In the round of New York fall fashion shows that just ended, store buyers and press trekked from one top designer to the next, seeking excitement and news. They didn't find it. What they did find was, from the consumer's point of view, even better.
There is something calming, almost comforting, about the clothes this country's major designers are offering for fall. As familiar and satisfying as a Cole Porter tune, the styles rely on classic lines, luxury fabrics, gentle tailoring--and a certain generosity of cut that enables movement without sacrificing shape.
The clothes, which arrive at stores in August, have no angles, edges, extremes, gimmicks or built-in obsolescence. They are often in dark or neutral shades and in quietly opulent fabrics. Cashmere, Alpaca, suede, sheer wool jersey, silk, satin leather and tweed are shaped into coats, dresses and separates similar to ones you may have seen before and will probably be happy to meet in this latest incarnation.
Almost every designer shows longer lengths for fall. Coats--either straight or full-skirted--usually drop well below mid-calf. Dresses and skirts--either pleated, flared or slim--are just a bit shorter.
Many women already have this length in their wardobes, and the windows of most department stores are full of longer styles for summer. Those who can't or won't wear the elongated look will not suffer a loss of chic if they lift the hemlines a notch or two, or if they simply stick to the shorter lengths most designers also offer.
Pants have wider legs, and there are plenty of them--shown with sweater sets or jackets.
The truly amazing thing about the New York fall collections is that so many of them look so much alike--and are yet so individual.
Bill Blass shows this season's ubiquitous big coats and flyaway jackets, one of which has a smocked top and flares out from the body. His version of the sweater dress, in gray, is belted at the waistline and has a long, bias-flare skirt. It is all very simple, but sophisticated in the well-known Blass manner.
Blass spikes his collection with red, as in a very long red coat with sable collar over a slim, red, knee-length skirt and black turtleneck cashmere. (Turtlenecks showed up in almost every designer's collection.)
The exceptional thing about Calvin Klein's fall clothes is their utter spareness and purity of line. Aside from belts, which often marked the waistlines, there is not an unnecessary adornment, button or frill. Klein's sumptuous styles include long, slim cashmere sweater dresses, almost-to-the-ankle gathered skirts with sweater sets, leather clutch coats and easy-fit blazer jackets with long slim skirts or wide-leg pants.
Louis Dell'Olio for Anne Klein showed belted sweaters over long, full skirts, shawl-draped skirts and pantsuits and bathrobe-sashed coats as well as big, flaring ones. Here too everything has a controled ease that results in a look of body-conscious mobility.
How could Perry Ellis do basically the same shapes, and yet make them look different? By doing a peppier, preppier version of it all (he even named his groups after Ivy League colleges) and by including pastel pink and blue as highlights. He wound collegiate, fringed scarfs around some necklines--and all his turtlenecked, blazer-jacketed models (male and female) looked as if they'd just escaped from Princeton, Wellesley and Yale.
Ralph Lauren puts his signature on the Ivy League look by recommending brown alligator belts and matching sling-back flats with a wide variety of long, full skirts (some in suede), which he teams with belted sweaters, gently fitted blazers, short sweater-jackets and shearling coats.
Lauren's preppy look is a little softer and more detailed than Ellis', including droopy black satin bows under blouse collars and ascots wound inside jewel-necklines of sweaters.
The fall fashions of Oscar de la Renta will probably not disappoint his oh-so-social list of clients. (Annette Reed, Pat Buckley, Nancy Kissinger, Ann Getty, Jacqueline de Ribes, Brooke Astor, Nancy Mehta were among those in the front row of his show.) Although De la Renta has reduced his ruffle output and offers some long, full skirts and sweater dresses for fall, he also offers all those precisely tailored suits and dresses with slim, knee-length skirts for which he's known and loved.
Geoffrey Beene is an artist who follows his own muse. He shows short skirts with short, fitted jackets and some peplums that stand away from the hips as though they are wired. His silhouette is generally more body-hugging for fall, punctuated, every now and then with a relaxed coat or jacket.
And Donna Karan's collection, which is drawing rave reviews from buyers, perhaps synthesizes all the classic yet modern ideas for fall. Somehow she manages to convey the relaxed, American-opulent look with a basic wardrobe of bodysuits over which she layers easy jackets, coats, pants, skirts, shawls and ponchos. Her fall bodysuits are styled into turtlenecks, simple man-tailored shirts, or surplice and draped-front shirts. They're in merino wool, ivory silk, cashmere, georgette or wool gauze.
The fall clothes by these New York designers are not for women who care about short versus long skirts or temporary trends. They are investments--for women who want comfort and longevity along with timeless styling.