Spring Forward

SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY

One of the oddest things about looking at next year's spring clothes this early is the feeling that you'd like to be wearing them right now. It's still summer in the city, and the light, frothy things on the runway are ever so much more appealing than the heavy wools in the department stores. But, of course, that has nothing to do with the goings-on this week, which were precipitated by a climate of another sort--the one meant to get the prime retailers shopping the New York collections before they run through their budgets at the European shows coming up later this month. After two days of shows, it's too early to pass judgment on the plan (retailers and press alike seem busy enough just figuring out who's showing where). So at this point, we'll just offer highlights from the first of the shows.

ADRIENNE VITTADINI

Yo, Adrienne: It was the chic Adrienne Vittadini herself, clad in an elegant black silk Shantung pants outfit, who spent much of the time at her press showing on Monday meeting and greeting the fashion troops and sharing her vision for spring '99. The presentation featured informal modeling and hanging displays of the designer's serene and often beautiful bridge line at her garment center showroom. Champagne, wine and exquisite hors d'oeuvres were served by tony New York caterer Robbins Wolfe, making the event seem more like a lovely, relaxing salon than the high-wire act that fashion shows usually are. Of the much-talked-about early season, Vittadini said, "For me, it wasn't much of a change. It's important. You need the reaction of the retailers earlier." But even this well-established designer admits, "It's crazy. We have to work so fast."

Eenie, Meenie, Vittadini: What to choose from the line? Of course wonderful knits from the queen of knits herself--slouchy, bold-striped cotton sweaters, ladylike duo sets and feminine body-skimming openwork dresses. Sophisticated gray silk Shantung-cropped trousers are topped by a feather-light embroidered sheer tunic. Dramatic, silk column dresses are printed with flowers and abstract animal prints. As for comfort, precisely cut linen drawstring pants paired with a loose sailor top are as liberating as they are lovely.

Less desirable, though available at lower price points, is the somewhat cutesy Vittadini line, featuring baby-blue printed denim, pink overalls, some decent drawstring pants and some downright adorable little sweaters in pink and white.

Red-dy or Not: A muted collection overall, spring does get a jolt of color at Adrienne Vittadini, and when she uses red, she means it. A fitted, silk red blouse over a camisole screams like a siren. Vibrant red stripes adorn a number of sweaters and best of all (Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore) a strappy red patent leather sandal that will give you happy feet.

DKNY

A New York Story: On a swampy, 80-degree Tuesday afternoon, the fashion pack headed to a loft-like space, where huge windows proffered views of a gritty urban landscape, the very one that Donna Karan has used as inspiration for this line for so many years. The contrast between the somber city and these vibrant clothes was pure drama. The petal pink runway was a tip-off of the fun to follow. In fact, the show was a color riot--there were 72 different ones in all--including sky blue, lilac, fuchsia and lemon yellow. Floaty crinkled dresses in tulle, organza and silk swirled around the body but didn't confine. Unfussy jackets and cropped pants worked an easy silhouette. And just when you thought denim was supposed to be dark, here it showed up distressed once again, looking funky and new in low-slung skirts and cropped pants.

Undercover Operation: A new line of DKNY intimate apparel was introduced at the end of this show as models paraded by in colorful see-through sheaths that revealed their underwear--boy legs, high-cuts, briefs and bikinis and matching bras, camisoles and T-shirts. Color, once again, was key, and the garments made strong statements in blueberry, purple passion and turquoise.

Taking Attendance: On hand for his first fashion show, dressed head to toe in Donna Karan, was television personality Jon Stewart, who (shhhhh) is hard at work on a secret fashion feature for Esquire magazine. After going backstage to talk to the models, he told us, "I feel like Joey Buttafuoco. Everybody's 15." At one point during the show he queried aloud, "I guess they don't spring for bras." And at the end he asked, "Was it good?" We told him it was.

Nicole Miller

Sleek Chic: Forget those frivolous prints Miller is so fond of--you know, the ones that adorn everything from scarves and cosmetics clutches to men's underwear. The spring collection Miller showed Monday afternoon in her Seventh Avenue showroom was a far more sophisticated, even slinkier kind of collection. Simple dresses in the finest wool or sleek matte jersey were quietly elegant, as were a couple of suits in gray mohair, and a chino shirtdress made in a stretch fabric of nylon and polyurethane was one of those wardrobe workhorses we could all use a closet full of. All the attention was in the finest of details, from taffeta straps or pockets on several of the dresses to delicate French seams or tiny pin tucks on bias-cut skirts.

Sweet Nothings: Miller indulged her feminine side with some pretty little dresses in rose prints and several too-cute numbers in embroidered voile. More successful were the sweaters (sleeveless shells, as well as cardigans) embroidered with a few stalks of flowers and worn over graceful skirts that just cleared the knee.

Banning Black: In her program notes, Miller noted that she'd done her best to avoid black. (When did black get to be the bad guy? Some of us still cling to its protective embrace.) Her best, in fact, meant that the only black at all was in the velvet swirls adorning a group of jersey slip dresses. On the other hand, the matte jersey dresses in the darkest navy will certainly offer comfort to those who feel, well, overexposed in anything that screams color!

Jill Stuart

Hip Heidi: A dirndl skirt, a pinafore, a peasant blouse, a smocked dress. These may not sound like the looks of the future, but Stuart worked the milkmaid silhouettes in extremely interesting fabrics--a subtly sparkly linen, felt, burlap and cashmere blends--which gave them an unexpected line.

Also a surprise were the bare backs of many a top and dress, adding a dash of sexiness to the girlish looks. And the one print in the line--a floral that appeared on a silk dress and a delicate short-sleeved blouse--was knockout.

Jill-Ted: It wasn't the designer's fault that models for this 6 p.m. show arrived at 6:45 p.m. Nor was it her fault that the show began almost two hours after it was supposed to. But many people couldn't stand the heat, the wait and crowded conditions. They simply split the scene. Said one Stuart employee to another, "I was begging people to stay." Yikes.

More Spring '99, E4

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