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STYLE & CULTURE | FALL 2004 COLLECTIONS

Let fur and feathers fly

At Fashion Week, the big names and their clothes start to blur. Fresh excitement, and a little bit of luxe, come from relative newcomers to the runways.

February 16, 2004|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

New York — New York

With the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and other '70s rock on the playlist, Ralph Lauren's show felt a bit like one of those reunion tours. Rehashing his own signature Southwestern chic, he sent out camelhair jackets fastened with smart silver concha belts over this season's girlish circle skirts; black beaded gowns worn with the kind of turquoise jewelry that socialite and style icon Millicent Rogers was known for; fringed leather jackets; and a bold, black-and-red Navajo blanket dress.

But there was no escaping the fact that we'd been down the same desert road before.

There were few surprises from Donna Karan, too, who is celebrating 20 years in business. Her famous jersey dresses appeared again, this season twisted and fastened with interesting carved glass buckles by William Morris.

But the rest of the collection seemed harsh and weighed down, the colors off. A brown bomber jacket was reinterpreted as a halter top, an olive-green suit was trimmed in brown leather and a strapless dress was embroidered and beaded with the colors of the forest floor.

Francisco Costa's second collection for Calvin Klein was much improved (nothing ripped coming down the runway). Jade and Bianca Jagger sat front and center at the show, which started with a lovely rose-colored, washed-silk shirt dress, and moved into the kind of well-executed felt coats and silk suits with belted jackets in neutral creams, mushrooms and grays on which Klein made his fortune. For evening, shapeless silk charmeuse dresses with pleats placed here and there did nothing even for Natalia and the other bottle-bronzed models.

In fact, the overriding mood as Fashion Week came to a close here Friday was that the marquee names -- Donna, Ralph and Calvin -- had fallen short. This season, watching Narciso Rodriguez, Zac Posen, Derek Lam, Sebastian Pons and the designers at Proenza Schouler, it was obvious who will be taking New York fashion into the future.

"Watching Zac take his bow, I just love how excited he is about fashion," said Vincent Boucher, an L.A.-based celebrity stylist who was here for the shows. "It's so refreshing."

Part of what's at work is that fashion, like any segment of pop culture, is driven by youth. It is an art form that must move forward each season with new ideas and new names. Of course, there's room on the runways for more than just fashion. There's room for what are simply clothes, too, because everyone must get dressed in the morning, and not necessarily in Posen's brown leather bloomers.

Bloomers aside, for the first time, Posen's collection didn't feel overdone, and he concentrated more on daywear. A reversible mink vest had extraordinary seaming on the back, tracing the hourglass shape of the waist; the pattern on a printed cashmere sweater resembled owl feathers; and a chiffon dress with cape sleeves was color-blocked in pink, Bordeaux and green, as pretty to look at as a kite in the sky.

He usually designs for the girlier girls, but this time he addressed those with a vampier side, with ruched strapless dresses in black, coral or pink that oozed sex appeal. And it seems we know what color to watch for at the Oscars. Posen, like Rodriguez, ended his show with a gown aflutter in ice-blue chiffon ruffles. There must be something in the air, or the ice.

Ralph Rucci's clothes for his Chado line are so artistic, so serious and so spiritual (each piece has a chakra, he once said) that sometimes one wonders if he ever has any fun. But in his fall collection he let loose a bit, with a tiger print velvet coat and black paillette pajama pants.

The uncompromising, take-your-breath-away luxury was still there, in the sable parka, the green alligator coat and a brown jacket folded like a wonton. And then there were the pieces that made you wonder how he did it.

In his show notes, L.A.-based Richard Tyler said he was influenced by Luchino Visconti's 1969 film "The Damned," with Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde. The connection was tenuous. Really, the collection was a hodgepodge of looks without much connecting them: a cream leather suit with pleating on the back, a yellow and sky-blue silk ombre dress, an embroidered gold burnout velvet gown, an elongated tuxedo and a Helmut Newton-esque bondage dress with two strips of fabric coming down vertically over the breasts like suspenders.

It wasn't exactly out of nowhere -- Tyler also wrote in his show notes that he was dedicating his collection to Newton, the fashion photographer who died in L.A. last month.

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