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Next Week:
More NY Autumn 2003 photos -
  Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta and more!

This was undeniably a very strange time for the Fall/Winter 2003 New York Collections- following on the heels of the Columbia space disaster, and coinciding as they did, with the disturbing and unrelentless news of imminent war with Iraq, not to mention the heightened state of alert for terrorist attacks. And as if these factors were not distracting enough, the weather was also making news.

In addition to a nice little snowstorm that blanketed the tents in a white haze on the first formal day of shows, with another one following later on, it was also one of the coldest weeks of the year, with painfully frigid weather. Well, I will say this, it did make for quite a fashion show - and I mean 'off' the runways: this became the perfect opportunity to take those furs out of storage- if you hadn't already.

Leading the pack of course was Anna Wintour, the 'best- dressed' editor of Vogue who has an amazing wardrobe of furs, and has become a favorite target for PETA (they once threw a dead raccoon in her plate while lunching at The Four Seasons Restaurant). As a result, she now has a new fur 'accessory': her bodyguards- whom accompany her to and from her seats at the shows.

But she was not alone in her decision to wear her furs to the shows- there were furs of every variety on members of the press, buyers, socialites, and assorted fashion hanger-on-ers: from mink and lynx to fox, rabbit, Mongolian lamb, sable, and chinchilla. There were fur coats and jackets, fur sweaters, fur anoraks, fur stoles, as well as fur hats, earmuffs, and bags. Many in the audience (like Andre Leon Talley) seemed to wear them all at once! For the record, PETA not only behaved, they sponsored one of the fashion shows held at the tents (a show that focused on clothing made out of recycled rubber tires and other such 'treasures').

In addition to the weather, politics, and other outside factors, the week had its share of fashion melodramas, high dramas, and intrigues. One of the most talked about events was the firing of Bill Blass designer Lars Nilsson right after he showed his collection on Tuesday- this became quite the story. Though I was not surprised (I actually predicted this would happen about a year ago) I thought that all things considered, this was a fairly strong collection for Lars- especially the day portion, which was defined by some great looking jackets and coats, and some casually elegant combinations that Mr. Blass himself would have approved of. Among them were the white broadtail belted jacket worn with cashmere pleated skirt, the green sable coat 'thrown' over a copper lame shirt and black silk and wool denim 'jeans', and a fabulously constructed black double faced cashmere zippered 'armored' jacket shown with black silk corduroy 'jeans.' Click here to see more Bill Blass photos.

For evening, Lars made a strong case for plaids- fashioning the perennial favorite into a floor length charmeuse and chiffon embroidered evening kilt dress, and a Bordeaux embroidered silk twill evening kilt worn with a silk chiffon top. He also showed many structured and sexy black pieces, (which was admittedly a departure for the house) - and everything was shown with Manolo Blahnik's ultra feminine skyscraper heels. According to Yvonne Miller, head of publicity, only after the buyers have come in to review the collection, will know which pieces will actually be produced make it to the stores for the fall season. In the meantime, there is much speculation surrounding who the next designer will be (Michaele Vollbracht???) Stay tuned.

The other big news was Nicolas Guesquiere who came, saw, and conquered New York…for the second time. Nicolas opted to come back to Manhattan to show his highly anticipated and wildly influential collection for Balenciaga, (which this time was all about "playful references to toy clothes"). And he wisely used this as an opportunity to formally open his new 5,500 square foot shop located at 542 west 22nd street- in a space that had been a printing factory- which he views as the perfect "radical environment" to showcase his edgy and artful clothes.

His craftsman like collection continues to draw raves from the hard to please elite of fashion, with its emphasis on heavy, architectural clothes, and pieces that reference sports clothes (which he sees as the most "futuristic"). This time around, it was a show of legs, with very short, a- line trapeze shaped coats worn with 'second skin' off white over the knee boots (that had a slightly fetish look). Shrunken sweaters (many with epaulets), and cropped shearlings were shown over short draped skirts or skintight pants (again, with sportswear references_. Almost everything was curved, seamed, and padded, corsets and bras defined the body, and he gave new life to the hourglass shape, balloon and dolman sleeves. For evening, he went short and sweet in frothy pastel organzas that were curved, ruffled, and layered and stood away from the body in the manner of the 'baby doll'. He even toughened one of these with a heavy leather cropped bolero.

And talk about hype! The much hyped 22 year old Zac Posen also garnered much attention with a celebrity studded second formal show highlighting colorful, grown up, sophisticated designs, presented at the venerable and powerful Four Seasons Restaurant (a very ambitious choice, and how did he get them to shut down during their busiest dinner hour???!!) The collection, which was called "Leagues and Fathoms", was inspired by a trip to the Alaskan coast (there were evening gowns actually printed with an aerial map of the Alaskan coast). But it was also inspired by the house of Swarovski. Zac cited a collection years ago where Alexander McQueen collaborated with the famous house that makes crystals, and the result was the creation of a new fabric- a mix of Fuji silk embedded with Swarovski crystals.

In addition to some well- tailored pantsuits, soft and feminine blouses and skirts, he married tweed with fringe, and showed his love for the female form through his torso fitting, flared silhouette and bias cuts. Standouts included a fitted brown suede hooded top trimmed with raccoon on the hood and sleeves worn with a short flared with leather inserts and tall suede boots, a shimmery short green belted trench, a group of harlequin dresses, and several long dramatic gowns- including one that was short in front- long in back, and a purple satin stunner on Helena Christensen, who came out of 'retirement' this season and looks amazing. Click here to see more Zac Posen photos.

Narciso Rodriguez positively scored (and soared) with a collection that was almost too chic for words. His clothes, which are spare but not minimalist in that boring, negative sense, are completely of the moment, have not one trace of retro, and most importantly, don't look like anyone else's. The models, sporting hair slicked back into chignons and red lips, exuded cool elegance as they came down the runways clad almost entirely in a palette of white or black (or combinations thereof). The only exceptions were the use of a pale silvery gray and a pale lilac.

His white shearling knee length coat edged in black which opened the show, was paired with the white high heeled over the knee boot (outlined in a stroke of black at the top) that accessorized almost all the day looks. His breathtaking black wool coat lined in white, with stand up collar and fitted waist, curved gracefully over the hips, was one of the best coats of the season, and he continued on with the geometric and athletic touches from spring: cutting a white suit jacket like a scuba diver's with prominent zipper up the front, and black insets on the side which molded the figure.

For evening, he showed long, deceivingly simple, and beautifully cut gowns (many with arrestingly bare backs) - again, mainly in white chiffon, matter jersey, or silk marocain…though he chose to end with a delicious pale lilac number. Click here to see more Narciso Rodriguez photos.

Marc Jacobs showed an uplifting, optimistic, upbeat collection that was a rather literal homage to the mod 60's - and overtly referencing Courreges, Cardin, Gernreich. He used strong clashing color and lots of orange and turquoise (prompting many to cite Howard Johnson's), but he also showed combinations of graphic black and white. The structured spare shapes were rendered in gutsy fabrics (like wool felt) for maximum effect, he endorsed the jumper and the colorful flat pointy toed shoe, as well as the space age flat boot, and he 'wigged out' his models with long straight hair complete with bangs that were so typical of the era.

It was all very short, leggy, graphic, linear- and young. The question has arisen, given the very high cost of Marc's clothing: exactly who will his customer will be this time? It is geared towards a young customer, but she will need a rather 'grown up' bank account.

His lower priced secondary line, Marc by Marc Jacobs looked as if it were put together at the 26th street flea market, as his love affair with vintage continues. Here he relied on a kind of haphazard, eclectic layering, showing many variations on basics such as ribbed turtleneck sweaters, skinny cropped jeans, plaid bombers, leather bikers, cotton corduroy coats (this season he has a love affair with cheetah, leopard, and zebra prints), and frankly fake chubby furs. A cute idea was the group of trompe l'oeil sweetheart neck sweaters.

Another designer to hark back to the mod 60's was Charles Nolan for Anne Klein, who admitted to having been inspired by a group of illustrations done by Anne Klein in the late 60's. His silhouette for day and evening was short and leggy, focusing on wearable and well- tailored structured coats and short dresses (all shown with matching hued opaque tights and a sturdy high heeled shoe), fitted pantsuits that accented the waist, and good looking sweaters and outwear- all done in a classic color palette of wine, brown, black, navy, gray and white.

Celebrating her heritage and roots was New York icon Donna Karan who paid homage to the female form and the body beautiful. The newly slimmed down Donna was obviously inspired by her own incredible fitness (thanks to yoga, diet and exercise), and wants to do the same for her customers. Gone are the shapeless, Zen- inspired layers- this collection was fiercely chic and urbane, rendered almost entirely in black or white (or both), it was all about the hourglass shape, and it harked back to her famous first collection under her own name in 1985. It was also a tribute to the bodysuit, which formed the basis of that first collection, so it's not surprising that many of the clothes resembled the skintight, body-caressing bodysuit.

In addition, she collaborated with good friend Robert Lee Morris, whose architectural silver work encircled 'porthole' like cutouts on many of the dresses, creating a somewhat futuristic look. The waist was the focus throughout, in molded jackets, suits, belted coats, and she gave new life to gutsy tweeds by spraying several pieces with sequins. At night, she worked her jersey fabric into elongated drape-y goddess gowns, many featuring the silver encircled cutouts. Click here to see more Donna Karan photos.

Ralph Lauren never disappoints, though the venue for his show, which was filled with his now famous signatures- was certainly a departure. Instead of his elegant showroom, or last year's Cooper Hewitt Museum- this time he chose Annie Liebowitz's artsy studio in Chelsea, which was an interesting backdrop for his luxuriously sporty yet elegant clothes inspired by "the rocker on Saville Row with a hint of Dickens" or "a renegade John Singer Sargent heiress". He relied on his favorite accessories like ties and newsboys caps to give the clothing a rugged, street-wise, "Gangs of New York" ruff hewn look. Very fall-like earthy tweeds, gusty leathers, shearlings, and suedes all bore Ralph's unmistakable stamp, as did his riding breeches tucked into boots, and rich jewel toned velvets- all beautifully tailored.

For evening, he shifted to his beloved whites- the 'white- out' included a group of white satin gowns put together offhandedly (like he is fond of doing) with a sporty fur trimmed white quilted ski parka, or a tough chic leather jacket and ropes of pearls.

Calvin Klein must have surely been distracted this season- and can you blame him? This was his final collection as head of the company that bears his name, and in fact, the day he showed (Friday, the last day of the collections) was also the official close of his $430 million deal to sell his company to Philips- Van Heusen. There has been much speculation as to what his role will be from now on, whether he will be doing shows every six months, and how visible he will be. But one thing is for certain, for this, his final bow, he had a real opportunity to go out with a real bang: refining his vocabulary of wonderful coats, shearlings, leathers, suits, and separates in luxuriously sporty fabrics, and putting them together in the thoroughly modern way for which he is known.

I must say, though there were some wonderful items to wear and to own, I was very disappointed, and I felt that it fell flat: from the monotonous uniform/military inspired shapes, to the downbeat jewel tone colors, to the unexciting fabric mixes. In a season where rich and luxurious texture was so important on many collections, it simply didn't register here (and his clothing is certainly pricey, so it should look the money).

In a season where so much emphasis is on the well- dressed leg, his decision to show a nude bare leg with all his short clothes was 'off' as well, and the abstract silk print he used for short skirts and dresses did nothing for me and looked very 'un' Calvin. Click here to see more Calvin Klein photos.

Going against type was Michael Kors, who went a bit edgier, racier, and more rock and roll for the collection he called: "Manhattan Mix"- where "high society meets hip hop at Mr. Chow". In fact, I liked it because it seemed to be a bit of a departure for the designer who has in the past courted the Park Avenue- and Palm Beach Princesses, and paid homage to the sporty, wholesome California elegance of Ali MacGraw. Relying heavily on black, it was luxurious yet utilitarian, and he played around with all different proportions, (especially experimenting with big over small).

As Michael does so well, he mixed fabrics and textures (studded mink with cashmere slouch jeans, sable and crocodile, chain mail and satin) and sent out a lineup of his usually beautiful coats (like the fringed blanket coat, or the ebony distressed leather fur lined storm coat). There were lots of tough chic black leathers, a slew of motorcycle jackets, and he showed some of the best skinny pants and leggings around. For evening, his fringed chain pieces (including a silver chain fringed short skirt paired with a simple black cashmere t shirt, and an aluminum chain fringe dress worn under a black leather jacket) have already made it on to many of the chicest women's 'must have' lists.

Oscar de la Renta succeeded in making his brand of luxury look completely 'of the moment' (dare I say, 'street wise'?) by infusing it was a modern and youthful air. I would say the influence of his young daughter in law, Eliza Reed Bolen, (who works for him) is definitely being felt. He sent a strong message by starting the show, not with luxurious furs (which he certainly had plenty of), but with his sportier, cozier, hand- knits (well, okay, they were cashmere knits, but still). It was all about the way things were mixed and put together, and the styling really worked.

For example, he paired a sable trimmed crocodile vest with a brown suede cropped gaucho pants and a brown suede boot, showed a Persian lamb coat with an edgy black leather studded boot, and sent out a fitted and youthful embroidered and studded black leather motorcycle jacket (which had a matching hip belt) with narrow wool pants, and tight knit ski cap.

Of course, there enough of his usually stellar suits, colorful brocades, 'drop dead' embroidered evening coats and caftans to keep his customer happy and well dressed for all her bog fall events. But he also 'surprised' with his little pale pink satin jacket, which boasted a matching feather trimmed stole, which was paired with black velvet tuxedo pants, and he lightened up the night with his entire group of trompe l'oeil jeweled evening sweaters: simple cashmere shapes onto which masses of 'necklaces' were sewn on. These would look as wonderful with jeans as they would with a floor length evening skirt- now, that's modern!

Carolina Herrera may not have had the youth and modern attitude put forth by Oscar, but she exuded a certain 50's ladylike glamour with her collection that was "inspired by the heroines of Hitchcock and Wilder". It was all about the waist, as it was emphasized through satin blouses tucked into fitted knee length pencil skirts, with various widths of belts, or tied with satin ribbon. The color palette was flattering and luxurious relying predominantly on pearl gray, Prussian blue, camel and champagne. She crafted butterscotch leather into fitted jackets, used parchment Swakara for lean coats and jackets, and upped the luxury quotient with touches of Russian sable. For evening she was very taken with the 'cocktail dress', which she showed in black, champagne, platinum and burgundy, but of course, Carolina doesn't let her customer down- there were also those expected ball gowns crafted in georgette, organza, beaded tulle and satin. Click here to see more Carolina Herrera photos.

Speaking of the 50's, Behnaz Sarafpour was another designer who was inspired by the 50's (the late 50s) for a couture-like collection that recalls the youthful elegance of Audrey Hepburn. Models wore their hair in chignons and donned nude colored flat ballet type slippers as they showed off beautifully cut coats and suits (some with enormous fox collars), and many worn with cropped narrow pants. There was a form fitting tweed zip front jacket shown with a matching cropped pant, several open-work ivory crochet sweaters, a black sequined wool coat worn with black tulle 'petticoat', and a group of very pale gold brocades, including a gold sequined and molded top nude mesh dress and a gold brocade and horsehair coat.

Catherine Malandrino, the French born designer who now calls New York her home, loves expressive and interesting show venues, this time showing her "Slam Princess" collection conveniently at a theatre just a few blocks away from the Bryant Park Tents. The theatre interestingly, is currently home to Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam. Talk about 'mean and lean'…Catherine is a strong urban woman, and like many other designers this season, seems to delight in showing her hard- edged, sexy side. This was illustrated in her very urban, body hugging and sleekly crafted leathers, chic tailored coats, studded suedes, provocatively seamed narrow pants, and minis predominantly crafted in a dark color palette. She loves the blouson, the dolman, and the balloon sleeve, and showed everything with a very sexy high- heeled boot. These are not clothes for the faint of heart.

By the way, her name is also being mentioned as a possible replacement for Michael Kors, who apparently won't be enlisted to design for the house of Celine in Paris after this year. (Celine has gone on record with their desire to infuse more edge into the label. After seeing Malandrino's show, it seems obvious that she is up to the task).

You may not know the name Proenza Schouler now, but trust me, you will. The collaboration of two 24-year- old Parson grads- Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, who worked for Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors, the label is actually named after their moms (isn't that sweet???). This was their first formal presentation, and they have become instant 'darlings' for the fashion world, drawing raves from a group that is hard to please at best. What is their strength? Their 'luxe' takes on wardrobe classics and staples- giving tried and true basics 'omph' through interesting cuts and luxurious fabrics. And their clothes, mainly done in chic and timeless black and gray, don't look as if they are trying too hard, and most importantly, they work on a variety of ages, it's not just for the young- or the mature- customer.

The slim flattering silhouette relied on very skinny (often cropped pants), lean jackets (including several in beautifully sculpted black leather), short beaded dresses, and evening tops, and in a season where white 'rules', their white leather knee length coat and hip length jacket (both trimmed with oversized silver fox collars) really stood out. By the way, it didn't hurt that they chose to accessorize with Fred Leighton diamonds.

There were no surprises at Badgley Mischka- they turned out their special brand of evening glamour- but it was done in a way that did not look over the top, but rather perfect for the moment. Satin, georgette, chiffon, faille, crepe and sequins formed the basis for dresses long and short (as well as separates) which were rendered in flattering shades of rose, cognac, lilac, black and gold. Delicate art deco beading was used on many of the pieces, they made a statement with their plucked and sheared mink jackets and coats, and they presented their own spin on the sequined tweeds that are showing up on many runways this season- adding gold sequins to a coat, dress, and jacket.

Anna Sui claims that when she was in an airport, she found herself asking: "what is modern"? What she saw were young people wearing high tech, padded fabrics for warmth and comfort- which is what inspired her for this collection. But of course, since it's Anna Sui, she infused it all with her rich eclectic, boho/hippie signatures, and that means color, pattern, beads, feathers, sequins, and fringe. What made it all look interesting, was the wonderful contrast of the piled on sporty clothes being presented on the perfectly groomed, flawlessly made up models (the best in the business, including Naomi Campbell)

Friday, the final day of Fashion Week, may be the day the 'Big Three' (Donna, Calvin, and Ralph) show, but it is also traditionally the day that two of 7th avenue's master craftsmen (and couturiers), elect to show as well. Geoffrey Beene presented his beautifully crafted line of wool jerseys, double face wools and satins, alpacas and mohairs, on mannequins in his elegant 57th street atelier, and it was, as always, true to form. From the short dresses (gray jersey short with seamed waist, red jersey cut out in back) to the long graceful gowns, his signature precision cuts are always evident. His coats are always standouts, and in a season of cropped boleros, he is the master. I especially loved the very abbreviated black double face satin bolero that was shown with a black bodysuit and black velvet trousers, and his thoroughly whimsical mint green version which was decorated with colorful large round discs.

And Ralph Rucci, who just recently showed his spring/summer 2002 couture line in Paris, also presented a beautifully made, if not revolutionary collection. As usual, it's 'all about' a refined, easy luxury, with a decided sportswear feeling, translated into a rich, neutral color palette (black, ivory, off white, brown). His cuts are impeccable and he uses the best and most expensive fabrics on the planet. Backpacks used to accessorize gave it all a sort of throwaway, sporty, utilitarian chic.

What could possibly be more luxurious than a white 16- ply cashmere sweater 'thrown' together with brown ostrich 'jeans' and a double- faced cashmere and wool 'caban'? Or, a ranch sable pullover paired with charcoal flannel cashmere 'jeans' and an alligator backpack? Speaking about alligator, how about a classic 4- pocketed belted safari jacket crafted in alligator? If that doesn't thrill you, wouldn't you adore a rain suit made out of chocolate reptile matelasse, or a sleek pantsuit constructed out of black Russian broadtail? Ralph somehow makes it all look effortless and easy. For evening, there were some rather simple little black dresses (though they were beautifully made with interesting cut-out necklines) and the show ended with a group of museum worthy duchess satin gowns. The amethyst 'pagoda' version worn on Alek Wek was especially noteworthy…the color was a knockout, and the intricately constructed back resembled a cross between a very elegant backpack and an obi.