THERE’S FANTASY, AND THEN THERE’S REALITY. AND THIS SEASON, THE LATTER IS WINNING OUT. THE BADGLEY MISCHKA DUO ARE, MORE THAN EVER, SEWING TO SELL…DONNA KARAN IS HAVING A GRUNGE MOMENT AT DKNY…PIYAWAT PATTANAPUCKDEE STAYED TRUE TO THE HALSTON NAME, WHILE FOR NEWCOMER ZAC POSEN, THE JOURNEY IS JUST BEGINNING.

Badgley Mischka: These days, designers need to at least consider the commercial viability of what they send down the runway. So it isn’t surprising that, for fall, Mark Badgley and James Mischka showed more looks intended to sell than to stun.

Their inspirations this time were Portugal and Asia, the Incas and the Mayans, and these disparate influences surfaced in the beading, passementerie and a few Chinese prints. The best of the exotic looks were a jet lace top over beaded, embroidered suede pants and the broadtail cardigans bordered in jet and bullion trim. Badgley and Mischka have just signed a licensing deal with BC International to produce a collection of evening furs for fall, and those sweaters will be in it. The pair have always done the kind of clothes that can be best appreciated when seen up close, and their showroom presentation this season was the perfect venue. Better to see the delicate scattering of marabou feathers on an anthracite lace gown, or the details on a knee-length slip with a ruched bodice and jet-beaded cobweb godets.

But the Badgley Mischka duo can’t seem to get away from that mother-of-the-bride fixation in the form of matronly suits and dresses. The simpler, charming little black dresses were certainly more appealing and are sure to please both mama and her blushing daughter.

DKNY: What do Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan have in common? A love for grunge — at least this season. And oddly enough, they both used Nirvana’s song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in their show. But that’s where the similarities end. While Marc Jacobs aimed for harmony in his mix of disparate pieces, Karan, in her DKNY collection, reveled in the discord. Playing up contrasts was the modus operandi here: hard against soft; old versus new. A great slouchy coat in ivory washed wool, for example, was shown over a wispy embroidered mesh skirt and a big rabbit coat was layered over a lacy babydoll dress. The peacoats were especially good — either long, in navy wool over a skinny tank and lace-trimmed silk skirt or short, in ivory wool, worn over a smocked turtleneck and faded jeans.

In keeping with the mix-it-up theme, for the first time in awhile, Donna showed her men’s collection alongside the women’s. While most of the clothes were cute, the presentation itself was frenetic. The designer lined the 47 models up on rows of steps and sent them walking in different directions — a setup that was ultimately disorienting. And not all of the combinations worked: The burnished leather jacket over a wool and satin pleated skirt, as well as the ruched leather skirt and angora sweater missed the mark.

Zac Posen: Introducing…Zac Posen! Tuesday night’s show was a coming-out party of sorts for the young designer. Though he’s been touted as one to watch thanks to exposure from such star clients as Marisa Tomei and Naomi Campbell, the 21-year-old graduate of London’s Central St. Martins is just beginning to register on the fashion-world radar. His front row included Julian Schnabel, Bijoux Phillips, and Anthony Kiedis as well as a strong editorial presence, a feat usually reserved for more seasoned talents. Even girl-about-the-collections Barbara Bush, whisked in and out by her numerous bodyguards, stayed long enough to see the show. The models, too, were a stellar bunch, with Karen Elson, Erin O’Connor, a slender Sophie Dahl and the animated party girl Paz de la Huerta walking the runway.

Posen got his runway warmup at Gen Art’s Fresh Faces in Fashion group show here in New York last October, and clearly, he was a cut above the rest. His technical skill seemed beyond his young age and brought to mind that other Brit wunderkind, Alexander McQueen.

This season, in a show he titled “Artemis,” after the Greek goddess of the hunt and moon, Posen wrote in his program notes, “Artemis was the image of a woman moving through her life and assuming different roles at different times.” And Posen had an outfit for every locale: the Opera, the Empire State Building, Sunday brunch, and even a walk in the rain. His woman also has many moods: warrior, psycho and bitch. Posen achieved all of this with a retro attitude, favoring the classic silhouettes of the Forties and Fifties, which he tweaked in interesting ways.

The quality of his construction is his strong suit, and it was evident in his intricate seaming and sharp tailoring a la Mugler. Posen didn’t take the easy route to create these dramatic clothes, and though not a sequin or a satin was used, the fabrics were luxurious nonetheless. On the downside, his focus on that era meant most everything — skirts, dresses and coats — had trumpet or handkerchief hems with lots of exaggerated shoulder treatments. Unfortunately, that made for some tricky looks such as dresses and jackets with exaggerated flaps and lapels or buttons running down the side of a tuxedo jumpsuit. Ditto the oversized hood that became a shoulder-sweeping cape when let down. But then, all this drama would be right at home on the red carpet, and that’s exactly Posen’s milieu. Having such a strong start this soon out of the gate indicates that Posen can only get better.

Halston: Only the name is a constant — all attempts so far to bring the label back to its Seventies icon status have been less than successful. Piyawat Pattanapuckdee is the latest designer to try, and, in his first effort for fall, he took a cautious approach, sticking close to the kinds of looks the Halston name represents.

Sure, there were some beautiful and elegant styles, but he hasn’t yet reached, nor is he anywhere near, the Halston level. Pattanapuckdee is partial to furs, which were shown as short jackets and coats tossed over almost everything, and the one worn by Alek Wek — a floor-length embroidered camel calfskin coat over camel leather pants and a jersey tank — was terrific. The rest? Neither here nor there. The requisite cashmere jersey dresses or T-shirts over pants were in keeping with this season’s effortless-chic mode, and a pewter beaded chiffon slip over flowing wool satin pants looked great for evening. But hopefully, next season, this newcomer will take more risks.

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