AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE. WELL, NOT QUITE. CAROLINA HERRERA GOES FOR MANHATTAN GLAM…DIANE VON FURSTENBERG LOVES NEW YORK STREET SMARTS…BETSEY JOHNSON CHAMPIONS AMERICAN SWEET TARTS…AND CHARLES NOLAN REVIVES THE SPIRIT OF THOSE ANNE KLEIN CLASSICS.

Carolina Herrera: Carolina Herrera is as into American classics as anyone, but hold the red, white and blue. She’ll take Manhattan, in all its urbane glory. And if that means a little nod to Thirties-style glam, all the better. Herrera’s retro leanings are subtle, and more about capturing an attitude of sultry confidence — think Dietrich in girly mode — than dressing grown women up in period garb. Her first look, a sleek, lean-cut belted coat that wavered between icy silver and palest gold lame, spoke volumes. Its message: This collection is for women who know how to work the dramatic gesture, but are loath to overact.

Throughout, Herrera manipulated that ever-provocative interplay of masculine and feminine. Hence natty three-piece suits shared the runway with hourglass suits and siren gowns, sable-trimmed silks topped chunky bird’s eye tweeds and a tuxedo coat got a geometric motif in glittering beadwork.

Yet not all was perfect, namely those wide pants that appeal to few women and flatter fewer still. Nevertheless, Herrera knows how to make clothes that exude confidence and chic, and that’s a mood to which legions of women aspire.

Diane Von Furstenberg: Certain topics just make a girl want to wax poetic. NYC, for example, a place, Diane Von Furstenberg wrote in her program notes, “where dreams become actions — where streetsmart and sophistication merge.” Coincidentally enough, just like the DVF runway. But then, Von Furstenberg has built her long-running career on just that mix, along with ever-dogged determination.

Of late, Von Furstenberg’s collections have run toward the eclectic, in fact, sometimes too much so. But as God is her witness, she’ll never go one-note again; she learned that lesson back in the Seventies. Now, Diane infuses her soft-and-pretty signature with ample cross-references: a little Tough Chic, faux safari, a hint of blinking Barbara Eden. And in the collection she showed on Sunday night, Von Furstenberg went deeper into sportswear than ever before as well. But new renditions of those floatable lovelies still form the collection’s core — dresses, tops, skirts that PYTs love — the girly factor sometimes tempered by graffiti or animal prints. As for the DVF Warhol portrait T — Diane believes a girl should work all of her assets. And in the end, isn’t that a lesson to live by?

Anne Klein: Talk about dramas. Last season, Charles Nolan was planning his big runway debut for Anne Klein after a long stint on the design staff of Ellen Tracy. Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed. And last week, Kasper, Anne Klein’s parent company, filed for Chapter 11. But in spite of these problems, Nolan stayed focused and showed a polished ode to American sportswear. The designer has been poring over the label’s archives, and he’s using many of those Anne Klein clean shapes as inspiration. A classic blazer, for example, is transformed into a shrunken shape paired with oversized cuffed pants, while leather and suede pieces get doses of decorative details — everything from pintucking to beading. And, believe it or not, there wasn’t a traditional suit in sight. While Nolan has made tremendous strides since last season’s effort with this collection of good, clean, casual American classics, he still has a long way to go. And he won’t get there with those sporty evening looks that looked forced.

Betsey Johnson: With designers lauding all things American these days, Betsey Johnson saluted a red-blooded, national icon oft forgotten by her peers: the Sweet Tart. A sexpot to be sure, but one whose girlish wiles make her utterly appealing. The walls were hung with vintage Johnson-wear and photos chronicling the designer’s work since the Paraphernalia days, while the collection itself was an homage to the Betsey look at its wackiest. Johnson dedicated the show to her “sisters” — the women who sew her clothes and push them on the shop floor — and invited them to slip into the spangled, fringed and studded samples and shimmy their way down the runway, in this case the cutting table.

What her amateur models lacked in experience they made up for with sheer bravado, striking Betty Page poses all along the way and driving the photographers into a hooting-and-hollering tizzy. But that’s what Betsey’s clothes are all about: turning any girl into a kooky sex kitten. The dresses, whether cut in rose-printed chiffon or layered flapper fringe, were slinky and then some. The trimmings, from draped gold chains to appliqued rosettes, were out of control. And the result was the most fun we’re likely to see in a showroom this week. But then, in Betsey’s world, the receptionist, Mary, looks like Marilyn Monroe and Stephanie, a salesgirl at the Woodbury Common boutique, can shake it like a latter-day Mae West. The designer, for one, seemed pleased with the results. “This is the best day of my life,” she told guests as she bounced her way down the cutting table with her girls.

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