Saturday, September 13, 2008

Show Notes from Bernadine Morris

Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci Spring 2009 Collection (All photos by Frazer Harrison)

The final event at the New York spring fashion shows was the thunderous applause and standing ovation for Chado Ralph Rucci, the final event on the calendar. It was a fitting response to the elegance and artistry of a collection that embodied the finest expression of dressmaking that has been seen in the New York tents--or perhaps anywhere. It gave prestige and honor to the week of shows.

For the last two seasons Mr. Rucci, an American born in Philadelphia, showed his clothes in Paris. Now, he declared, his New York workrooms could handle the intricacies of his style. He also skipped the couture segment of his show. Everything could be made ready-to-wear. He joins the pillars of American fashion, Norman Norell and James Galanos, in producing clothes that could be bought off the racks and not be made to order. It is a magificent achievement.

A recurring theme in this collection is the combination of thick and thin fabrics in ways to provide decorative effects. Varing patterns in the body of the clothes, a thin band of sheer fabric at the hem--these are some of his ideas. Jackets have sheer inserts to lighten the look for spring.

The basic shape is a small, snug bodice joined to a full sweeping skirt. It is a shape that is easy to wear for many women. There are also full kimono-like styles and narrow pants. But the bouffant dresses look like the winners.

Other techniques are the use of pleats, tiers and the occasional splash of glitter as in a black dress with a gold Mondrian design or a gold-beaded bolero. Seaming that makes its own pattern of mind-bogling intensity.

Most clothes are in white, beige or taupe, but there is a selection of wear-forever black dresses and a striking cerise or coral dress. Welcome back, Rucci.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren 2009 Spring Collection (Photos:

Another excellent collection was presented by Ralph Lauren, who also received a standing ovation on the last day of the shows. The Lauren clothes were modest, good-looking and, as usual, wearable. Indians, a recurring theme throuhout the years, turn up again, but not the American kind.

These Indians are from the East, and their clothes involve gold turbans, full dhoti skirts or pants, with some safari suits thrown in, all crisply tailored and mostly white. The collection is filled with tasteful, wearable clothes that have their own impact on fresh American clothes.

Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein Spring 2009 Collection

Calvin Klein was lucky in his choice of a successor. Francisco Costa clicked almost immediately. The Halston and Bill Blass collections were not so fortunate. Several designers have failed to keep those collections going. Mr. Costa managed to keep the Calvin Klein spirit alive with clothes that were gentle, wearable and contemporary. Now he's trying something new. The key word, probably, is square. Seams are squared off, not clinging to the body. Sleeves are also squared, away from the arms. The shape is boxy.

Is this the look of the future? Are slithery, body-hugging clothes a part of fashion's past? Mr. Costa obviously thinks so. Instead of familiar bone buttons, he has foumd things like lucite. This adds to the architecture image. Certainly the path Mr. Costa has taken is a momentous one. It goes beyond raising or lowering hemlines or waistlines. Perhaps the closest to compare it with is Chanel's freeing women from corsets back in the early 20th century. In retrospect that doesn't feel as dramatic as dressing women in boxes.

To many in the audience, the look was decidedly strange. Will it turn out to be accepted? It is hard to say.

Donna Karan

Donna Karan Spring 2009 Collection (Photo:

Donna Karan has long been one of this country's favorite designers. This season she too has a leit motif. She has done it before, but this time her favorite motif is draping. It is the opposite of the Costa squared off box.

It is all soft and flowing and she has learned how to do it to reveal legs and chests and give the clothes a seductive look. Some dresses are long, some short. Some are touched with glltter. Most everthing is draped to one side, which adds to the intrigue. Colors are the usual pale shades with an occasional shot of lime or sea green.

The Donna Karan collection is for the more sophisticated woman while the DKNY is for the younger and swingier. There is not much overlap. The more sopisticated styles are often of jersey or other fluid fabrics and flow over the body. They call for earrings, jewelry and even satchels to complement the look. Embroidery adds o the glamour. Jackets and coats are added to the draped dresses to create a complete ensemble. There are even pants to provide some diversity.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Notes from Bernadine Morris...

Donna Karan/DKNY

Donna Karan New York - photo by Randy Brooke

In her DKNY collection, Donna Karan"s clothes were all young and swingy. For her regular collection shown a few days later, her clothes were mainly calf length or longer. They often had wide open necklines and the models all wore snugly fitted caps, usually black They fitted like turbans. Long and lean and quite sophisticated was the effect.

Predictably, black was dominant but there were some combinations like black with purple or green or royal blue. Would this long, skiny line dominate or would women prefer the short swingy DKNY look? It will be interesting to see if women are ready for long, skinny and sophisticated. Marc Jacobs seems to think so. But it's a far cry from blue jean and flip-flops.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren - photo Randy Brooke

Never mind being known as a brand. Ralph Lauren has become an icon. His clothes are always distinguished whether they are Western in style or formal. But this time he has outdone himself. He has introduced a fresh shape, often in coats, that is lively, young and flattering. It gives his collection a certain verve and a cohesion.

Basically it is a neatly fitted silhouette that whooshes out into fullness a few inches below the waist. It looks easy to wear as well as comfortable. It"s not the collection"s only theme, for there are also hand knit sweater jackets, suede jackets and dresses in the same fitted and full shape. But the fitted and full coats are so attractive and beautifully done that they give the clothes a special look. It is sure to give the Lauren clothes a special look this season.

He hasn"t forgotten about long evening dresses. They are usually black (velvet, satin and organza) and are long, svelte and imposing. They add to the special quality of the collection.

Ralph Rucci

Ralph Rucci Couture - photo by Ernest Schmatolla

Perhaps the most exciting thing of the week of showings was the reception given Chado Ralph Rucci. A standing ovation, no less. It was worth it. For these are the best clothes shown anywhere in the world. The craftsmanship is meticulous. It can't be duplicated, even in the French couture. It is extraordinary that these clothes are produced in this country, with their basic simplicity, and elaborate working of fabrics. It is dressmaking of the highest art. We are fortunate to have these clothes in this country. It gives a special glow to New York's fashion week.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

A Conversation with James Galanos

Photo by Elisa Haber, special to The San Francisco Chronicle

(James Galanos has designed gowns for such clients as Rosalind Russell, Diana Ross, Nancy Reagan, Betsey Bloomingdale and Judy Garland. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including: the Coty Fashion Awards Hall Of Fame; The Council of Fashion Designers of America Lifetime Achievement Award; Society's Stanley Award; The Crystal Ball Award from The Fashion Group, Inc of Philadelphia; The Fashion Award from the Drexel Institute of Technology; the London Sunday Times International Award; The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Golden 44 Award; The Los Angeles City Of Achievement; a Diploma di Merito from the Universita delle arte Terme; Mayoral Proclamation, James Galanos Day. Galanos' garments can be found in costume collections around the world, and he is still making his presence known in the fashion world today)

We sat down to lunch on chicken soup and curry chicken.

In the glory days of the haute couture in Paris there were Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga at the pinnacle, and of course, many lesser lights. In the United States, Norman Norell and James Galanos were their stylish equivalents. Those Americans who didn't go to Paris for their made-to-order couture ballgowns or trousseaux were content to buy Norell or Galanos ready-to-wear. The fabrics and workmanship were considered equivalent.

Except for Mr. Galanos, the above mentioned leaders are all gone though, in some cases, the name is carried on by other designers. When he decided to retire, a decade ago, he closed his doors and his business, permanently. Fashion was not going in the direction he wanted or understood. He has not been unhappy about it.

Mr Galanos has, in fact, started another life, photography. He has had several exhibitions on the West Coast, where he lives. "I had fooled around with photographs when I was a teenager," he said. "Then recently I decided to take it seriously." he bought himself a Rolex camera and after a while began to be pleased with the results.

"I'm a very conservative person," he said to me on this visit to New York. He lives in Los Angeles and recently bought a house in Palm Springs. At lunch at the hotel Pierre he was wearing a dark suit, blue shirt and dark tie. No eccentric hairdo or jewelry. He still keeps track of fashion through Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but the bulk of his reading relates to art history and photography.

I asked him about the current controversy today whether models are too thin; Mr. Galanos says he always liked thin models. Pat, his fitting model, was very thin and there was a problem getting other models who could fit into her clothes. The problem today, he believes, is that designers use models who are too young and who have not reached their maximum development. He certainly doesn't believe models should starve themselves, and that gangly legs can look terrible in clothes."

"When I started making clothes in the 1940's, elegance and formality were the rule. Now it seems vulgarity is rampant. It's encouraged by some TV shows and interviews. I don't really like it. The clothes themselves look unfinished, "The only thing that seems new is accessories. Most of the clothes are sleeveless and strapless. People themselves look messy. I hate the hair, it doesn't look groomed. It looks unwashed. I guess the fashion is to look blown and windswept. But it seems to me the hairdressers are doing a bad job of styling."

"Everybody seems to be wearing pants all the time. And everyone wants to bare the midriff. I really don't understand the mentality. It's certainly being casual. But it has nothing to do with class. Some of the clothes look beautiful, but I don't think the designers, as a whole, have made their mark.

Regarding his latest trip to the city, "I've enjoyed the crowds and the new buildings in New York, he said, especially the Neue Galerie with its Klimts and Hans Hofmann works. I did not find the Nan Kempner exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that inspiring," he said.

Why did he decide to retire? "I had accomplished all I had set out to do. I wanted to be a designer and I won some acclaim. But the job was getting more difficult. Not the designing part, but the selling part. I had to go on the road to show my collection at the stores. I really didn't have a private life any more. I would finish one presentation and I had to go on to the next."

The first two years (of retirement) were difficult, he recalled because he had worked all his life (he will be 82 in September) But as his photography improved, he found another outlet for his creative energy.

"Untitled" - by James Galanos

Galanos still thinks of himself as an amateur in the photography field though he admits some things have turned out satisfactorily. For his exhibition at the Sorokko Art Gallery in San Francisco, he used textured paper and had all the photos framed. The idea was that the photos should be considered paintings. In his photography work, he has been encouraged by Ralph Rucci, a fellow designer who became his friend a few years ago. "He introduced me to the people at the Sorokko gallery and got my new career started," Galanos recalls.

Mr. Rucci's fashion designs also epitomize the elegant, formality that Galanos admires. Though he does not believe that the current casual trend can be reversed in short order, the case for beautiful clothes may not be entirely over.

"It's unlikely that the case for couture clothes can soon be revived," he says. "For one thing, there aren't too many stylish women around, who understand the complexities and intricacies of construction. These women certainly inspired designers. There was never perhaps more than a handful, but they were essential to the creation of lovely clothes that had more than a minute's shelf life." For himself, Galanos is not awaiting the return of those times. He has a new career!

-Bernadine Morris

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