Project Runway: Week after week, Bravo’s “Project Runway” has had viewers glued to their sets as they witnessed designer after designer get cut from the show. On Friday, the final challenge came as the remaining four contestants presented their lineups at Bryant Park. Jay McCarroll showed a bold, brazen collection that featured versatile, monochromatic looks with a techy vibe. There was a touch of Tokyo girl and a dash of preppy hipster in his ensemble of a denim sleeveless jacket layered with a tank, button-down, mesh sweater and pants. Austin Scarlett’s 10-piece collection that included a tweed dress with a bolero and a ruffled blouse had a sexy, American Revolution-inspired elegance. Kara Saun, meanwhile, channeled Howard Hughes to create a fantasy fly-girl collection that was both feminine and utilitarian, as in a rust-colored leather and crocodile three-quarter-length jacket with an aviator hat, and a fabulous, low-cut chocolate silk evening gown. Wendy Pepper, clearly the weakest of the bunch, showed too many bustier and corset looks. While TV viewers will have to wait until Feb. 23 to see the winner, our verdict is in. It’s a close call, but McCarroll takes the cake.
Kenneth Cole: Lights, camera, humanitarian action. As usual, Kenneth Cole kicked off his runway presentation with a call to conscientious arms. This time, his video vignette focused on the country’s homeless. Cole had comedian Mario Cantone — best known as Charlotte’s irritating, persnickety sidekick on “Sex and the City” — playing at salesman, bullying shoppers into donating their coats to the homeless. “Get with the program, bitch!” he yelled at one hapless man trying on jackets who eventually lost his own to Cole’s charity.
While Cole’s altruistic side urged his audience to give coats away, on the runway, his businessman counterpart provided ample alternatives to fill those newly empty spots in the closet. Donated one of those passé but oh-so-warm puffy jackets? Replace it with one of Cole’s pared-down duffel coats in stone, plum or muted green, or maybe a long, maroon peacoat.
Indeed, a pulled-together, sporty attitude defined one of Cole’s strongest collections to date, filled with appealing, practical looks for women and men. To wit — perhaps to highlight the versatility of the clothes — toward the end of the show, Harry Belafonte appeared seemingly out of nowhere, as dashing as any boy model, if way out of context. But no matter. This collection felt more resolved and confident than any Cole has previously shown.
He kept to clean, unfussy lines and a mostly dark palette, infusing earthy neutrals with doses of deep blue, green and plum, as in the thin emerald turtleneck topping a slate pouf skirt. The knits went two ways: fine-gauge and graceful over liquid skirts or ultracozy, worn with long, louche pants. Throughout, the clothes looked smartly classic with a hint of the Seventies, less in proportion than in polish. In fact, some pieces more than whispered certain references, most notably Calvin Klein, then and now. Case in point: the jersey dresses, colorblocked by day, monotone by night. But those too-obvious moments aside, Cole delivered the roots of what could develop into a distinctive, ongoing aesthetic.
Nicole Miller Signature: Nicole Miller may have abandoned the Celtic priestess that served as her muse for spring, but she isn’t out of the Dark Ages yet. Rather, she caught the first longboat off Britannia’s shores and headed toward the land of the Vikings, embracing a new muse, the Old Norse Valkyrie. If that gal sounds like a peculiar source of inspiration, she was, and she made for a peculiar collection. As with any storybook motif, a theme is what you do with it. When Miller approached her operatic saga with an un-Wagnerian light touch, the clothes were often terrific. To that end, flowing silk dresses printed with Viking ships were sweet. And she worked warrior-esque beading in diverse ways, as shield-shaped insets on the side of an olive silk gown and as playful glitz on colorful shearlings.
But the designer went overboard with tons of heavy metal, in for example, a dress made of copper threads with ruching that added so much girth, it might befit the rotund Brunhilde herself. And that’s not a look to which modern girls aspire.
Richard Tyler Couture and the Delta Uniform Collection: It was another kind of runway for Richard Tyler this season. To start with, the terrific uniforms he designed for Delta Airlines flight attendants came down the catwalk in droves, ultimately overshadowing his gowns in number and range. Should all of those looks — and their levels of tailoring — actually end up at the terminals and in the air, Delta will have some seriously chic crews. And sexy to boot, given the designer’s high-glam, power-babe sensibility. Sure, he gave a nod to jaunty sportif with a navy cardigan over a crisp, red-trimmed white shirt and navy pants. But more often, he went for authoritative sizzle in curvy navy dresses or stretch wool skirts suited to perfectly shaped jackets. And as for those hot red taffeta dresses, fasten your seat belts.
For his own collection, Tyler showed only a few additional tailored looks, alluring suits in that svelte Sky Miles spirit. He preferred to focus on evening. Of course, his lineup of gowns included some beauties, especially the fluid, low-back silk jerseys. Yet with the overall emphasis so clearly on Delta, Tyler’s own line seemed to get secondary consideration, which left you wanting more.
Hollywould: Good things come in small packages. That would be the main lesson to take home from Holly Dunlap’s first-ever ready-to-wear show. The wicked humor and sharp sense of camp that have made Dunlap’s shoes and bags such a hit translated poorly to clothes. It was as if the designer starred in a movie called, “Honey, I Blew Up the Accessories,” not taking into account that a modicum of restraint, perhaps not needed for a shoe, is necessary for a coat. Considering that the show’s offerings approximated the gaudy glitz of a high-end Slavic call girl, its theme of “From Russia With Love” lent itself to a slew of crude jokes. If Dunlap chooses to continue with rtw, she would do well to rein in the ostentation. And while she’s at it, she should find a better factory to produce the samples. Or focus on the fun accessories that everybody loves so much.
Tocca: The pretty little Tocca lady returned from her spring sojourn in Italy only to swing through London’s colorful Sixties for fall. And designer Ellis Kreuger was more than happy to send her off on the trip with the right gear for traipsing around Carnaby and Bond Streets. He did kicky skirts, a stream of Empire-waisted frocks and great crocheted sweaters à la Marianne Faithfull, all with the charming prints and cute baubles he favors. And because this is London, there had to be an Indian reference — oh, how those Brits love a good dash of spice in their curry and, in this case, their clothes. Kreuger trimmed several billowy short dresses and skirts with zardozi work, the traditional heavy metal and bead details. There was a spring in his step, since some of the prettiest colors — bright pinks and greens — felt more May than October.
Pierrot: Before his show, Pierrot designer Pierre Carrilero was smoking a cigarette outside his venue, the Bar Association of New York. It was the perfect chance to ask him why he was absent from last season’s runways. He explained that he knew in advance that retailers, except for Barneys New York, weren’t planning to buy his knits for spring so he didn’t want to invest in a production. Fall is a different story, though, and delightfully so. Inside, he answered another question: How many ways can you do a knit? Well, let’s see. There are sweaters, hoodies, muffs, balaclavas, capes, handbags, berets, shorts, leg warmers, gloves and mittens — sometimes all matching and packed into one look. Carrilero is at his best when channeling his cheeky charm, and this season, that meant a winning après-ski group as well as some of the body-hugging, beret-topped French chic looks that are perennial favorites. And the handful of skull-printed, Armageddon-themed pieces somehow proved equally charming.
George Simonton Luxe: George Simonton may just be the hardest-working man on Seventh Avenue. A professor at FIT for the past 20 years, Simonton currently designs three collections: the moderate Michael DeGray by George Simonton, Simonton Says for QVC and George Simonton Luxe. The luxe collection presented on Thursday featured looks perfect for Simonton’s core clientele, whose members include Laura Bush and Katie Couric, such as a cozy cashmere suit with a zip front jacket. But — as those QVC announcers might say — Hold on! Simonton also sent out younger pieces that would work for the Bush twins. He worked beige wool laced with Lurex into a sharp pencil skirt and capelet, while a gray silk mini-houndstooth was done up à la the Fifties in a fitted jacket and bow-trimmed circle skirt. Talk about mother-daughter dressing.
Sari Gueron: Sari Gueron has made her aesthetic philosophy quite clear with her second collection — using a light hand yields maximum chic. In 14 looks, set up in a serene tableau vivant, she worked the ladylike uniform — blouses, skirts and evening frocks — with a sophisticated minimal motif in a sober palette of navy, black and peach. But no, this wasn’t a spare redux of the late Nineties. Instead, Gueron chose quiet details to accentuate, not dominate, her pieces. She trimmed a cropped jacket with small, soft ruffles, for example, and sewed subtle pleats into a dress’s deep U-neckline. Even when she brightened two dresses with gold-flecked lace, the effect was more charming than glitzy. And they were certainly perfect for the social obligations of a busy fall season.
Baby Phat: At some point, Baby’s got to grow up. Kimora Lee Simmons gives every impression of wanting to be perceived as a serious designer developing a serious business. That is until showtime, when all bets — not to mention anything resembling a modicum of professional decorum — are off. Yes, fashion has become a celebrity circus, especially in New York, where any Tom, Dick or Tori can send the paparazzi all agog. And certainly this is not an issue that begins and ends with Baby Phat. But the savvy apparel exec must know when to refocus her priorities. Simmons has been staging her free-for-all celeb fests for some time now, and it’s starting to irk the people who go to fashion shows for a living. Just ask André Leon Talley. (See scoop.) Getting into Simmons’ Baby Phat show at Ace Gallery on Saturday night was nothing short of a nightmare, and the raucous focus on her arrivals — Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Usher, Ashley Olsen, Paula Abdul, JC Chavez, Shannen Doherty and Tori Spelling, to name a few — and the pushing, shoving and ill-will the mess created, demoted the show itself to little more than a footnote.
That footnote was all about Bond, James Bond. Within that theme, Simmons worked in high-powered pantsuits, some with jet-set appeal, and plenty of come-hither furs as well as low-cut dresses and skin-baring tops, the better to seduce with, of course. She also showed a number of lean, mean, miniskirts, because Bond girls mean business and frills just won’t do.
Unfortunately, Simmons took her motif way too far, going less Bond and more bondage. The mesh leather short-shorts, slashed dresses and leather corsetry are better left to the call girls of Hunts Point. As for the patent leather bras, one is an S&M statement, three’s a crowd — and a crime. And eventually, such criminal behavior loses its luster. Racy or raunchy? Fashion pro or pretender? The sooner Kimora decides, the better.
Tracy Reese: Girls will be girls, and Tracy Reese wouldn’t have it any other way. The designer works an oh-so-pretty attitude, one that often veers toward retro with a Fifties vibe. For fall she tempered that with more than a dash of Deco, and came up with a mostly lovely collection. Gentility reigned as Reese’s good girls sashayed about in an array of proper looks, their jazzy golden shoes belying just a hint of naughtiness. Throughout, she favored a full-ish silhouette, from almost-prim princess coats and a double-bow suit to a jeune fille sweater over a Prince-of-Wales skirt, its charm heightened by a lace underskirt playing peekaboo at the hem.
But sometimes, a skirt just won’t do, and a girl wants to go for the full-on coquetry of a gentle dress. And despite the now classic status of such fare, Reese kept the genre fresh with a lineup that beguiled, including peonie-printed tiers and beaded flapper frocks. What didn’t work were some too-literal Fifties references, especially the fur-collared clutch coat shown in several variations — too familiar from other runways. And despite the designer’s yen for the frou of bygone days, one would love to see her update the styling of her show, such as the kitsch of big hair and feather headdresses in favor of an aesthetic more suited to a modern It Girl — just like the clothes.
James Coviello: When James Coviello hits the drawing board, it is invariably with a scrap of inspiration that harkens back to an era of pristine dollhouses, petticoat frills, flowery teacups and the necessity of oil lamps. And no doubt a Coviello girl thinks fondly of those times. The tricky part, of course, comes in dusting it all off and polishing it up for modern life. Aside from a few matronly jackets and satin dresses, the designer did so beautifully. There seemed no end to the politely flirtatious dresses and skirts, some in a washed wallpaper print and others in razored chiffon. And since no girl wants to be all sugar, Coviello added the spice of a black sequined chiffon dress. As for those renown knits, Coviello delighted again with fanciful Fair Isles and chunky ivory cardigans, just perfect to toss on over those pretty dresses when the autumn sets in.
Catherine Malandrino: Remember the heyday of Paris’ La Coupole and its habitués — Colette, June and Henry Miller, Anais Nin? Catherine Malandrino attempted to re-create that mood in her collection with what she called “eclectic American/French style.” Her view of those freewheeling personalities, however, didn’t always successfully translate to the runway. With so many wonderful pieces in that Bohemian spirit it should have. But Malandrino was overzealous in her use of jodhpurs and high-heeled boots, which she paired with just about everything. Some of those pants in porcelain rip cord or velvet looked terrific, especially shown with a pearl knit sweater and astrakhan-collared wool coat. But when dozens of jodhpurs in taffeta and assorted jacquards flooded the runway, it was overkill. Still, Malandrino’s charm wasn’t totally obscured; it was still clear in her porcelain suede basket-weave jacket worn over a cotton voile pintuck dress; delicate tulle or embroidered Guipure lace blouses and peasant-inspired dresses, and the long bulky black wool cardigan boldly belted over a tiered chiffon dress. While this collection and its styling had its playful moments, the overall effect was a bit forced. It’s doubtful that her Paris muses tried as hard to affect their look.
Alexandre Herchcovitch: Alexandre Herchcovitch loves to play the provocateur. With his second New York show, the Brazilian designer eschewed the typical recorded soundtrack in favor of live musicians — and not of the conventional orchestra pit type. Rather, each model was escorted down the runway by a variety of musicians. The effect was as poetic and chaotic as Herchcovitch’s clothes. The designer layered and styled his collection to an editorial fare-thee-well, but to any graduate of Galliano 101, it was easy to pick out the pieces that combined both art and commerce. Herchcovitch loves ruffles, for example, and he worked them to seem almost punk, never too girly or precious, as in a hot pink chiffon top when layered over a long sleeve T over skinny gray trousers. And what about a muted floral tiered trench finished with pie-crust trim? The idea on paper may be a tad too sweet, but not chez Herchcovitch, where it played perfectly to the quirky side of chic.
Zang Toi: Zang Toi’s signature looks were in evidence Saturday night with plenty of his sexy little suits; richly embroidered cashmere sweaters; classic tailored jackets, and pants. But Toi’s excesses robbed the collection of its strongest possibilities. Consider miniskirts with mink edging on slits, cut to the sky; hair teased to the same heights; mink seaming on A-line taffeta skirts. There was, in fact, fur-trimming on almost everything as well as beading everywhere, including a beaded peacock feathered minidress. Nothing here against fur or beading, one just longed for some relief.
Ellen Tracy: “We were so happy with the collection that we decided that it should be seen up close,” explained Ellen Tracy president Glenn McMahon. So the firm decided to shun the runway in favor of appointments, better to show off those subtle details. Just as for spring, the design team kept silhouettes clean and sharp for fall, putting the focus on high-interest fabrics. A bronze suit in basket-weave silk, for example, looked plenty sophisticated, while cashmere was either knit to resemble tweed into the cosiest of slipdresses or delicately crocheted into lacy tops. Suits cut from toile, lush floral jacquard or textured paisley were surprisingly chic and those shot with midnight blue Lurex gleamed with an antique patina. For those with a need for tweed, a fresh salt-and-pepper jacket, seamed and finished in organza, was the perfect fix. While McMahon explained that Lurex was used for the sake of “illuminating” rather than to simply be “shiny,” it was quite clear that the collection as a whole did indeed shine.
Christopher Deane: Designers Christopher Crawford and Angela Deane drew upon their travels in France as inspiration for their fall collection, That was fortuitous, since a bit of gamine bon chic is exactly what was needed after a couple of so-so seasons in which the daywear lacked the wow factor. This promising young duo has always delivered flirty party frocks that maintain a certain quirkiness. Fall’s versions were charmers, such as a nude chiffon Empire number with gold pinstripes and an evergreen cummerbund. But this season the designers also went that extra mile for day, infusing their designs with more than a soupçon of French flavor. Burgundy and green mini-houndstooth wool was cut into a hyper-chic sleek trench and bracelet-sleeved jacket, while cornflower and ivory chiffon blouses were made trés jolie with black charmeuse bows. In another sign that these designers have matured, their spring collection will soon hit the floor at Bergdorf Goodman.
Richard Chai: Futuristic romance — and wearable, too. In the collection he showed for fall, Ecco Domani winner Richard Chai built on the notion of Space-Age elegance he started for spring. While that combo could easily inhabit the Planet of Tricks, Chai worked it with a restraint equal to his ambitions, and the results were mostly delightful. Many of his intricately tailored skirts and jackets looked subtly Mod defined by graphic insets, satin quilting or piping, while exaggerated proportions — a sharp shoulder or flaring coat — orbited the chic side of Jetson style. Although a few looks, particularly the boiled wool military jackets and skirts, succumbed to weighty awkwardness, Chai is quietly forging a place among the most promising young talents in New York.
Doo.Ri: One might think that the languid flow of Grès-inspired drapery and the artificial environs of a big metropolis have nothing in common. But this season Doori Chung has delightfully shown that they do.
Before her presentation, Chung said that she was inspired by “the movement and stillness of the city — steely grids and illuminated bridges.” She did send out garments with an architectural bent: sculptural high-collared coats and big-buttoned boleros steeped in Parisian chic. But for the most part, she translated her metropolitan theme with subtlety in the citified palette of grays, blacks and icy steel blues and such details as the sparkling skyline at the hem of a sleeve. The collection was dominated by beautifully fluid separates, cocktail dresses and evening columns, such as the heather jersey top, worn with a blue top and navy pleated skirt, the pale blue, off-the-shoulder dress detailed with Swarovski crystals and a midnight blue gown with beaded fringe at the back.
While Chung may be a relatively new player on the fashion field, screen goddesses should take note: Her glamorous evening ensembles with just enough subtle glitz deserve to make the rounds come red-carpet season.
Heatherette: All the kids — club and otherwise — can rest easy. Heatherette’s indefatigable designers, Richie Rich and Traver Rains, are here to stay. As reported last week in WWD, Rains and Rich are now backed by the Weisfeld Group, the investors behind Fubu and Coogi. But a little cash doesn’t mean the fun is over. Studying the riotous rainbow of sequins, gewgaws and doodads flying past, one could imagine that, handled properly, this could develop into a real business. What teenaged girl wouldn’t want a heart-intarsia cardigan with multicolored buttons? Or a supercute clear raincoat printed with pastel starbursts? The same goes for the tiny denim bomber, loads of fun T-shirts, a slew of printed tights and even pretty printed sundresses. Next up: lingerie, accessories and makeup. We can’t wait.
United Bamboo: United Bamboo: Design duo Miho Aoki and Thuy Pham are known for their witty, subversive take on preppy gear as well as for their tailoring, and for fall showed both to appealing effect. These two can really cut a coat, as they demonstrated with a sharp gray double-collared trench. And their high-waisted circle skirts and minidresses with asymmetric military-style plackets combined polish with downtown cool. But the designers took a daring turn when they sent out a few astronaut-inspired pieces, such as cartoonish color-blocked coats and sweaters. While these looks expressed a certain whimsy (and elicited a few smiles), Aoki and Pham are at their best when they aren’t going “where no man has gone before.”
Ruffian: There’s right on and there’s way off. Some designers can be both within a single collection. Brian Wolk and Claude Morais had just such a bipolar time of it at their Saturday Ruffian presentation at the National Arts Club. On the upside, they were clearly inspired by England’s toniest villages and grand manors owned by fox-hunting types. To wit, they started with a set of well-tailored herringbone looks — capelet-like jackets, loose trousers and swingy skirts — accented with liquid silk blouses. But then, it was as if the designers pulled down the tapestries hanging in those same manors and sewed them into a bewildering parade of Seventies-style pantsuits and dresses, replete with tricky butterfly sleeves or asymmetric ruffles. Even Ruffian’s usually charming signature neck ruffs, done here in mink, seemed to go one step too far.
Jasmin Shokrian: It speaks volumes that Ecco Domani winner Jasmin Shokrian is receiving both editorial and retail accolades at a time when conceptual fashion is eyed wearily or with suspicion. At her first show, which was enviably well-attended, it was the low-key designer’s time to shine. Her fall collection continued the thread of an idea from spring: clothing cut from paper patterns based on the soundwaves of anonymous messages. It may sound overly artsy to most, but in Shokrian’s hands, it works. The result is a sort of otherworldly elegance best seen in looks like a textured knit cape over a chiffon T-shirt paired with a charmeuse skirt whose hem is tucked under and pinned to add subtle volume. And even a staunch traditionalist can’t deny the prettiness of a black silk shell with an asymmetric, pleated panel.
Patrik Rzepski: After a look at Patrik Rzepski’s invitation — a photo of model Lisa Davies with a deathly glare and blood dripping from her mouth — one could only approach his show with a sense of curious apprehension. To follow up last season’s foray into the world of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Rzepski upped his inspiration’s shock value, turning here to David Cronenberg’s 1996 movie “Crash,” based on J.G. Ballard’s novel about the sexual subversions of car-crash fetishists. But one gauze-wrapped head aside, Rzepski’s collection was anything but a wreck. Rather, it proved beautifully tame with cigarette-pants, sculptural jersey dresses — lean and taut in some areas, draped loosely in others — and a series of Ts reconstructed into new silhouettes — some to blouson effect with bishop sleeves — all in a minimal palette of white, black, gray and coral. While Rzepski prefers to provoke his audience with morbid themes, he is the model of restraint when it comes to his clothes.
Vena Cava: Designers Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock showed their strongest collection yet. They played to the attitude of a skilled vintage hound, managing to keep that aura of elusive cool — an increasingly difficult endeavor when mining the thrift motif. The result was clothes — from a cropped suede bomber to some beautiful swingy dresses — that will make as interesting, and viable, a turn off the runway as they did on. Here’s hoping that retailers will take note. A similar level of aesthetic restraint is something from which Charlotte designers Melina and Jessica Solnicki might benefit. To their credit, their combinations of densely cabled and open-work knits, ruched leather and textured fur indicated a yen for experimentation. But the talented pair fared best with simpler sportswear, such as a great-looking knit and a leather bomber worn with slim pants. Finally, Society of Rational Dress designer Corinne Grassini obviously wants to push the fashion envelope with pieces that were little more than lengths of satin secured with a harness belt. Maybe next season her ideas will gain some depth.
When the mercury dips, few materials are warmer. So it only makes sense that the North American Fur Association (NAFA) selected six designers from chilly Canada to put furs into focus: Izzy Camilleri, Paul Hardy, David Dixon, Joeffer Caoc, Marie Saint Pierre and Cincyn. And although only Hardy and Camilleri are known in the States, it was, on the whole, a strong showing. The best offering came from design duo Cindy Custodio and Cynthia Florek whose label, Cincyn, is gathering momentum above the border. Their dandy-inspired looks and chic jersey dresses worked well with their belted fur jackets and hooded shrugs. Every collection managed to show pelts in stylish and interesting ways. Paul Hardy’s mink sweatshirt paired with a white satin ballgown was the very definition of casual luxury. Saint Pierre lightened up a mink coat with ribbons of bright tulle. And Izzy Camilleri somehow made a spiral combination of black leather and mink seem wearable.
Carolina Herrera: With much of New York pumping up the volume in a major way, Carolina Herrera is having none of it. Nor, for that matter, is she on board for Russia along with several of her colleagues. Rather, for the collection she showed on Monday morning, Herrera focused on classic notions of chic, with the faintest nod to the Forties. She first visited the decade last spring, then inspired by its interiors. For fall, she took merely the notion of a curvy silhouette, staking a clear claim for dressed-up elegance around the clock.
By day, that meant banishment of the sportswear tendencies that had infiltrated her collections of late, replaced by glorious jackets, cut short and lean and detailed impeccably, if not always obviously. Thus, while a bow-fastened yellow jacket took a mammoth lynx collar, suitings were dealt with more discretely, with intricate seaming or subtle lamé trim on gray tweed. Chic, to be sure, yet a tad problematic, as the accompanying skirts, supertight and often trumpeted, were cut to a length probably unflattering to nonmodel physiques. But then, one could always turn to the terrific classic trousers.
Though most often in tailored mode, Herrera didn’t ignore dresses, seemingly simple until you considered how perfectly the silk flannel draped at the hip, or that the Plain Jane was actually cut in broadtail. Yet the collection took its greatest joy in color, such as nongarish shades of yellow, raspberry and violet, often worn with charcoal or brown.
Evening came both constructed and fluid, sometimes beaded in spots with big, unfussy semiprecious stones. Typically, these tinkered gracefully with the red-carpet look du jour — bare-shouldered and skinny through the torso. But one beauty, a long, bubble-printed shirtdress, offered a Forties redux spectacular in its reserve.
Oscar de la Renta: Oscar, you trend maven, you. Oscar de la Renta is a man of the world, and this isn’t the first time he’s waxed Russian on his runway. But with the collection he showed on Monday, he found himself in the forefront of two other trends taking hold in New York’s early going — volume and flat shoes. Which made for an outing of high interest, as intentionally or otherwise, the presentation highlighted de la Renta’s innate currency, many of his signatures fitting ever so easily into the whims of the moment. The show also exposed the savvy — one might say calculated, were Oscar capable of such — evolution of an aesthetic. A while back when he celebrated Russia, there were Cossack hats all around and cozy muffs galore. Not this time. But then, since the designer’s last Siberian trek, the chic young set has given him a great big bear hug — yes, that was the dazzling Beyoncé in his front row — and since then he has responded with a wealth of cross-generational gems.
This collection, though imperfect, continues the run, as Oscar might as well coin a new slogan: It’s not what you love, it’s how you love it. Thus his precious ikats — Indian last season but not anymore, now printed on sturdy shearling. Ditto the weighty gold embroidery he fancies. Oscar played down its exotica on sweaters, jackets and a fab green princess coat. And while he said nyet to those cossack hats, it was da! da! da! to fur, from a little nothing stole to a grandly casual white sheared mink coat, worn skin side out.
As for the collection’s imperfect state, major volume is always tough to negotiate, especially in a weight-obsessed world, and sans heels, no less. While one or two skirts were non-negotiable clunkers, most will fare beautifully in real life, since, let’s face it, mass conversion to flats won’t happen overnight. Among the knockouts: a trio of gorgeous embroidered skirts in jewel-toned velvets.
Evening was something of a pastiche, some ill-fated taffeta rustling in on alluring romantics, sirens and a Sarah Jessica Parker party frock. But then, especially at night, de la Renta loves to give his ladies plenty of choice. How else to woo Beyoncé and be ready to take the call should Mrs. Bush call again?
Diane von Furstenberg: Russian literary heroines inspired Diane von Furstenberg’s fall collection, women — she wrote in her program notes — known for their fragility and strength. She forgot one key trait that saw many such gals through their complicated travails, a trait she shares with them by the bushel — cleverness.
Diane is one savvy lady, whose hard-core realism has served her well. So here’s to her heroines, but don’t expect them to Trotsky around in full-on, fur-laden Julie Christie regalia. Rather, enjoy von Furstenberg’s appropriation of foreign elements for her very own. Who else would open a Russian reverie with a black jersey dress, made faux-austere with military touches? Von Furstenberg went on to offer a minibouquet of dresses in black, countering their low-key allure with vibrant jacquards and prints.
Throughout, she worked the contrast of masculine and feminine, although, truth be told, her heart’s with the latter. Thus, she indulged her penchant for peasantry — now something of a signature — with invitingly casual tiered full skirts. Diane knows where to put the volume — and where not to: hence, a shapely caftan dress that someone might actually want to wear. When she did break out the tailoring, it was with considerable élan and a subliminal take-charge attitude. This went two ways: casual with a twill and fake-fur jacket over trousers, and polished to perfection in a silvery tweed coat and suit. Either way, it made for high chic in this so-smartly controlled game of Russian dressing.
Tuleh: One can look at fashion on many levels. Take Tuleh’s Bryan Bradley, who before his show explained his inspiration as “Contex — the role contextualization plays in perception.” Alrighty then. Surely, the savvy fashion follower could not miss his point: For fall, Bradley would offer a moody, evocative study, one that combined the best elements of last season’s new — and oddly discordant — deeper, darker Tuleh with the delightful prettiness on which he built the house’s reputation, winning the hearts and closets of the young social set.
In other words, welcome to the dark side of fluff, a place free of remnants of chichi kitsch, but also of annoying, feigned angst. More importantly, it’s a place where those devoted clients, perhaps shell shocked through spring, can revel once more, and now compare notes — and purchases — with more brooding types looking to pretty up without going prissy. Both types should go giddy over Bradley’s glorious coats, especially those that didn’t waft retro — the glam trench over a swooshy dress; the black beaded stunner that opened the show. But there’s plenty beyond the coats. Bradley flexed major muscle by reinventing the core of Tuleh’s image, those lovely dresses, into something more than merely pretty. To do so he used familiar tools — florals, ribbons, ruffles — extracting the sugar and injecting greater sophistication and nuance. And for perhaps the first time, he showed a comfort level with sportswear concepts. Low-slung, shiny cargo shorts may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they were smartly executed, and delivered a bit of tough-girl cachet. And talk about range: Any takers for a girly pink mink shrug? How about urban warrior-ready camouflage fox?
Though most of the styling worked, a handful of digressions into overt vintage-y homage felt musty and out of place. But no matter. This collection was clearly a breakthrough for Bradley — and an impressive one at that.
Luca Luca: It was a little touch and go at the beginning of Luca Orlandi’s Luca Luca show. But that’s only because an entire section of editors was nearly knocked out by the horde of hungry photographers trying to get to the Hilton sisters who arrived, natch, at the last possible moment. Nicky and Paris wedged in near Anne Hathaway, Elisha Cuthbert and sweethearts Rebecca Romjin and Jerry O’Connell, who indulge in too much PDA. Things calmed down, though, with Orlandi’s first exit — a cherry red knit top and rose jacquard skirt — which set the tone for the rest of his luxe collection.
Orlandi’s focus? Courting the Upper East Side ton. So his points of reference were Ottoman princesses, Russian czars and Rajasthani maharajas, which he translated through plenty of gold and blush jaquards and brocades and shimmering silks. It all came together in his outerwear. He worked in subtle military silhouettes, and what girl wouldn’t enlist for those plush cropped peacoats jazzed up with gold belts? In the audience, more than a few heads nodded approval at the fur-trimmed blush brocade coat that was princess minus the precious. Under those beautiful pieces, though, Orlandi relied too much on pouf skirts and overpleated dresses that could be a tricky sell to anyone even remotely hippy. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Orlandi develop the ladylike approach he embraced last season and that could be a building block for the future.
Yigal Azrouël: Designer Yigal Azrouël is really turning on the charm. And why shouldn’t he? All the PYTs are starting to catch on to the fact that not only can Azrouël cut a mean jacket, he also has a deft hand when it comes to evening gowns. Just ask actress Eva Mendes, who was sitting in the front row at his show on Sunday. The designer kept it short and sweet for fall, showing 22 looks, including a slew of satin siren gowns simply cut yet rich in hues of marigold, cornflower blue and bottle green. Azrouël also knows how to take advantage of his tailoring, which he used as a foil to all that frou, topping gowns with a cropped leather swing jacket in stone, or a sharp velvet number in midnight blue. Black jersey and scarf-printed chiffon dresses with swagging valance hems also made for a couple of great entrance makers.
Jill Stuart: Eliza Doolittle lives! She’s in a drafty Rivington Street loft with her hot — but good-for-nothing — boyfriend and a closet full of Jill Stuart. Because, you know, that’s what cool girls wear. For fall, Stuart chucked out any remotely girly color and started with a black, deep blue and purple canvas. From there, she infused her signature Victorian template with a tougher, sexier edge via sheer laces and wide embroidered belts. For once, the ever-present sequins, bows and ruffles took a backseat to the silhouettes — mainly structured jackets, collared blouses and pants so skinny they looked painted on. There was a stream of layered skirts done in laces, velvet and a haberdasher’s striped silk, and even these stayed within the overall dark and broody mood. Such studied cool takes practice and Stuart has had plenty — a career’s worth.
Cynthia Steffe: Cynthia Steffe has got a thing for Russia, imperial Russia, that is. She said goodbye to the bohemian lass of last season and chose a more regal muse for fall: enter Tsarina Alexandra. The designer took full advantage of the Slavic inspiration, showing pretty looks worthy of any modern-day Russian princess. The real news here was the coats: drop-waisted and double-breasted in deep red or blue velvet, every one sporting miles of mink trim. Steffe also played with proportion, cutting gray Donegal tweed into high-waisted trousers or little Empire-waisted jackets. Skirts were either pegged or full, the latter made sweet when paired with puff-sleeve blouses or velvet cossack tops. The collection was a tad literal in its styling, but with Russian fever hitting runways all over town, these embellished beauties seemed au courant.
Luella: “The Luella girl’s got a touch of the nerd this season,” Luella Bartley’s line sheet began, before explaining in detail exactly how she planned to transform geek into chic. While Bartley has always been good at subverting English propriety with a dash of cheek, her fall outing made the point particularly well. What else would the coolest girl in school wear when going out to sneak a smoke if not a high-necked Luella blouse with an outsized bow or placket of ruffles? Even with out-of-sight necks and those knees obscured by sensible skirts, these clothes managed to be sexy. Certainly, a high-heeled tasseled loafer in black or red patent doesn’t hurt the cause. For after-school, an oversized washed-out “graffiti” floral was fabulous in skirts and a strapless dress, as were the pleated chiffon dresses. But you can’t win them all, and the garish silk party dresses did not fare as well.
Habitual: Even from the outset, Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund runners-up Nicole and Michael Colovos had a distinctive aesthetic. It’s a louche strain of cool that doesn’t try too hard to be sexy, tough, chic or smart — but is somehow correct portions of all of those. It’s undeniably theirs, but never obvious. While fall’s silhouette of skinny jeans, layered thin silk and jersey tops wasn’t a revelation, it was all quite happily consistent. Instead of reinventing, the designers refine. They continue to play with subtle details — the velvet piping on a jacket sleeve, the slight ruche of a T-shirt’s neckline or the flash of grommets in the back pleat of a chocolate twill trench. They added fur in the form of body-hugging rabbit bombers and expanded their use of leather with jackets, a flippy skirt and the above-mentioned jeans. Also new were accessories: blessedly simple boots and belts. It seems the pair has achieved the goal at which they have always aimed: to be designers who happen to do denim.
Tess Giberson: With each successive season, Tess Giberson has quietly pared down her aesthetic, opting for simpler and simpler looks. For fall, she didn’t show a single print or two-tone look in her lineup, preferring to stick to solid colors. A modern woman, with little to hide and a willingness to abandon her need to be conventionally feminine, is the perfect subject for Giberson. The largely white, gray and black collection was tastefully accented with nude and blush tones, dark navy and coral. Slouchy cotton trousers with enlarged pockets or exaggerated pleats were paired with solid silk blouses with long, tight cuffs. And when the Giberson girl wants to get a little more feminine, there were simple silk dresses to choose from, particularly one in pewter with enlarged sleeves that could definitely go glam.
Project Alabama and Project Alabama Machine: Project Alabama is a rarity in today’s fashion world. Now in its fifth year, the Alabama-based firm produces garments completely by hand, with designer Natalie Chanin at the helm, and continues to sell despite a high price tag. The fall collection was inspired by the season itself, with literal takes on fallen leaves in harvest hues of burgundy, olive and brown, to great homespun appeal. To wit: leaf-shaped appliqués on jackets and coats and ivy vines embellished the hems of skirts. Chanin also worked with illustrator Robert Ryan to re-create his trademark whimsical illustrations on sweaters and tops in the form of appliqués and lettering. Also noteworthy was the eveningwear — a first for Chanin — that reworked the collection’s recycled T-shirt aesthetic into cocktail dresses and gowns. Secondary line Project Alabama Machine, which sells at a slightly lower price point, continued the fall-heavy feel, with intricate leaf embroidery on full skirts and dyed denim jackets.
Dana Buchman: Just because a real woman needs realistic clothes doesn’t mean she has to skimp on the fashion flourishes. Just ask Dana Buchman, whose mission, it would seem, is to wardrobe a gal for all the comings and goings of modern life. When her lady wants to sparkle at the office she’s got plenty to choose from, such as a pretty pleated pink chiffon blouse, sharply fitted tweed trousers or a trumpet skirt and shrunken sequined cardies. When she’s feeling a little racy, she can pair Lurex knits with swingy pleated chiffon skirts printed in either cheetah or oversized paisley. Buchman also knows that all work and no play isn’t what her customer is all about, and to that end she delivered evening looks such as a simple tank paired with a floor-sweeping ballskirt in black, ornamented with silk flowers and feathers at the hem.
Imitation and Imitation of Christ: Well, as far as a Tara Subkoff show goes, it was thankfully gimmick-free. There were no rude bouncers, maddening tap dancers or high-handed slide shows of war-torn countries. Instead, there were clothes — lots of them, mostly wearable and producible. Subkoff sent out a chocolate box assortment of the minidresses that she herself favors: belted suede tunics, shirtdresses, velvet cheongsams, off-the-shoulder knits and more. Mixed in with these was a strange but intriguing combination of jumpsuits and tailored men’s wear tweeds. And she continued her collaboration with Easy Spirit with a selection of wedge pumps and knee-high boots. The only portion of the show that was wholly out of step was the showing of Subkoff’s one-of-a-kind Imitation of Christ label — a group of deconstructed suit jackets. Of course, the show wouldn’t be complete without a little performance — this one courtesy of Mother Inc.’s Yvonne Force Villareal and Sandra Hamburg.
Thakoon: Perhaps it’s the most out-of-the-way places that foster unique talents. Think farm country — Omaha, for example, which is home to indie rocker Conor Oberst of the Brighteyes as well as designer Thakoon Panichgul. For his fall collection, which references both “neoclassicism and the New Tokyo,” Panichgul showed refined looks that were both thoroughly modern and retro at the same time. A laminated silk camisole was paired with wool pants and a long plaid wool trench, creating an ensemble that was an even mix of masculine and feminine. While his lace inserts and trims added an oh-so-precious touch to a burgundy satin strapless dress and a mink jacket, he kept the overall look on the right side of cool by pairing them with a boxy plaid wool T-shirt and tailored pants.
Esteban Cortazar: After four seasons of mishaps, Cortazar has finally created a collection that a girl can actually wear. For day, there were suits in a woodsy palette of moss and a multicolored thick tweed, which actually looked better in a three-quarter length coat with loopy fringe than in a full suit. A wrap cardigan in brown with satin gabardine pants would work well on a chilly day, while a burnt red off-the-shoulder blouse softened berry-colored herringbone pants. And for evening, the strongest pieces were silk charmeuse dresses in antique copper and olive green that were gathered into flowers above the waist.
B. Rude: “Glamour, glamour, glamour! Bigger, bigger, bigger! And more sequins!”
Boy George was describing his debut B. Rude collection, which showed late Sunday night at Hiro at the Maritime Hotel. The trappings were exactly what you’d expect if you’d left Culture Club’s pretty boy alone in the room with bolts of fabric and a pair of scissors — wild Eighties punk gear for the take-no-prisoners party posse. With Debbie Harry, Tatum O’Neal, Josh Patner and Kelis in the front row, Boy George sent out mostly men’s wear with seven women’s looks, which included camouflage kimonos with bedazzled peace signs, graffiti’d sweats and shirts and even an ode to Schiaparelli with a swinging lobster print Fifties frock. “It’s Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Azzedine Alaïa-meets-Martin Margiela,” O’Neal said after the show. “I love, love, loved it.”
Oakley: Rad surfer and skater girls take note: You’ve now got an Oakley wardrobe to go with your shades. In recent years, the sunglass giant has ventured outside of eyewear to produce performance footwear and accessories, including watches. Now, with its first ready-to-wear show, the company’s mixing street, skate and surf with plenty of baggy ripstop cargo pants, jackets with fur-lined hoods and sleek scuba and ski pieces. Details such as bright, graffiti-like graphics adorned a handful of styles while camouflage prints in unexpected shades of cement and gold gave anoraks and cropped bombers a softer edge. Some of the strongest looks included a dark brown jacket with wide-legged jeans featuring drawstrings on each leg and a sleek zip sweater and tiny surfer short combination in soft yellow.
Proenza Schouler: Beautiful, commercial clothes and plenty of them. Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are a gifted duo who somehow managed to avoid the typical awkward designer adolescence and leapt right into full-fledged professional adulthood. Their work displays a surety and a level of execution well beyond their years and experience, and an impressive refined aesthetic. Their fall collection swaggered with confidence and a savvy awareness of bottom-line realities. Minus some of the more Madonna-esque corsetry, these clothes should sell up a storm.
The collection swayed nicely between two motifs: a take on the Sixties replete with microminis and bubbled-up jockey caps that stayed remarkably uncostume-y, and a rendering of girl-meets-boy in deft combos of corsetry and mannish tailoring. The biggest news came in the former, oozing girlish charm in delightful color-blocked, crinkly silk dresses, and turning sportier in separates combos, proper pinstripes and tweeds flashed up with loose mesh camis in restrained homage to Paco Rabanne. Though the corsets worn with pleated pants or trouser skirts rang a distinct bell of familiarity, they looked smart, and, in this season of ever-expanding proportions, they should give the volume-wary a happily chic — and safe — alternative.
That said, however, this collection’s strength was in a sense its weakness, as despite the strong clothes, one came away less than engaged. Perhaps McCollough and Hernandez are so focused on delivering polish, they’re giving short shrift to the possibilities inherent in a sense of abandon.
Monique Lhuillier: Monique Lhuillier is a promising designer, playing to two mind-sets. First, there are her red-carpet looks that feed the glamour-driven sensibility of L.A.’s denizens. Then, there is her increased emphasis on dressed-up suits and day looks, which happen to be big trends on the fall runways. Consider her terrific tweeds: the plum metallic polo shirtdress with baby-doll sleeves; a fox-collared coat; the belted jacket over a flip skirt. What Lhuillier did beautifully this season was to take what might be considered sportswear shapes and show them in the dressiest fabrics. She used lace for a crisp safari jacket and a pencil skirt and taffeta for a ruffle-edged classic jacket. In no way, however, has Lhuillier forgotten her lavish beginnings. Her long dresses were more evolved and glamorous than ever, and her evening gowns were exceptionally well made. A brown lace beauty with crisscrossing crystal insets and a plum lace godet halter gown were among the standouts. Like most ascending designers, Lhuillier had some derivative moments such as a few Oscar de la Renta references, but, hopefully, she’ll refine her niche with her own signature.
Betsey Johnson: There’s nothing like starting the week with a good buzz. And fashion’s die-hard party girl, Betsey Johnson, was more than happy to provide Monday’s show goers with a bacchanalian means to an end: a perfectly chilled bottle of Guinness to knock back preshow. It makes sense, then, that Johnson’s fall setup was a pub — “The Bull and Betsey,” with a tartan runway and four plaid-clad barmaids to start the revelry. And what fun it was. True, Johnson hasn’t been one for thematic consistency within a collection of late, so it’s no surprise that she segued from adorable Fair Isle cardigans to charming cha-cha skirts to liquid satin sirens. The Forties-style fluid dresses in a subtle polkadotted sage and heart-printed emerald were big winners for the lass who wants to be the cutest one at the pub or the party. What held the entire lineup together were the frills — they were bountiful — and the colorful, plucky joie de vivre that is Johnson’s stamp. Betsey may be the last one to leave a party, but she always has the most fun. And it’s tough not to love that.
DKNY: It’s possible that Donna Karan is too karmically balanced to laugh at a Dorothy Parker zinger. (“You can lead a horticulture, but you cannot make her think.”) OK, she might. Whatever the case, Karan channeled the era of Ms. Parker’s famed Round Table with her presentation at the Algonquin Hotel. In good spirits, even while balancing on crutches and trying to keep her black cashmere shawl on her shoulders, the designer played host to a crowded room. “We’ve always done uptown and downtown,” she said. “Now we’re doing midtown.” Well, Donna, we only wish that midtown actually looked like this.
The rich array of fall colors — burgundy, chocolate, navy — played well in the richness of the setting. Karan cited a theme of opposing forces. Masculine tweed and corduroy jackets nipped at the waist were the perfect counterweight to the feminine ruffled chiffon, jacquard and beaded skirts and dresses. But lofty literary references and fashion rhetoric aside, DKNY’s ultimate success happens when the cash register rings. This push and pull made for a wide range of great pieces that will no doubt sound a resounding “Ka-ching.” Romantics will love a rich paisley printed dress with soft ruffles and the navy-and-gold jacquard skirt that made best use of a potentially difficult fabric. And for their harder-edged sisters there are the aforementioned jackets, a chic little shrunken peacoat and natty pinstripe trousers.
BCBG Max Azria: Max Azria has always had the bottom line with a capital “B” on the brain, and though his foray into musical theater last year as a producer on “The Ten Commandments” may have seemed like folly, you can bet he was taking a close look at those box-office receipts. This man wants to bring fashion to the people, as stated in his show notes, “by offering innovative, high-quality clothing at contemporary price points.” Thanks, Max, it seems to be working.
One of the things that works in Azria’s favor is that for the last few seasons, his runway has been all but devoid of the references that occasionally burdened his past collections. Azria stuck with the freewheeling hippie chick he embraced last season, working crocheted insets into fluttering chiffon dresses and showing tops in earthy colors such as tobacco and evergreen. Salt-and-pepper tweed coats looked fresh when cut in two tiers, and evening dresses were pretty chic in sedate columns of tomato red or bottle green — a bit different than the usual flapper-type frou of the past.
Matthew Williamson: Bravo, Matthew! Quite simply, it was the best work the designer has shown since coming to New York in February 2002. That’s not to say there was a dearth of pretty clothes at past shows. On the contrary, a Williamson affair always has prettiness to spare. However, it’s become too easy for him to rely on the proven formula of Indian-inspired color and sparkle that makes his collection a must for bohemian babes.
With fall, the designer forged ahead to offer more refined options for frosty days, such as a slouchy cashmere jacket trimmed with silver beading and a creamy panne velvet skirt. And though Williamson’s forte is the flowing dress, his strength for fall actually lay in his beautifully tailored separates — from coats and jackets with pale panels of paisley-printed pashmina to sharply pleated multicolored cotton skirts. And when he showed some of his classic materials, such as a pink, turquoise and chocolate ombré silk, he bested a typical dress with a swingy pleated skirt that was paired with a terrific beaded knit tank. Could this show signal an upgraded path ahead for the designer? We’ll see at spring.
Reem Acra: Reem Acra’s show got off to a promising start, as her embroidered tulle dresses, sequined coats, lace sheaths and embroidered chiffon coats came down the runway. All of these were simply shaped, beautifully embellished and in a rich palette of copper and brown. The glitter pitch was just right in the saucy gold macramé- and tassel-fringed mini, paired with a skinny gold lace top. But then Acra wandered off course. Her lamé HotPants and a plunging lamé embroidered gown looked dated, and her use of gold in these pieces offered more glitz than glamour. It’s hard to understand the disparity between the first segment and much of what followed. Yet, there were some moments when Acra’s talent for the understated side of glamour appeared, most often in black with her dance dress in lace, tulle and velvet, or the embroidered slipgown. When it comes to evening collections like this, even with all the shimmer a given, it’s crucial to remember that more is not necessarily better.
Yeohlee: Yeohlee’s presentations have become more like high-spirited family reunions than formal fashion shows. Last season, her pals modeled to a cheering crowd inside a subway station; this time, her show was downstairs at the International Center for Photography. But what was significantly different for fall was Yeohlee’s newfound sassy sensibility as seen in her slinky one-shoulder gown in ink satin and another number that was more bare than there. The black lacquered wool gown, with its single sleeve in tiers of white organza, was a knockout on eBay’s Constance White, who, along with many others, was part of the designer’s nonprofessional model brigade. Of course, Yeohlee’s inventive, architecturally driven outerwear, which we’ve all come to expect from her, was also on display — most of it shown with lean black pants and matte jersey tops or bodysuits over skinny black pants.
Sass & Bide: Sass & Bide designers Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke should have modeled their fall wares themselves, pregnant bumps and all. When the designers — wearing exactly what the models wore, along with with piled-on accessories and spiky, big hair — stepped out to take a bow, they made sense of everything that had come before. Both are outrageous, fun, rock ’n’ roll and very, very cheeky. With them, it’s about personality and not the clothes. And it’s only that type of girl — larger-than-life and unafraid — who can pull off Sass & Bide’s dresses and tops with harness details or oddly placed grommets, which means that they aren’t quite for everybody. Too many straps flew around or dangled, detracting from otherwise well-structured jackets and pants, while yellow piping went here and there for a Tron-like effect on swingy dresses.
Middleton and Clarke secured a solid red-carpet fan base with their first two collections, but if that clientele is to include the nonboldfaced fashion types, the duo needs to rein in the tendency to overdo a look. They should take their strength — tough chic glam — and build from there. Their finale, a layered wrap dress with bright yellow flowers played against liquid black, is a good place to start.
Michael Kors: Thesis: Fashion is a peculiar business. Exhibit A: Michael Kors. How often are designers accused of being too young, too editorial, too out there, too ready to subjugate the needs of their clothes-buying clientele to those of their sittings editors? Yet Kors, guilty of none of the above, just can’t seem to make his business explode. Though still in its early stages, the Kors-Stroll-Chou liaison has a way to go to produce the numbers the three men covet, and that the designer has worked so tirelessly to achieve.
The collection Kors showed on Wednesday was another terrific effort that should have strong customer appeal, rooted firmly as it was in the belief that, quite simply, women want to be pulled-together and glamorous — and for fall, it seems, more than a little racy. His program notes rang true to his career-defining philosophy — “American thoroughbreds…from Cooper to Clooney, Hepburn to Paltrow…” — while the clothes infused classics with ample currency along with the designer’s specific take on chic. (Read: Jet-set flair.) By day, Kors’ girl is basically of two minds, working high-confidence tailoring or playing the snow bunny en route to the slopes. Either way, she flaunted big, demonstrative fur. But underneath were a wealth of everyday options: pants looks with movie-star dash; blazers; peajackets; terrific sweaters, both cozy and sleek; even a pair of white silk ski pants, all finished off with lots of extras — goggles, mufflers, those Ali-esque knitted caps. And because some women like to register trends without risking the chubbette look, Kors paired fullish skirts with oh-so-skinny turtlenecks.
After dark, the bell tolled for glamour, once, in fact, too loudly: A notice-me white fox over a dress of little-nothing twinkles had that kept-woman vibe. Not so, however, the gowns, in fluid jersey and the amethyst silk taffeta strapless number that were long-stemmed American beauties.
Narciso Rodriguez: There’s always the sense at a Narciso Rodriguez show that things are not quite what they seem, that the visage of controlled sensuality masks wilder tendencies beneath. Rodriguez has perfected the art of the subliminal fashion message, delivered each season with varying degrees of subterfuge through quietly elaborate cuts that make ample use of corsetry. In the collection he showed on Tuesday night, he gave particular play to his woman’s ladylike side, while yet exposing a serious breast fixation. He seemed to delight in peekaboo glimpses of skin, the horizontal strip left uncovered between a corset dress and microbolero ending above the breasts, or by extracting a slice from a dress itself. While this approach worked most of the time, it had its limits; for example, what looked like two mailbox slits
of exposed flesh rendered an otherwise lovely herringbone coat runway-only.
That digression aside, however, most of his clothes are real-world ready, terrific suits, small jackets, and dresses, most cut in provocatively svelte proportions. For those who want to work a little volume for fall, he loosened up a bit in a number of looks, including an airy shirtdress in white wool faille worn under a black corset. And what woman wouldn’t love his ultrachic coats, whether cut for some fullness — the side-tied raincoat; the embroidered wool
and faille dazzler; or superlean
— the black wool number with exposed seams.
Yet for all of the appealing clothes, the show felt a bit like an exercise in perfecting the expected. Rodriguez has a very specific point of view and seemed to have little interest in pushing it. When he did roam ever so slightly, digressing from his mostly black-and-white palette with shots of color, especially deliciously girly pinks, the results were glorious.
Bill Blass: For the past few seasons, designer Michael Vollbracht has had a difficult time balancing his personal aesthetic with the Blass legacy. For fall, he went back to the drawing board refreshed, crediting his extensive travels for rejuvenating his creative eye. And while it appears that Vollbracht is trying to come into his own — he even cut out the camp — he still has work to do.
Some of the evening numbers were way too sheer, showing some front-row editors more than they bargained for, and one iridescent silk suit with a feather underskirt peeking out from underneath would certainly not have passed muster with Blass. The Blass lady is always polished, hitting the streets by day in her urban armor — a well-cut suit — and to that end, Vollbracht succeeded with a double-breasted pinstriped pantsuit. And a paisley-printed cashmere coat and a blush-toned python jacket were equally chic for the lunch set. Aside from the aforementioned sheer numbers, the designer improved with some of his evening looks, such as the glamorous strapless gown in chocolate silk.
Marc by Marc Jacobs: Marc Jacobs’ little sister line has had its own independent life and look since birth. It’s a rotating romp that every season draws upon various elements of cool-kid wardrobes, mining more decades than VH1. Fall was no different, with shades of Vivienne Westwood tartans and pirate stripes, the bright punky chic of Bow Wow Wow and even a touch of big sister in the more sober Goth-girl looks. The theme of volume also seemed to have spent the night in the Lexington Avenue Armory, showing up in the coat with a sculpted tulip hem, all manner of full skirts and an enormous hooded parka. (Take note, Mary-Kate and Ashley!) But in the end, it’s Marc’s always undeniable special blend that makes the line the everyday closet of today’s cool girl. She won’t be disappointed.
Daryl K: Thank you, Daryl Kerrigan, for a little subversive diversion this week. Take metallic brocade, which has been treated reverentially and straightforwardly by so many this season. Not for Kerrigan, who basically manhandles it, fraying its edges and dressing it way, way down to a T-shirt with ruching at back. That’s what Kerrigan does best, straying just a little from the rest of the fashion pack and always playing it cool. For fall, she wasn’t interested in forced volume, happy to let silk, felt and jersey fall and flutter at their will. As a result, her signature layered tanks, blouses and dresses, done in muted brown, plum, gray and black, moved freely with the body. And tailored coats? No thanks. Kerrigan gave her tweedy set a serious dose of louche for slouchy shoulders and floppy collars. And with an eye on her beloved downtown street origins, she sent out stovepipe pants and shiny leggings — a perfect counterbalance to the supersized shearling wrap in winter white. Daryl Kerrigan will always be a little bit punk, and New York fashion will be better for it.
Behnaz Sarafpour: Being a designer of simple tastes — as is Behnaz Sarafpour — isn’t always a simple affair. That issue becomes doubly difficult when mining such rich inspirational matter as the Bedouins of Morocco. So, while some designers may err on the side of costume with their references, Sarafpour fell just a little short in the opposite direction. A reasonably chic ensemble of a classic black turtleneck paired with a skirt lightly trimmed in colored tassels set a mostly promising stage. But from there, Sarafpour digressed into looks that suffered from being neither here nor there, the worst case being a gray panne velvet dress with an inexplicably sparse coin-trimmed hem. Along with a few pretty dresses, the best parts of the collection channeled the tailored tomboy look that the designer herself favors with jackets and short pants. However, those pants — some toreador slim, others with jodhpur-style volume — may prove a tough sell for girls not blessed with coltish model gams. But on the upside, Sarafpour isn’t one to stagnate as she always moves ahead to make a strong new statement from season to season. And when taking a risk, you can’t win them all.
Elie Tahari: Change is in the air for Elie Tahari. Having moved the design team from New York to Italy, Tahari hoped to give the collection some Continental flair and, indeed, it did. Another big move was to a new showroom on 42nd Street, where the designer presented his collection on mannequins in a moody atmosphere complete with ornate chandeliers and calla lilies.
Tahari found inspiration in fashion’s current muse, the magpie, showing embellished separates cut from rich fabrics. Softly constructed velvet jackets were sprinkled with jewels and finished with fuzzy fox collars. A rabbit fur coat in dusty blue and brown was sheared to resemble houndstooth and delicately trimmed in chiffon, while full chiffon skirts were striped in sequins with a hint of lace peeking from below. It all made for an eclectic and pretty mix.
Rebecca Taylor: Rebecca Taylor pulled off a balancing act for fall. She managed to temper her sometimes overly girlish hand with a sober palette of gray, brown and black, minus the rosy satin of a poet frock and blouse. But never fear that she completely changed direction — there were plenty of feminine frills that smacked of the Taylor touch, such as a beautiful black-and-cream appliquéd belt that cinched a cream blouse into a pouf skirt. A direct riff on a Blumarine theme perhaps, but at a more attainable price for Taylor’s younger clientele. The designer hiked waists up to the season’s favored Empire, but where the look read as a Russian influence elsewhere, hers was more of a charming English schoolgirl. It looked best in a handful of double-breasted jackets, such as the velvet-collared brown plaid number topping skinny velvet pants or a chocolate wool version that could swing for a dress, fluffed out with a delicate eyelet petticoat. All those petticoats and lacy high collars will no doubt call to the Victorian lover looking to lighten her Gothic load.
Lela Rose: Looking at Lela Rose’s front row was like peering through a socialite’s version of Romper Room’s Magic Mirror. “I see Celerie and Amanda. And there’s Jamee, Alison and Nathalie.” Rose’s charming day looks will no doubt grab the front row’s attention, but the designer was also reaching for the stars, especially the Oscar-bound. For that event, her predictable silk siren gowns and oddly laced numbers didn’t quite hit the mark.
But Rose’s glamorous, dressed-up day looks sure did, especially the cropped heather gray cashmere cableknit sweater over a rose wool gathered skinny skirt. And in a season when short pants are making a big showing, Rose offered one better version: metallic tweed, straight-cut page-boy culottes paired with a chartreuse silk ruffled blouse and moss velvet jacket. This designer has a way of making her younger, quirkier styles look effortless, with just the right proportions and a playful mix of textures and colors. Her outerwear was stellar, and the belted, olive wool coat, all dressed up with a wide golden-lace hemline, was a knockout.
Roland Mouret: Within the last year and a half, London-based Roland Mouret has proven himself to be a viable force at New York Fashion Week. With three stellar collections behind him and a burgeoning clientele at Bergdorf Goodman, he’s surely on the rise.
Mouret is both a master draper and a sharp tailor, and, contrary to most of his contemporaries this week, Mouret chose to focus mostly on the latter, foregoing any soft swag in favor of a superslim, sometimes-corseted silhouette. Wool crepe in black or sumptuous peacock blue made for ultrasexy dresses with sculpted puff sleeves. He folded and shaped everything from Prince of Wales check jackets to washed leather trenches. Mouret’s softer side came in the form of yummy cashmeres, as in a houndstooth twinset in turquoise and black. Some in the audience were thrown off by the mile-high stilettos and buttons up the back of skirts, but hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
Chaiken: Ever since all the DIY shows made painting — and then repainting — just the thing to add a little spice to a dull room, people, including designers, have been rethinking color. Sponsored by Benjamin Moore, Jeff Mahshie asked his Chaiken audience: Let’s rethink the color scheme of your wardrobe, shall we? He took the classic khaki trench and reworked it, first in a divine pine green and then in the deepest aubergine, replacing the traditional belt with a wide, ribboned band — a seemingly small change that reaped a big, sophisticated result. Such beautiful hues and subtle details marked the rest of the lineup, including skirts in Mediterranean blue or olive that swirled around the body and wool knits in earth tones that wrapped and fell gently. Except for two incongruous sailor tops, these were the sort of clothes that a girl might not buy just one of — she’d get one in every color.
Nanette Lepore: In Nanette Lepore’s world, everything that glitters is gold…and blue and green and purple and pink. Lepore is of the credo, “If you’re going to do something, go full throttle.” Thus, she added go-go glitz, unapologetically, to almost every texture, color and accessory. The designer’s fall muse was certainly a gypsy, but gosh darn if she wasn’t the luxest-looking lady in the velvet-lined caravan and clearly descended from royalty. Her uniform was the flirty, flowy tops, dresses and skirts that a Lepore label guarantees, piled on with rich prints and more than a smattering of sequins. A fleet of poet blouses breezed by in whisper-thin printed chiffon shot through with metallic gold threads. But a girl can’t go about like a walking Fort Knox, after all, and Lepore did attempt — though she could have done much more — to anchor the klieg-like shine with great dark blue skinny jeans or tweed jackets and cropped pants.
VPL: This time around, VPL designer Victoria Bartlett chose to have the models showing her collection “static,” rather than produce her usual hyperactive show. The designer said she was thinking about the State of the Union address, and came up with this season’s show title, A State of Un…dress. “I did lots of buttons and snaps to illustrate the pleasure of putting clothes on and peeling them off,” Bartlett said. To further emphasize her point, Bartlett had jewelry designer Josh Hickey create wooden necklaces featuring miniature naked bodies. This might be a bit loopy, but VPL’s increasing number of fans should find the collection itself focused and fabulous. Bartlett did new renditions of her cotton jerseys and terry cloth pieces that included jodhpur-like leggings, long cardigans and a great outsize green terry cardigan worn with culottes. She also expanded her repertoire with beige wool circle skirts and body bloomers in beige wool and pale gray Modal. Shown on 18 models wearing boots, a few printed snoods and socks, these looks did create quite a captivating still life.
Jennifer Nicholson: Which witch is which? It’s a question that fashion lovers might be asking themselves come fall, with a dusky streak of Goth already working its way through the collections. To be fair, Jennifer Nicholson’s tastes have long included the dark side by way of Victoriana. This season, she saturated her collection with the theme from beginning to end. Mostly, she worked it to chic effect — with high-neck lace blouses and dresses and tailored frock jackets and short pants. Printed dresses, dancing with Ouija board symbols, cameos and black cats, could even be considered witty kitsch. But Nicholson needs to learn that being a designer doesn’t mean that you have to make your hand so obvious. There’s no need for tricky details, such as the asymmetrical black velvet ribbon strap on a black beaded lace dress or on another’s exaggerated balloon hem.
John Varvatos: John Varvatos, best known for the easy chic of his men’s wear, put his women’s collection back on the runway after last season’s absence. And just what sort of woman is Varvatos after? Well, it certainly isn’t the theoretical wife of his men’s clientele. Maybe the mistress? For fall, Varvatos’ woman took after an angel — “Charlie’s Angels,” that is. The collection read like a page right out of that disco era detective jiggle fest. A midnight silk halter jumpsuit, slit down to there, opened the show, setting the tone for the rest of the lineup. Flowing silk trousers, off-the-shoulder tops and shirtdresses rounded out the mix. When Varvatos went tailored, it was oh-so Farrah, as in a shrunken three-piece suit with a sheer silk shirt. And the big hair and scarves galore did little to help Varvatos’ cause for carefree dressing. Just ask the wives.
Alvin Valley: Around the world Valley goes, where he stops, nobody knows. After past jaunts to Spain, an African safari and Asia, this time, Valley stopped in the American West with a collection steeped in Native American references. “My inspiration was Dee Brown’s book ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,’” the show notes read, and to that end, Valley showed a series of looks faintly reminiscent of Miguel Adrover’s last New York hurrah, but with the sexy-cool formula that is signature Valley. He showed Navajo prints on ponchos, gold sequins and paillettes on halters and skirts and tribal beaded neckwear. But Valley couldn’t help his wanderlust, or era-lust when he made references to the Union soldiers of America’s Civil War with brass-buttoned military vests and jackets, as well as to the Continent’s Spanish influence in his silk charmeuse bow blouses, velvet gowns, flamenco dresses and, of course, Valley’s famous tailored trousers.
Calvin Klein: Francisco Costa’s got one of the toughest gigs in fashion. Not only did he succeed a major god, accepting the mantle of expectation inherent therein, he did so just after that god had cashed out to new owners with their own set of hopes, not the least of which is to push the bottom line, sooner rather than later. Then of course, he faces a third set of expectations: his own.
It is the role of any designer taking over a house to maintain its integrity while putting his own mark on its aesthetic. Klein created one of the most unequivocal viewpoints in all of fashion, and in his first three collections, Costa started from a vantage, if not of pure reverence, then at least unwavering solidarity. The fall collection he presented on Thursday revealed his first inclination to break ranks with the master in significant ways, at times even a bit recklessly. The effort pulsed with the essential ingredients of experimentation: surprise, mistakes, and most of all, confidence.
Either by design or accident, Costa chose to limit volume at a time when many other designers here are puffing up big time. While in past seasons he has favored fluid, even billowing proportions, this time he opted for stricter shapes, some with a Sixties Space Age look, until now completely alien to the house. A shirred mink coat flaunted a grid motif; origami decorations trimmed tops and dresses; shiny patent leather tiles and strips glistened from skirts and coats. It was, in fact, in this penchant for decoration — and a harsh moment in brassy citron — that Costa strayed most boldly from the revered Klein purity. And though a few looks felt too tricked-up, many were lovely, as when he wrought subtle havoc on men’s wear grays, with tailored patchworks of herringbone and wool lace. He also showed some graceful evening frocks and here he gave a nod to volume, most notably in a short, airy bubble of an evening dress.
Sometimes during the show, one felt the age-old struggle between art and commerce. And there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a designer’s job to reconcile the two. Hopefully, Costa will be allowed to do so in a manner in which tricks won’t overshadow the essence of the house.
Vera Wang: As was reported in WWD just days before Vera Wang’s Thursday show, company president Susan Sokol referred to the growth of the luxury label as “fast and furious.” With a number of expansion plans on the drawing board for Wang’s burgeoning divisions (opening stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles), it’s a sound assessment. But finding success in the business of high-end clothing isn’t merely a numbers game. Luxury fashion can be just as much about evoking emotion as it is about the bottom line. The designer’s romantic fall show certainly did its best to tug at the heart of what women love about clothes.
Wang’s color palette was a gorgeous and painterly mélange of rich but subtle hues — mossy green and gray, cobalt blue, burnished gold, deep wine, to name a few — that practically required poetry to describe. She imbued dresses, tops and skirts with a wonderful fluidity using filmy tulles and chiffons, draped and pintucked into place, though Wang sometimes worked the details to distraction. Two standouts: a forest green and burgundy dress and a deep violet one-shouldered gown. On many of the dresses, a length of velvet ribbon or a jeweled band at the waist often provided a chic counterweight. On the more structured side, Wang worked pale brocades and stiff silks into skirts with softly ballooning hems. Jackets were also richly appointed, mostly in velvet and fur, and many were shown in abbreviated shapes to complement the stream of dresses. Although translating beauty into dollars is an inexact science, Wang and her team are on their way to a winning formula.
Anna Sui: Just when the midweek blues start to creep in, along comes Anna Sui’s Wednesday night show to chase them all away. “Last season was just so quintessentially Anna Sui — ruffles, prints, very girly,” the designer said of her spring cowgirl romp. “This time, I wanted to go to a different place.” Like many designers this season, Sui went indoors to the world of interiors. But not for her those fussy, Old-World tapestries. Instead she took her cues from the graphic patterns and colors of David Hicks and the textiles of Jack Lenor Larsen and Dorothy Liebes, whose work in the Sixties made groovy colors like turquoise, orange, brown and moss green a part of the decorator’s lexicon. Read: the colors of your childhood kitchen.
Nevertheless, the visual and textural riot was still Anna’s party. She worked each look with a focused palette, from Day-Glo combinations of oranges and pinks to more reserved ochres and browns. Within each cohesive color scheme, she wove in a walk-in closet’s worth of elements: adorable dresses in Hicksian prints, skirt suits and coats in tweeds both roughly woven and flat, satin and Lurex bow blouses, knits both intarsia and bejeweled. As if that weren’t enough, the whole lot got topped off with matching printed tights, Erickson Beamon beads and Adrienne Landau fur hats. And if it was ever too much, Sui’s earnest spirit made it a show to love.
J. Mendel: There’s much that makes a J. Mendel fur so special, and it was all there in look number one: a white broadtail princess coat with a bullion-trimmed bib. Designer Gilles Mendel knows how to gild the lily better than anyone, this season with jewel or bullion trim on his precious furs. His program notes cite his youth in Paris and the effortless chic of Charlotte Rampling and Romy Schneider as his inspirations. And their influence shows in this collection that’s all about romance heightened with luxurious decoration.
There’s also the slim factor, which most women crave, no easy feat to achieve in furs. Mendel does it beautifully, managing to minimize the volume even in down jackets. His versions are down-filled sheared mink, showing that luxury needn’t always be so serious.
Mendel first introduced ready-to-wear a few years ago as an accompaniment to his furs, but he’s been adding more each season. For fall, he showed some terrific coats, especially the mink-trimmed gray tweed, paired with a charming silk corset top and metal-trimmed bubble skirt. There were also plenty of lovely evening looks, short and long, including a porcelain silk chiffon gown with bullion trim and the embroidered nude tulle Empire number. His ready-to-wear offering may not be considered a complete collection with its own voice, but it makes perfect sense for Mendel to offer his customers clothes along with furs in his New York and Paris boutiques. After all, you always need a pretty frock to go along with your drop-dead fur.
Tory Burch: Who better to design for the jet set than one of their own? With the fall Tory by TRB lineup she showed Thursday, Tory Burch covered all that a society dame needs for travel, whether zipping about town or going to some far-flung, must-go-to spot. She mined her vast travelogue, ripping pages from stops in India and Marrakesh and channeling those influences into detailed beadwork and embroidery on skinny pants, coats and tunics. She especially favored the kurta silhouette, doing it in earthy browns and greens, all with distinct, heavy beading at the yoke. But it wasn’t all boho mojo. Burch tapped into an emerging trend on this week’s runways — the sweater vest, doing her versions in graphic sunflower patterns. The designer is also expanding her accessories line to include a range of soft leather totes, bejeweled clutches, snappy sandals and those big furry boots the ladies of this city love so much.
Vivienne Tam: Gung Hay Fat Choy! Vivienne Tam’s show began promisingly enough. The day was certainly auspicious — Chinese New Year, which the designer celebrated by leaving red lai-see envelopes, containing one greenback, on everyone’s seat — and the premise was plenty inviting: a night at the opera with Greta Garbo. Of course, Tam being Tam, the drama in question was the Beijing opera, and she kept the references to prints and silhouettes, which was a good thing, since her collections often fall short when she’s too mired in her own sinophilia. This time, the two (Chinese opera and Garbo) were a match made in tien as Tam showed a masked print here, a Chinese beaded and embroidered accent there, and did Garbo to the hilt with everything else in the lineup. There were Forties skirts and chiffon tie blouses, high-waist trousers in plaid as well as velvet dresses and fitted jackets. Tam, however, steered off course during the second half, with the sheath dresses, taffeta getups and a pleated metallic magenta skirt that were all pretty enough on their own, but downright foreign to the overall tone of the collection.
Alice Roi: Alice Roi is steadily gaining momentum. For fall, Roi went with sleeker, more refined versions of her often kooky fashions of past seasons. Perhaps it is an aftereffect of her recent engagement or simply a function of experience. The designer displayed grown-up schoolgirl charm in the form of sweet velvet ruffled dresses and velvet eyelet tunics as well as wool pinafore dresses over smartly tailored shirts. Thick woolen sweaters were belted over leggings and miniskirts in subtle navy and bright orange and mustard yellows. Though she proved her talents in her blouses and dresses, her sampling of pants, such as the flared, tight “dandy pants,” and her low-slung satin track pants, were a tough sell. This season marked Roi’s first foray into a licensing deal with Tendler Furs, and the result was fur-trimmed belted blazers, a woven mink preppy-ish sweater and a smattering of fur accessories.
Carlos Miele: It’s obvious from his work that Carlos Miele loves women. Often, however, his fall collection seemed to be populated with dresses that tried too hard to make his beloved sexy customer the belle of the ball. Remember when your mother told you to look in the mirror and take off one thing before you left the house? Well, it’s sound advice, and Miele’s fall collection was at its best when the designer reined himself in just a touch. One such look — a low-neck, multicolored chiffon dress — was by no means simple, but was thankfully free of a fluttering fishtail hem, superfluous pleating or a heavy macramé trim that burdened some of his other pieces. The designer’s expansion to separates was a plus, with elegant pairings of navy cashmere dotted knits and chiffon skirts, both short and long. And though the designer is attempting to bring about social change by employing local Brazilian craftsmen to do handwork on his gowns, the pleated appliqué and macramé only weighed his work down.
Milly by Michelle Smith: Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis would have loved Michelle Smith’s Milly lineup. For fall, the designer tapped into Hollywood’s film-noir archives — all the sassy dames who walked the MGM back lot smoking cigarettes and wearing trousers before it was the thing to do. Dropping the frou of past seasons, Smith went for superluxe, from polished satin dresses and skirts to dramatically big furs, provided by Saga. The long tweed trousers topped by belted sweaters and silky blouses might have had Hepburn’s sporty blue-blood racing. And all the strong-shouldered jackets and suits would have been right up Davis’ chic alley. Ditto the fantastic espresso fake mink herringbone wrap, belted to a feather-print chiffon dress. Only a few too slick looks, like the black satin halter jumpsuit, rang too disco for comfort.
Marc Bouwer: If the runway show Marc Bouwer presented at the newly minted Cipriani on 23rd Street is any indication, this designer loves the glamour, glitter and decadence of Old Hollywood. His fall collection was an ode to the silver-screen sirens of yesteryear — think Veronica Lake in melt-in-your-mouth silk satin columns — which bodes well for the sexy starlets of today who adore Monsieur Marc so much. A draped Empire gown paired with a fur chubby made a strong red-carpet statement, as did the beaded kimono dress and the velvet satin floor-sweeping confections. As always, the furs were elegantly shown, as in the crop coyote jackets, braided mink coats and knitted mink-tailed stoles, which made for the perfect accoutrements to his Tinseltown-bound eveningwear.
Carmen Marc Valvo: Carmen Marc Valvo began with one of his show’s strongest looks: a mink capelet over a long, lean-jacketed pantsuit in brown pinstriped cashmere. It was smart, chic, even sexy, but it was a maverick in the collection. Because Valvo is, after all, the man you go to for evening dresses, especially those floaty numbers on which he built his reputation and his business. And while there were lots of them, too many were a little deja vu. Among the few that could add some excitement to a Valvo fan’s wardrobe were the long burnt ombréd silk mouseline dress, a pale rose lace look and the black ruffled beauty.
There’s no question that furs are one of the important trends of the season, and Valvo offered his ladies some stunning fur coats, such as the lean beauty in brown broadtail, reversing to cashmere and a pink Swakara version. But perhaps he embraced the trend with too much gusto, since he piled fur pieces on just about every look — rather than enhancing his clothes, they often detracted from them. Over the years, the designer has demonstrated the talent to do it all, and while this collection had plenty to offer, it lacked Valvo’s usual focus.
Cynthia Rowley: Motherhood suits Cynthia Rowley. Just weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Gigi Clementine, the designer sent out a more mellow, more sophisticated collection. The opener, a flowing rust jersey gown with a plunging neckline, made a fabulous, chic understatement. She carried that through the rest of her dresses in beautiful, airy chiffons, paired with a long, sporty coat or a chunky cardigan. Still, as her show notes indicated, fall was based on luxury camping looks. And, at times, Rowley certainly put the camp in camping, taking the motif a little too literally. Sometimes it was funny — the long-burning matchstick necklace — and sometimes not — nylon rock-climbing ropes lacing up a pullover or the gold appliqué antlers trimming a dress’ neckline. Those kitschy details, however, shouldn’t detract from the overall grown-up attitude of simple, luxe knits and the sophisticated appeal of an unadorned black satin dress. Next time she ought to concentrate on improving her presentation, as the disorganized seat assigning delayed everything by almost an hour. The sooner Rowley gets the runway going, the sooner she’ll be at home toasting marshmallows with her girls.
Phi: Now in its third season, Phi is starting to throw off the veil of being merely a vanity project and feel like a familiar fashion week stop. And with her months-old SoHo boutique building its client base and the spring collection on the floors of Neiman Marcus, Colette and Barneys New York, Susan Dell is quickly gaining ground.
In his second collection for the label, design director Andreas Melbostad proved he is developing his own rhythm. Done completely in black and white, his fall effort kept to the rigorous chromatic discipline he displayed for spring. The overall effect of buckled leather straps, studded silks and mannish trousers was an aggressive one. However, taken separately, these were clothes that are well-suited to the urban woman and her shopping habits. Why cut a jacket in bright colors when everyone wants to buy it in black? And for the most part, Melbostad uses a controlled hand with details and silhouette tweaks that are perfect for the realistic woman who wants to look chic without soliciting stares.
Jeffrey Chow: While Jeffrey Chow has managed to develop a distinct take on the wardrobe of the classically inclined uptown girl, his love of fashion history occasionally takes him dangerously close to literal interpretations and general dowdiness. For instance, it doesn’t take much of a mental leap to imagine his sharp-collared black brocade coat hanging on the racks of an upscale vintage shop. But when Chow does get his something-old-something-new recipe just right, it’s a happy moment, and his fall collection had several. Among these were a number of slim cocktail dresses as well as a few looks that played with proportion, pairing high-waisted slouchy trousers with fitted, short jackets. He also freshened up a more traditional-looking pale floral silk print by cutting it into a tiered skirt and topping it with a hand-knit sweater. Though it was not quite up to his stellar effort last season, in all, it was a strong collection.
Wunderkind: Wolfgang Joop’s sophomore effort at Bryant park was, well, sophomoric — at least in the word’s etymological sense, both wise and foolish. Not that there weren’t pretty clothes. In fact, Joop showed some of fall’s coolest fur coats. The problem was that he had two very different hypothetical muses — a slick, slightly Space-Age babe and a sweet, latter-day Eliza Doolittle type. Strange bedfellows, no?
The minimalist moment consisted of stark A-line coats with fly-away collars, or satin dresses all pieced together and finished with never-ending rows of piping — the type of stuff best left to other designers. But when Joop went romantic in a chic urchin sort of way, the results were much better. Pegged tweed trousers and full lacy skirts were topped by artfully worked coats, one in strips of hunter-green fur and another that featured blue-and-green dyed pieces of fur sewn together into a plaid pattern. Even a chunky herringbone sweater coat was made cozy when trimmed in chinchilla and sporting oversized buttons. And for a finale, Joop showed a glowing sequined minidress that would have even had Eliza say, “loverly!”