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Spotlight on Fantasy : Oldham Uses Trademark Bold Mixes While Sui Leans on Velvet and Ruffles


NEW YORK — That Todd Oldham really knows how to throw a fashion show. Fill the runway with campy transvestites, fill the room with emerging or "re-emerging" talents (Sofia Coppola on one side of the runway, Boy George on the other), and fill the collection with clothes so colorful and lighthearted they would put a smile on anybody's face.

In a season when fantasy dressing is the freshest look in town, Oldham's sure-handed sendup was as sexy and sophisticated as anything he has engineered so far.

As always, his style is a collision of lowbrow handcrafts (as in potholders), highbrow embroideries and elaborate crewel work, and exotic ethnic prints. Models wore Dolly Parton 'dos and gold glitter on their cheeks to heighten the effect.

Pantsuits were the preferred choice for day. Among the best was a '70s silhouette--wide-leg pants and a long narrow jacket--in a violet and cream paisley print. A metallic copper-color vest worked well as a blouse.

In a bold pattern mix--the sort Oldham is known for--block prints, paisleys and necktie stripes brightened an ankle-length vest over a pirate shirt and flared pants.

For night, Indian print dresses with billowing skirts in violet or cinnabar had subtle beading on the bodice, and went with bright, plush boleros. The models carried soft tapestry bags as if they were headed off for the weekend.

That was Tuesday night. Wednesday, Coppola and her entourage turned up at Anna Sui's show. Coppola carried long-stem roses that managed to stay intact while she waited outside in a crush of people at what has become the hottest event of the season.

Inside there were plenty more famous faces. Kyle MacLaclan, whose girlfriend Linda Evangelista modeled, and Steve Meisel, who photographed Madonna for her book, had front-row seats.

The better to see one of the best shows of the week.

From her carpet bag of fashion tricks, Sui pulled out Victorian dandies, Prussian princesses, pre-Raphaelite poets, and some baby dolls with their nannies. Every piece had a softness around the edges, like finds from the flea market. That thrift-shop feel--and an all-out romantic attitude--have become Sui signatures.

Printed velvet frock coats or bold striped velvet cutaways topped ruffled shirts, leather vests, and velvet pants with insignia buttons running down the sides. Riding hats with a flourish of ostrich plumes, and velvet shoes with thick heels completed this Victorian dandy look.

Ivory embroidery at the shoulders and hem of caramel- or claret-colored velvet dresses helped suggest Prussian monarchs or militia. For the royals, Sui cut empire-waist dresses with ankle-grazing skirts to go with tapestry or velvet "granny" boots. For the militia, she showed tunics worn with thick, black leather belts.

Sui made short skirts look right at a time when most designers favor ankle lengths. Flared, flippy hems on high-waisted velvet dresses topped ivory crocheted legwear and lace-up tapestry boots for a Victorian-Mod moment.

This season's accent on fantasy dressing poses no problem for Ralph Lauren. He has mastered the art of drawing from historic events to inspire his collections. This time it was the eve of the Bolshevik revolution. Shades of "Doctor Zhivago" colored a fall collection as romantic as any in Lauren's hall of fame.

Claret-colored wool jackets had fake Persian lamb collars and cuffs. And he used the fake Persian lamb again for collar and cuffs on a floor-sweeping black leather trench coat.

Velvet tunics that buttoned down one side were a Lauren variation on Russian Cossack shirts. He showed them in Wedgwood blue or plum velvet, worn blousey and belted with black leather at the hips. They topped rib-knit leggings and tall leather boots.

Velvet vests mixed with oatmeal tweed menswear trousers, and jackets softened the gentleman farmer effect. For evening, strands of bottle-colored glass beads gave extra shimmer to dark velvet tops over paisley georgette sarongs.

And for enchanted evenings, gold on black lace, fine as Russian filigree, lent fragile elegance to a long, form-fitting dress with a flared hem.

Jackets were the standouts in Oscar de la Renta's show. Among the best was one in warm green wool with a velvet shawl collar and cuffs. He showed it with gray flannel pants.

Frocks and redingotes cut almost to knee length, with nipped waists and flared hems, are the newest silhouettes in most designers' fall lines. De la Renta showed one in soft brown with old silver bottons, worn over chocolate-brown velvet pants.

Military jackets framed Michael Kors' line. His "dress grays" had officer's jackets and narrow pants in cavalry twill, a firm grainy fabric. In this season of softer silhouettes, the effect was overly austere. A variation in navy with a six-button jacket was a little more relaxed--just enough to make a difference.

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