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Style & Culture | FALL 2004 COLLECTIONS

It's L.A. on the runway

Forget froth. Nostalgia is old hat. Celebrities dictate a lived-in look--when they aren't going for something just a little bolder.

February 13, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

New York — Sometimes all it takes is a visit to L.A.

Taking inspiration from the creative "thrown-together" looks of celebrities, Michael Kors kicked Fashion Week into high gear with his show Wednesday, as most designers cast aside ladylike nostalgia, opting instead for good old American sportswear or something entirely more creative.

The look at Kors was boho chic -- scarf-print paisley dresses with fringe skirts or brown suede fringe minis worn with wide leather belts with big silver buckles. A lavender knitted mink poncho was paired with a floppy felt hat and a shearling messenger bag. Suede pants came long and lean, with wide fur cuffs -- kind of insta-Uggs.

Otherwise, it was all about faded, lived-in jeans rolled up over suede boots. The accessories were equally covetable: the messenger bags, fur bracelets and oversized aviator glasses out of a Ron Galela photo.

Narciso Rodriguez's show lured the heavyweight celebs, and where they go the paparazzi follow. Sarah Jessica Parker was shaking like a leaf from all the flashbulbs in her face. Kristin Davis and Jerry Seinfeld were also there. For fall, Rodriguez recast his typically black-and-white architectural suits and dresses in pale green, pink or blue, with contrasting seaming. A master at sporty sophisticated, he used a stretch cotton to make a butter-colored scuba dress that zips up the front and a black wool fleece to fashion a cozy suit with black satin racing stripes on the back.

One knows a person has to be a toothpick to wear his gowns, but there was hope when one ice-blue dress sucked everything into a satin bustier, seams tracing the curves of the waist, with a skirt tumbling to the ground in chiffon ruffles.

Things were a nightmare at Bill Blass when Michael Vollbracht was hired in March after several designers had come and gone in the past few years, trying unsuccessfully to revive the classic sportswear label. Vollbracht was charged with bringing the Old Guard back to the classic American label. The designer, who once worked for Geoffrey Beene and had his own line in the 1980s, used middle-age models (Pat Cleveland, Sarah Kapp) -- an approach not always popular with the fashion set.

"Why is it that once you're 50, you can't have a sense of fashion?" he said. It's true, not all of the creations in his show oozed sex appeal, but he did offer women some of the week's only tailored pants and jackets in autumnal oranges, green and brown houndstooth or check. They weren't the most body-conscious of cuts, but not everyone wants that.

Vollbracht has also worked hard to rope in the Hollywood set, something new for Blass. He showed a procession of gowns -- a tiger-print taffeta dress with sable cuffs and a strange strapless lace dress with cutouts that revealed the lower part of the breasts -- but none quite as spectacular as the glorious coral print gown with a bloom at the decolletage that Diane Lane wore to the Golden Globes.

With so many images of utter fabulousness -- at the Golden Globes, on "Queer Eye," even on CNN, which is covering Fashion Week -- at times fashion seems to be everywhere and nowhere at once. The eyes glaze over.

At the shows, such fashion types as Elle magazine's editorial director and famed photographer Gilles Bensimon are perennially looking for inspiration from people who are making their wardrobe statements off the runway. The other night, he pulled out his disposable camera to snap a woman in a Nanook of the North fur hat, a purple camp shirt, a denim mini and pancake-flat brown 1970s boots.

It's a wonder consumers have any brain matter left to absorb new fashion, what with all the celebrity clothing labels, mass-market and myriad luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, which celebrated its 150th anniversary Tuesday by opening its largest store in the world on Fifth Avenue and hosting a party with a replica of the Eiffel Tower made of handbags.

Adding to the overload, John Varvatos, the talented menswear designer with a store on Robertson Boulevard, has launched his first women's line. The last thing a designer wants is to have guests checking their watches or talking, or to have comedian Jimmy Fallon distracting Anna Wintour by making funny faces across the runway, all of which did happen.

Perhaps it was because Varvatos kept things too simple, with a long gold satin skirt topped with a distressed brown leather bomber jacket; a butter suede trench coat and a gray wool shift dress that brought to mind collections by Kenneth Cole. One looking for inventiveness would have to find it elsewhere.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the twentysomethings behind Proenza Schouler, started their collection with the notion of over-the-knee gators; you know, wading boots. Theirs were sexier than Uncle Ben's, though, in black leather with lacing up the back, worn over leggings with a wool trench jacket with broad '80s-style shoulders.

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