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STYLE & CULTURE | FALL 2003 COLLECTIONS

Then again, yes

With minis, shifts and lean jackets, designers put a fresh spin on the 1960s.

February 17, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

New York

Talk about saving the best for last. It was difficult to sum up the season here before Friday, when Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, America's sportswear triumvirate, each had a show. They confirmed that fall is likely to be about mods and rockers. Many designers chose in these uncertain times to look back to the future, revisiting the 1960s with miniskirts and A-line shift dresses, opaque tights and patent leather flats, or skinny, Carnaby Street-inspired stovepipe pants and menswear-styled jackets that recall the pre-Viagra days of Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. This is as good a place as any for fashion to land. For baby boomers, the look is nostalgic, now that world politics are once again a mess and people are protesting in the streets. And for the younger generation, as a TV promo once exhorted, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

Lauren revisited the Savile Row style that he became known for early in his menswear career. To the music of Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, models came out wearing skinny pants tucked into tall leather boots, with lean tweed jackets and newsboy caps, all in shades of chocolate brown and olive. There were also dandy velvet suits, and poet's blouses in suede or taffeta with ruffles at the neck, worn with patent leather slippers with bows. Whether women will really want to dress like Dickensian boys remains to be seen. Evening wear had the familiar Lauren luxe touches: a silver cross-back gown was gloriously bugle-beaded, and a slithery cream silk dress with a fishtail hem was worn with a sporting, fur-trimmed cream bomber jacket.

Karan distinguished herself by moving beyond a retro riff and making the clothes look modern. Inspired, as she has often been, by the mood and architecture of New York City, she worked in shades of black, white and steel, returning to her body-conscious roots with stretch wool leggings, tunic or halter dresses and bodysuits. Many pieces were cut to expose a slice of bare skin on the shoulders, back or hips, bringing to mind the spectacular slices of Manhattan sky one sees looking up through the skyscraper canyons. Stretch jersey was tucked and pleated, then wrapped around the body and through a silver "keyhole" to create modern togas for nocturnal urban goddesses. Accessories were spare but bold: crocodile or snakeskin shoe-boots with gleaming silver heels, and Robert Lee Morris belts of patent leather, some with large abstract silver forms as "buckles."

Klein left the concrete jungle for the Amazon. His collection, in a rich jungle palette of balsam green, navy, cordovan and black, was less minimalist than usual, with safari undertones. There were flap pockets everywhere -- on straight pants, on flannel jackets with epaulets, on high-waisted pencil skirts and poplin shirts with stand-up collars. Pleated short skirts came in what Klein referred to in the show notes as a "scarab print" -- an unappealing design that looked something like a Rorschach test. He did show some appealing casual dresses in a leafy-textured silk chiffon, for wild young things. But Klein didn't offer much in the way of red carpet dressing for best actress Oscar nominee Renee Zellweger, who sat in his front row.

French-bashing may be in vogue in some quarters, but not among those who clamored to get into the small Balenciaga show. Nicolas Ghesquiere, who showed last season in Paris, is one of the industry's most closely watched conceptualists, notable for starting the recent cargo pant craze and for copying a collage vest by 1960s San Francisco clothing artist Kaisik Wong. For fall, he expanded on the scuba look he debuted for spring, this time using wool and leather instead of neoprene and nylon. Thick wool patches in contrasting colors were pieced together to create bolero jackets -- which showed up often on runways here -- with exaggerated shoulders. They were worn over high-waist leather leggings that faded into boots, or miniskirts.

Thankfully, there is someone on Seventh Avenue designing for women who don't want to leave the house next fall in miniskirts -- Ralph Rucci. Now that Rucci shows with other haute couture designers in Paris (the first American invited to do so since Mainbocher in the 1930s), his ready-to-wear Chado collection has taken on an air of sublime luxury.

Perfectly executed wool shifts came in shades of almond and taupe. Easy-fitting cashmere coats, some printed with the scribbles of Einstein and Da Vinci, had rounded shoulders and bracelet sleeves. For the truly indulgent: a chocolate brown alligator safari jacket; a chinchilla-lined gold damask ski parka; and a satin amethyst evening gown with a triangular skirt that resembled a Japanese pagoda.

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