The Color Of Fashion

Posted: November 07, 1995

NEW YORK — Hear ye, hear ye, all you clothes mavens, the royalty of U.S. fashion issues the following decrees for spring:

(1) Make room in your wardrobe for color.

(2) Watch your weight because skinny 1970-ish clothes will be the order of the day.

The crowned heads of American fashion joined their benevolent European counterparts in endorsing colors either soft or bright as the major trend of the next fashion season.

Their spring previews, held here in the city where most designers are based, concluded last week. It was the finale of a monthlong trek that retail buyers and the media made to the world's fashion capitals to preview spring collections.

The trends here, hammered home by the top designers in the last days, include a mind-numbing amount of hip-huggers and other 1970s artifacts and the continued use of shiny fabrics, such as shantung and satin. Double-faced wool was also popular in the daytime suit and dress category and soft-column gowns ruled the night.

When Ralph Lauren showed Crayola colors, it was delightfully surprising. However, when the controversial king of American style, Calvin Klein, does color, you know it's a serious trend. Klein used lemon yellow, ice blue, coral, lavender and other soft hues along with his typical neutrals in his collection.

But uneasy lies the king's head. The U.S. Justice Department recently requested Klein's records in investigating if he violated child-pornography laws by using underage models in his controversial and sexually suggestive CK ads. Meanwhile, Klein's new print ad showing a man spread-eagle in his underwear is being blasted even by the company that pays Klein royalties to produce the brand under his name.

The brouhaha apparently did not distract Klein from presenting his best and most au courant work in years. It was hip, a word never before associated with Klein's top collection. Rather than stick with his signature classics, Klein was on the Prada/Helmut Lang retro movement with low-slung belts adorning hipster or stovepipe pants, tunics and dresses. He showed long, clingy silk jersey dresses and skirts, boxy jackets, skinny suits and sleeveless dresses that, like most of the collection, were so fitted that only the fat-free could wear them.

Philadelphia retailer Toby Lerner said Klein would no doubt offer more generous-cut styles for her customers. "He knows everyone isn't that thin," she said.

Donna Karan, the queen of Seventh Avenue, got that way by appealing to the executive working woman with great basics and crepe power suits. She quickly expanded her empire to panty hose, shoes, perfumes, accessories, beauty products, menswear and her groundbreaking cheaper collection, DKNY.

Now, a decade later, Karan's commercial success has given her the financial freedom to explore her more-creative side. For spring '96 that means low-slung hip pants, microskirts, midriff-baring double-faced jackets that attach only at the collar with hooks, and tunic dresses with plunging V's at the back and front.

And what about her loyal subjects - the female executives who are always starved for top-of-the-line career wear? Let them wear tube dresses, Queen Donna said, presenting clingy stretch jersey dresses that come in a tube and can be rolled up and down the leg.

Karan might have a revolt on her hands.

Like the English monarchy at its height, Karan and Klein have ceded some territory to their brethren. They leave the old-money-socialite set to those gracious lords Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta.

In collections that were remarkably similar and shown Thursday, the pair did those socialite-loving short suits in double-faced wool, blue pinstripe ensembles, shift dresses in soft colors and shimmering evening gowns.

"No one's paying attention to a woman of a certain age," said Blass after his show, refering to the over-40-and-rich. "She has her needs, too."

Viewing Isaac Mizrahi's collection later that night was a little like watching your wildest, most freewheeling friend from college get married and move to the suburbs: You're glad he finally settled down, but you miss his former ways.

Mizrahi was a brilliant jester whose witty clothes and runway high jinks kept the court amused.

But those fun-loving downtown days seem to be behind Mizrahi now as he seeks to move up in the world, perhaps hoping, in a modern-day fairy-tale twist, to go from commoner to king. His spring collection, while well-crafted, is just too Nick-at-Nite, the cable station he shilled $100 separates for earlier this year in a failed home-shopping venture. Suffice it to say that looking like sitcom creation Lucy Ricardo is not exactly the height of modern chic.

In any kingdom, there is always the rabble-rouser, someone to comfort the lowly and to rail against the ruling class.

Anna Sui, maker of $300 avant-garde dresses, is that heroine. Her subjects are the antiestablishment club kids who party all night and work any number of menial jobs while waiting for a big break in the popular arts.

Sui offers them just what they love: clothes that are commonplace in design but when worn by the right people in the right hangouts, take on an edge.

This time around, Sui evokes the look of California with her wonderfully wicked take-that-Queen-Donna-and-King-Calvin clothes: wallpaper floral granny dresses, plaid Bermuda shorts, madras plaid or khaki safari jackets, and pants, jams, surfer T-shirts and garish 1970 print dresses, some emblazoned with a photo of Sui. Poor Patrick Robinson, heir to the Anne Klein empire. His second collection simply shows he was too young for his quick ascent from Giorgio Armani assistant to head of a major company. Here was a collection of basic suits in neutral colors, tennis skirts and ruffled baby- doll dresses so bland it was like being at a mall fashion show rather than in the designer arena.

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