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.
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 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 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.