, Ecstasy, Rohypnol, Poppers…Just kidding! Good clean fun!”
As if you could have anything else on a runway populated with rappers, Irish boxers, vagabonds, gypsies and a whole lot of cute-chic teens looking for a good time and a pair of baggy, plastic, printed overalls. As for their gigantic boom boxes — trick! — they’re the new Dior bag, and you could fit a small country inside. Of course, when a girl just can’t decide what to wear, she needs roomy baggage. Who knows when she may want to reach in and grab another filmy skirt to slip on, or colorful bikini undies to pull on over her pants?
As usual, Galliano’s was a motley cast of characters. His boxers turned out in silk shorts and robes marked “Champion 1947” (the New Look year) — not to mention skin bruises, black eyes and bandaged arms. Newspaper girl/baby gangster gamines sported smart checks and pinstripes mixed with jeans and silk, and a fabulous band of post-grunge gypsies, embroideries, flowers, frills and fantastic mirrored jeans. Throughout, Galliano layered on more, more, more: amazing painted or knitted furs; thick, decorated sweaters; long, knitted, Heidi hats; striped or flowered hose; shirts, skirts, pants, and lingerie worn in multiples.
Sensory overload, to be sure. And purists will no doubt bemoan the fact that the show had nothing to do with the elegance that once was Dior. But, piece by piece, many of these clothes have their own kind of elegance, and come fall, the Dior customer will carry it home.

Valentino: Thank goodness there’s someone out there who understands that glamour isn’t a trend, it’s a lifestyle. Isn’t that why Valentino’s Ladies love him? In the collection he showed on Tuesday, he played masterfully to their every desire, and they will surely be enchante. The only wardrobe quandry they’ll face is just which of those divine embroidered ivory shirts to choose.
By the standards chez Valentino, these clothes were discreet, at least by day. While one could never accuse the designer of prompting his women to dress down, for fall he embraced, if not a more casual attitude, then certainly a less chi-chi one. He opened with those intricately worked silk shirts, shown simply with black pants and skirts. Elsewhere, Valentino kept his embellishments in check, often adding fur borders to graphic plays of black and white, and to what his program notes referred to as his earth-toned “country look.”
If a mink-edged violet cashmere cardigan with a delicate lace blouse and long, plaid tweed skirt aren’t exactly stall-mucking duds, they’ll look great for more urban pursuits. As will many of Valentino’s fabulous items: an ermine trench, a small jacket with buckle closures cut in different fabrics for wildly different effects, a camel coat with mink cuffs. Valentino showed fewer suits than usual, and when they appeared, they packed a tony punch. Case in point: the pencil-thin navy pinstriped pantsuit with a ruffled peplum.
For evening, Valentino offered a wealth of options — too many, in fact. His Ladies can choose curvy little black dresses with assorted cutouts, or sparkly tops with pants, although they’re sure to pass on the let-it-all-out fishnet sweaters. On the other hand, who could resist his high-drama gowns or the huge lace and tulle skirt, perfect for the rich romantic?

Olivier Theyskens: Yoooo-hoooo +. Monsieur Arnaaaaauuuult!!! If Olivier Theyskens is hoping to land that plum spot at Givenchy, then he’s certainly going about things the old-fashioned way — with intriguing, wearable and refined clothes. Though rumor has it that some of the top brass at LVMH would prefer to hire a designer willing to work for the house exclusively, Theyskens’s fall collection should put him back on their list. His curvy tweed suits and antiquey furs had a Daisy Buchanan sort of charm — not only in their vintage appeal, but because they were just as rich as they were romantic. Flowing gowns in chiffon or jersey played to the mood, especially when worn under thin wool reefer coats. Think Daisy borrowing Jay’s coat for a turn in the garden. Also from that temptress’s era — and Madonna’s, too — thick satin, granny-girdle dresses.
Theyskens didn’t forgo his leathers, however — in fact, they were better than ever. He steered clear of those mean Eighties styles he’s shown in the past, and in their place were soft, glistening bomber jackets and spliced pants, in rust and white, that wrapped around and around the legs like a couple of candy canes. His signature Gothic touches were also few and far between, though the collection did have a certain melancholy to it. Was Theyskens showing a Theyskens collection or was Givenchy on his mind? As if to make it all the more plain that he’s ready to do business with the big boys, the once Samson-tressed designer came out to take his bow with a new, close-cropped cut.

Costume National: Seen one slick black suit, seen ’em all? Well, then you haven’t seen a Costume National show lately. Ennio Capasa can certainly turn that wardrobe staple into a major statement. And who can blame him? He knows just how to do it with intricate seams, double-wrapping belts, a perfectly cropped jacket or a delicately pointed shoulder. The effect of these, as well as sheer tops and dresses strategically spliced with sharp leather across their fronts, was graphic and stark.
On the softer side he showed featherweight webby knits and gentle tone-on-tone floral jacquards that eased even his most razor-sharp silhouettes. But then Capasa’s goal was to merge the sweet with the tough stuff in a way that makes sense. “I’m thinking of a woman in the future,” he said before the show. “It’s a look that’s romantic and martial at the same time.” With a sharp juxtaposition of black leather — as in a perfect waxy coat — and black lacy tops, he set about his task. But it wasn’t long before Capasa made it back to his beloved black suit, sending out the best of all — a tux completely embroidered from collar to cuff to low-riding waistband to hem and slick with stitchery.