Designers Deliver Good News for Fall

Times Staff Writer

At the end of his show here Thursday, designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo knelt down on the fashion runway, leaned into the crowd and kissed the editor of Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, on the cheek. She smiled and blushed.

That suggested something about why designers stage fashion shows. They want to get out the news of their latest collections, and they hope the news will be good.

This season many will get their wish. Reactions have been positive to clothes that look fresh, but at the same time familiar. Active wear shapes--especially parkas, down-filled vests, ponchos and stretch pants--are all being recast in luxury fabrics for ready-to-wear dressing. They give fall fashion an air of excitement.


Navajo Blanket Print Coats

There are other themes to watch for too. Men’s bathrobes inspire the Burgundy velvet and gold silk Jacquard coats Donna Karan is showing for evening, and the Navajo blanket print version Ralph Lauren offers for day.

Color is replacing black. Not harsh, hyper-bright shades, but warm, flattering tones of blue, green and deeper red. A number of designers are using these shades for the narrow-cut suits they prefer as office wear. Calvin Klein, however, substitutes taupe or deep sand for black.

White shirts are still a staple, especially for Karan and Ronaldus Shamask. Often they are shown tucked into narrow-leg pants. Pants have stirrups at Lauren, Karan and Roehm. They are cropped at the ankle at Klein and Shamask, for the cutting-edge silhouette.

Short, Narrow Skirts Return

Skirts are making a return to style, after two seasons when they were overshadowed by pants. Short, narrow skirts look best now. (For day, Oscar de la Renta and Geoffrey Beene show them above the knee, Bill Blass and Calvin Klein show them to the knee.)

Ankle-length is second choice. (Shamask prefers it for day and night. Louis Dell ‘Olio for Anne Klein shows it as often as knee-length. Isaac Mizrahi offers some skirts to the ankle, but more are cut above the knee.) Only mid-calf lengths look out-of-sync for fall. (Karan shows many at that length, so does Roehm.)

The other interesting development in fashion now has to do with casual dress. Younger-spirited designers in particular are giving over as much as a third of their collection to clothes for traveling, touring, lounging, and working as a self-employed business person unrestricted by a corporate dress code.


Roehm shows stretch pants, tunics, ponchos and parkas as the essence of her casual collection. Karan teams oversize cashmere sweaters with stretch pants, and often adds a Sherpa jacket or coat for her high quality, super-casual look.

Klein shows tight, suede jeans and cable knit cashmere sweaters tied one over the other for expensive-looking casual wear. Marc Jacobs of Perry Ellis offers witty, flag-motif stoles, and suede pants tucked into thigh-high boots. Standouts in Mizrahi’s casual collection are his strapless, tartan plaid kilt dresses, and his black, broadtail knapsack jacket to wear with a silk taffeta shirtwaist dress. He filled the deep patch pockets of the jacket with wild flowers for his show.

But evening parkas are by far the most surprising fall addition, and Isaac Mizrahi shows them to their best advantage. The 27-year-old designer started the trend with his first collection, about a year ago.

Silk Parka

His newest designs include a satiny, sable-colored style he tosses over short, strapless, body-skimming dresses in the same color. And his formal wear includes a floor-length silk parka, worn with a white silk shirt and dazzling black, sequinned pants.

Calvin Klein shows a quilted velvet parka with narrow velvet pants for night. Michael Kors styles parkas, as well as gray flannel sweat-shirt dresses with drawstring hoods, for day.

Karan upgrades the down-filled vest for fall. Hers is Bordeaux velvet, worn with navy, crepe, stretch pants and an ivory silk blouse.

It works, where some others do not. Jacobs of Perry Ellis mixes bright, satin down vests with strictly daytime shirts and pants. The playful yet dressy outer wear loses something in the translation.

Having mastered her unique approach to day wear, Karan’s evening wear is her more inventive group for fall. She shows slinky, elasticized-crepe dresses that mold to the body in a sensual way. Her bathrobe coats and smoking suits look rich and modern.

Norma Kamali is also showing bathrobe coats, in embroidered velvet, flamboyantly oversized and reminiscent of the late Victorian era. But they don’t quite work; they look too much like costumes.

Kamali’s strength lies in her belted, black jumpsuits with white collar and cuffs. They fit like unitards and look right for youthful, swift, supple bodies.

Di Sant’Angelo, known for his small evening collections, drapes and knots fabric around the body in characteristic form for fall. His smartest daytime coat dress is made of a fabric he calls bonded foam that has the look and feel of surfers’ Neoprene wetsuits.

Super-slim model Cheryl Tiegs sat in the front row at the Di Sant’Angelo show, and her sort of long, lean figure is best suited to his body-contoured collection.

‘Blanket Dressing’

Early in the week, audiences started talking about the “blanket dressing” seen on many designer runways this season. The term refers to the variety of big wraps worn layered over each other, or knotted over suit jackets, for day as well as night.

Louis Dell ‘Olio for Anne Klein put his huge shawls over tunic sweaters and sarong-like skirts in red or black wool, for day. Bill Blass shows enormous evening wraps in chiffon, over long, fluid dresses. Some have a single sleeve, which apparently makes them difficult to wear. Even his runway models struggled to keep them from twisting and tangling.

The blanket idea makes sense for Los Angeles, where temperatures seldom require a heavier wrap, and driving makes it difficult to wear snug-fitting coats or jackets.

Other good ideas for Southern California are the light-weight, very full shell coats that almost every designer includes in his or her fall collection. Geoffrey Beene makes the most beautiful version. His is ankle-length, tangerine mohair lined with black-and-tangerine gingham check taffeta. He shows it over black pants and a burnt orange fencing-style jacket.

If Mizrahi is New York fashion’s new young Turk, Beene is the uncontested master. Other daytime looks in his fall collection are built on black jumpsuits. He adds bolero jackets or brief, almost off-the-shoulder jackets he calls shrugs. Some have hoods. His daytime suits have matching shawls wrapped several times around the shoulders for a nose-tickling look.

His taffeta evening skirts have hems of lingerie lace that show only in front, where the skirt rises slightly. And gold, lingerie lace floats to the floor, in an outfit with a matching hooded cape.

Among his imaginative accessories are a glen plaid taffeta stole for day, black-net and lace gloves, and a confetti-dotted net stole for night.

But the newest invention from this ingenious designer’s studio is his shrug. He made the first one in black lace, for Glenn Close’ Oscar outfit this year. Close was in the front row when Beene showed his remarkable fall collection.