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Designers' Very Mixed Bag : Mizrahi, Klein and Karan Present Some Genuine Gems--and Some Real Duds


NEW YORK — Isaac Mizrahi needs an editor. Not a mean grump who wants to squelch his most creative urges, but a clearsighted advocate who can tell him when he's off the track.

That way, Mizrahi's best ideas, which are original as any in contemporary fashion, wouldn't get diluted by too many camped-up, mediocre, who's-gonna-wear- this get-ups that have found their way into his recent collections.

Mizrahi showed his fall '93 line during New York fashion week, which ended Friday. It was a mishmash of treasures and troubles. For every classy cardigan sweater with "sableen"--fake sable--cuffs (to toss over a little black dress that flared at the ankles), there were half a dozen pseudo ski suits with stripes down the sides, and inflated moon-walker coats that seemed to come from out of nowhere.

Mizrahi evening wear can be a real adventure, and the best of this season kept that tradition alive. His Harlow-like, satin dress in moss green and rich bronze was a sparkler. He showed it with an embroidered shearling jacket that jingled from the sound of tiny gold bells.

But it nearly got lost in a sea of "Madame Sousatzka" sleepwear for somnambulists. Billowing harem pants, sheer bed jackets and kimono robes in a mix of cut velvets and stenciled chiffons were a very expensive study in stay-at-home dressing. Most women would rather put their money in something they can wear out.

Mizrahi has a sure gift for throwing classic clothes a glamorous curve. His black "twinkle" turtleneck sweater had sleeves cropped just above the elbow and looked smart with stone-gray flare-leg pants and an ecru cardigan coat.

Then there were all those gauze skirts--short in front and long in back--worn with boxy leather vests. They didn't work, and it was painfully apparent because so many versions got loose on the runway.

In the end, Mizrahi's strong ideas did manage to overpower the rest. But just barely.

In a fashion season without rules or limits, too many designers lost their bearings. A number of collections that started out one way took strange twists and turns.

Anne Klein offered plenty of wearable jackets, ankle-length dresses and well-tailored pants, many in black knit that traveling executives will appreciate.

Among the best looks in the show was a black peacoat with shiny black buttons over an A-line skirt, one of the few short skirts in the show. A fawn-gray jacket, fitted through the waist, topped a long black dress with a circle skirt for an alternative to the power suit.

Evening wear was another story. Tapestry coats with mounds of curly lamb trim were too cumbersome and costume-y. A black spider-web skirt and a floral crocheted tunic were too contrived.

Geoffrey Beene showed only short skirts for day, and he made the style look right at a time when practically every other New York designer is sold on ankle lengths.

His black and white tweed skirt with a deep gray tunic, belted in rubberlike tubing with a jade green disc as a buckle, showed off some of the artistic ingredients that set his style apart.

A mohair bolero with a deep, pointed hood had a richly embroidered inset between the shoulder blades. It touched on the ecclesiastic theme running through a number of fall collections.

"That's Tibetan," Beene explained of the bolero and several other monastic coats in the collection. "It relates to pausing and appreciating simplicity."

Calvin Klein picked up on the darker colors, longer proportions and mix of fabrics that are the soul of Europe's avant-garde. But he moved that mood from extreme to mainstream without losing an edge.

He built multilayered looks with narrow leather jackets over longer, rib-knit tunics and ankle-length wool gauze skirts. There were plenty of pantsuits, but he focused on versions with jackets just above the knee and wide-leg, or very narrow pants.

His black gauze dresses with inset waistlines and circle skirts were delicate and graceful enough for day or evening.

Duffel bags with drawstring closings, and bowler hats with a wider, more relaxed brim than the classic British shape, gave day wear a bohemian feeling. So did the black leather ankle boots Klein used for day as well as evening.

Donna Karan was at her best with sculpted wool crepe suits. Their flared, knee-length skirts and elongated jackets gave them a lean and sexy look.

Suits with wide-leg pants and double-breasted jackets were variations on a look she has done well for several seasons. And her long, fluid skirts in wool gauze went with wool crepe jackets, to play off the fabric mixes that make an outfit look new right now.

But Karan got carried away with an idea she put in her program notes: "Fall's not about color, but character." She unearthed muddy shades of gray and eggplant, murky tweeds of black flecked with oyster, and taupes as drab as the lingering winter weather outside her showroom windows.

Make that two editors needed in New York.

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