NEW YORK — For years now, women have been complaining that all clothes look alike, that you can't tell a Calvin Klein from an Anne Klein or a Ralph Lauren, a Bill Blass from an Oscar de la Renta.
Calvin and Ralph, Oscar and Bill, Donna and Louis have obviously taken note. For the first time in the history of American fashion, big-name Seventh Avenue designers are stepping out of the Paris-Milan-London-Tokyo-Hollywood brand of international chic and stepping into their own. While the roots are, for the most part, American sportswear, the style is New York: smart, strong, nervy, minimalist, sensible, upwardly mobile, competitive, sexy, aggressive and cocky. Ohhh, so cocky.
The cocksureness of the new fall clothes is in many ways a reflection of the city itself. For example: There's a feeling throughout the market that it's time to dress up again during the daytime.
Blass and De la Renta want their customers to wear lunch dresses and suits with big rhinestone buttons. Ralph Lauren sees his classy ladies strolling up Madison Avenue in velvet turtlenecks and pavement-length velvet capes. And Stephen Sprouse would be delighted if the young women who wear his clothes start their day in long black crushed-velvet Camelot dresses.
Just a few years ago, such fashion ostentation in Manhattan would have been an invitation to be ripped off. Today, the city seems a lot safer. Mothers here once more send the kids to school without their mugging money. The world's most instantly recognizable celebrities feel comfortable wearing their Bulgari chokers and carrying H-for-Hermes bags to lunch at La Grenouille. And even the tourist can walk in relative safety from 42nd Street and Broadway to 550 7th Ave. without turning her 1/100th-of-a-carat diamond ring around or handcuffing her handbag to her wrist.
This daytime dress-up might also be occasioned by the fact that many of the designers themselves are now so rich and famous and spend so much of their time with the rich that they assume all of us want to look rich.
If you want to look rich for fall, 1985, you first have to look thin. Wraith thin. Thin enough to wear Perry Ellis' long, fitted cardigan jackets over flounce-hemmed minis. Thin enough to wear Oscar de la Renta's shirred-front jersey dresses. Thin enough to layer Donna Karan's tie-on scarf skirts over cashmere pants and jersey bodysuits. Thin enough for Zoran's sleeveless cabled cashmere sweaters with navy silk taffeta knee pants. Thin enough for Adri's sleeveless jersey dresses over matching leggings.
There are really two rich-is-right looks for fall. In the Blass/Lauren/Karan/Anne Klein/Calvin Klein/Jeffrey Banks style of sportswear, the idea is to understate yourself in the world's most expensive fabrics. A floor-length navy cashmere coat, for example, is worn over a navy cashmere turtleneck tucked into classic navy cashmere pants and held in place with a classic 1 1/2-inch-wide alligator belt. The pants may or may not have stirrups, the coat might be a wool melton or gabardine, and the turtleneck might be jersey or velvet, but the concept is the same--pure, unadulterated, classic sportswear in quality fabrics.
In the Ralph Lauren school of fashion--a little more Edwardian this season than last, but instantly recognizable as Ralph Lauren--there's still a flash of lace at the collar, plenty of horse sense jackets and long, walking-in-the-moors skirts. And all the pearls-and-cameo accouterments that say old money, landed gentry, English country manor. The newest items here are simple, zip-front shell jackets made of silk velvet, simple cardigan sweaters made of the most luxurious gold Lurex and simply wonderful black leather bathrobe coats with silk tassel belts.
By putting such old-standby items as a long storm-yoked raincoat in silver lame, Kasper comes up with his own version of American indoor sportswear. Cleopatra brings new meaning to the turtleneck dress in a gray cloud-pattern Jacquard. And Adrienne Vittadini comes up with the most inventive jodhpurs of the season--knitted jersey versions shown with long mosaic-cabled sweaters.
The second rich-is-right look for fall is exemplified by Geoffrey Beene, De la Renta, Ellis and Los Angeles' own Luis Estevez, whose collections are more feminine--less "sports-weary"--than their Seventh Avenue colleagues.
Beene started the season's rich-and-thin blitz with exquisitely cut jersey suit-dresses for day and extravagant jersey-with-charmeuse gowns for night.
De la Renta's night sports team gray cashmere pants with important gray plaid sequined sweaters. His long coats are not the casual officers' coats seen in other collections but pink satin "ball coats" worthy of the most important gala. And they cover the most beautiful velvet gowns of the season--slender, sleeveless sheaths with small trains in back.