New York — ARCHITECTURE has never been so important as it is here right now. After four years of national debate over rebuilding ground zero, the deadline for a decision is in just five weeks. And it was in that context that Marc Jacobs presented his brilliant runway show Monday night.
A plywood-and-steel-grate skyline formed the backdrop for the runway, a reminder -- as Manhattan's altered skyline has been since Sept. 11 -- that the city is not an impenetrable fortress but a fragile work in progress.
And so work wear formed the building blocks of Jacobs' collection, set to the stirring Philip Glass symphony "Heroes." As any architect knows, designing is about balance, and the masculine and feminine were in perfect harmony here. A plaid flannel shirt was reworked into a cap-sleeve blouse with a tassel at the hip, and a concrete gray skirt had "sleeves" that tied around the waist. Worn with gleaming gold work boots, a cowl-neck sweater dress was layered over \o7point d'esprit \f7leggings, and a taupe silk T-shirt topped a pair of oversized gray flannel painter's pants.
Models wore knit caps or floppy sequin berets that twinkled like city lights. They balanced on conical heels anchored to metal planes that brought to mind drafting triangles. Black cashmere dresses were pinched at the waist, with molded short sleeves. Gowns, also worn over leggings, were literally coming apart at the seams. Dripping lines of sequins and strips of lace, they were remarkably beautiful works in progress.
Certainly, there were shades of the 1992 grunge collection Jacobs presented when he was at Perry Ellis. Except this was the work of a more mature designer, the culmination of years of experience. In his show notes, Jacobs thanked more than 50 people by name. It was a first, a recognition of all the hands that go into building something, clothing collection or skyscraper.
Leaving the New York State Armory on Lexington Avenue, the space where Jacobs always stages his shows and, following Sept. 11, a service center for victims' families, one couldn't help but be moved. Outside, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and hundreds of others lighted the night sky and stood firm.
In other shows, designers visited past decades and riffed on rockabilly. But a few themes are beginning to emerge. Spring's fascination with voluminous skirts and dresses has migrated north. The focus for fall is on the jacket-blousons, boleros and boxy styles, with dropped shoulders and wide sleeves, hacked off at the elbow or puffed up around the arm.
And leggings are back. Sorry.
Oscar de la Renta's best jacket was in caramel shearling with cropped sleeves, again paired with wide trousers in gray flannel. A cashmere skirt suit came in power red -- very Capitol Hill. There was a conservative streak running through this collection. (Laura Bush is a loyal client.) Fur coats were big, 1980s big, in Lippi cat and olive chinchilla with outta-my-way sleeves. And D'Orsay pumps bobbing fabric roses were positively regal.
But what was missing was De la Renta's heightened sense of luxury -- the opulent embroidery, ostrich feathers and coins from past seasons that embellished the jackets, coats and purses of so many socialites in the audience. Metallic brocade was an attempt, but it looked clumsy on a cigarette pant. A red floral taffeta dress with a ruffled train, worn under a fur shrug trimmed in pompoms, was spirited. But the closest thing to a real va-va-voom red carpet moment was an embroidered lame column gown. The only danger: Being mistaken for an award show statuette.
Carolina Herrera, who will open her first L.A. boutique in April, had versions of the new jacket in double-face wool or tweed, with tiny drawstrings at the collar and puff sleeves. She paired them with wide trousers in subtle rust plaid or straight skirts. The classic shift was updated in chocolate brown wool with a bateau neckline and sheared mink sleeves. But evening looks were too fussy -- who wants a peacock blue bustle-back skirt with a drawstring drawing attention to the derriere? The colors were jarring too, especially on a ball gown with a red rose print taffeta skirt, a purple bodice and a black velvet bow.
Diane von Furstenberg also draws a socialite crowd, but this season her collection -- one of her best in recent memory -- wasn't about pampered Palm Beach princesses. It was about working women, from frontier types in Navajo blanket ponchos and lumberjack check shirtdresses to nine-to-fivers in hourglass-shaped suits in a blown-up houndstooth. Of course, for Von Furstenberg, "working" must be used loosely, since she travels by private plane and always has time for a party. So there was plenty to wear for a late-night twirl on a lighted floor, including a chic sleeveless tuxedo wrap gown and a flirty lip-print skirt. Christian Louboutin's mink-trimmed suede booties were pretty rockin' too.