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Jean Cocteau’s Beauty knew it. Scarlett O’Hara knew it. Tom Jones’ Mrs. Waters knew it. (Or their celluloid costumers did.) So did Sargent’s Madame X, her iconic head-to-toe stance in the painter’s mesmerizing painting notwithstanding.

What they knew: the value of a good bodice, one with some degree of detail, whether froth, jewelling or provocative neckline, a bodice that delivers visual interest while the lady sits. “Tabletop dressing” such looks were once called. And are again, or at least they were during the December round of pre-fall presentations. On successive days, Lela Rose and Michael Kors invoked the retro term for an evergreen concept. How could we not plunge into the delightful possibilities? To date, the pre-fall collections — plus Chanel’s Alpine Métiers d’Art and Valentino’s New York couture — have offered a wealth of fine-dining gems, from all-out, gloriously feminine fare to those with a soupçon of futuristic chic.

This story first appeared in the December 31, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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