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THE SPRING COLLECTIONS / NEW YORK

A Particular Slant

Calvin Klein continues to toy with asymmetry in a streamline collection. Donna Karan and Richard Tyler show why they're haunte and mighty.

November 04, 1996|MIMI AVINS | TIMES FASHION EDITOR

NEW YORK — Designers are fond of explaining that their less expensive labels give them the opportunity to be more esoteric (and elitist) in their top-of-the-line collections. Let CK, DKNY and IS**C provide workaday clothes for real life. Then the signature collections of Calvin Klein, Donna Karan and Isaac Mizrahi are free to become what Parisian haute couture bills itself as, fashion's cost-be-damned research and development wing.

Calvin Klein began experimenting with asymmetry last season. The navy velvet dress Helen Hunt wore to the Emmy awards was an example: one shoulder bared by a diagonally cut neckline and another angle of fabric cut out of the midriff.

In his clean, streamlined collection for spring, presented on the final day of New York Fashion Week here, Klein continued to work with diagonal lines--dipping hemlines; fastening slim, dark suits off to one side and placing red stripes on an incline across a snug, silver wool T-shirt.

Working with light, stretchy fabrics like jersey gauze and stretch chiffon, he has taken the hard-edged style of European designers like Helmut Lang and Jil Sander and made it prettier and more accessible. Color helped soften things, and it often came in threes. Tight jersey T-shirts were worn in unmatched pairs or had double hems. The top layer was crunched up to reveal a different color underneath, as in a rust top showing a slice of orange, paired with a clingy brown skirt.

The colors of sheer dresses with uneven hems changed as they were layered one over another, as when a sheer triangle of purple the designer called ultraviolet floated beyond the edge of the black dress. That Klein had a very deliberate plan for the spare, precise pieces he combined was evident. The resulting collection, shown without accessories, was true to his minimalist aesthetic.

Donna Karan incorporated asymmetry in her strong, focused collection too. Lean, wrapped jackets with diagonal necklines worn over wide matte jersey pants opened the show. They were suits, but not really; bare, but not completely. So smoothly did Karan marry hard and soft shapes and textures, (a leather jacket over a sheer body top and double-layered matte jersey skirt) and juxtapose reserved and uninhibited elements (a fitted, pinstriped jacket covering a filmy dress) that she managed to capture the mood of the season and spin it her own way.

For evening, she employed burnout satin, for slip dresses, trousers, jackets and skirts in black, navy, brown and, most spectacularly, copper. It is a precious fabric on which an artisan creates irregular areas of transparency by stripping away some of the more tightly woven threads, leaving only a film of chiffon.

Of course, special fabrics and fine craftsmanship escalate the cost of a garment. Los Angeles-based Richard Tyler, a master tailor who has proven he can cut a mean dress, could justify the prices of his couture-like collection on those factors alone. But his spring collection was so uniquely beautiful that he would be justified in adding a premium for talent. The cost of a ticket to hear Yitzak Perlman is higher than a tip you'd give a busker with a violin, so why not reward Tyler for his uncommon expertise?

Tyler delivered the flawless pantsuits and high-impact evening dresses for which he is known, but this time everything was more romantic. His fishtail hems, stopping sensibly at the ankle in back, were state of the art. The hems of jackets also gracefully dipped. Those jackets, fashioned of layers of organza, were light as mist, shaped by intricate seaming rather than linings.

Although delicate, lacy knits and fragile camisole dresses in colors like nude and champagne were revealing, they were never vulgar. A lightly webbed cardigan covered a bias-cut dress of nude chiffon ever so slightly. The result was sexiness, with a dose of refinement.

"I wanted to do just irresistible pieces," Isaac Mizrahi said before his show. "It's like going to the market and seeing the perfect melon. You didn't know you were shopping for melon, but there it was."

His pieces were so quirky that they might have been intended for the woman who can afford to indulge a whim for sequined jeans or a brightly color-blocked suit that might horrify her a season later.

Sometimes, one style in a show is worth the hassle of tangling with pushy crowds to gain entrance. Mizrahi's showstopper was a long-sleeved, short dress built around a simple, black bra, an ingenious construction formed of slender straps and cutouts that simultaneously separated and joined the bra to the sleek body of the dress.

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