You can feel the power

Times Staff Writer

IT’S not often, OK never, that I leave a fashion show feeling empowered. But with Nancy Pelosi leading the House of Representatives and Hillary Rodham Clinton leading the charge to the White House, Marc Jacobs seized the moment of girl power on Monday night, sending out a collection of grown-up, tailored classics that left everything else we’ve seen this week in the dust.

All those silly riffs on volume -- the baby doll, the trapeze -- were at last put to rest, and a more modern, stronger silhouette emerged. From the very first look -- a slim red cavalry coat worn over a ribbed cashmere sweater and narrow trousers with stirrups to keep them neat and tidy -- it was clear fashion was in for a change.

The show opened with a tableau vivant of models dressed for success, and standing against a classical facade, as if posing for a Wellesley class portrait. There were high-waist pants, geometric silk blouses and leather flap bags, reminiscent of 1970s career girls like Mary Tyler Moore, or young law students like Clinton, while 1920s cloche hats, pleated shirt dresses and boots with spats hinted at the long path women have walked fighting for equality. Fuzzy alpaca tunics and menswear vests topped narrow trousers, while a matte jersey jumpsuit added some levity. Jacobs even threw in a model with blue hair as a nod to female self-expression.


There was a lot to get excited about here, most notably the return of the suit, not necessarily matchy matchy, but a tailored jacket and pants. Jacobs kept things from looking too inside-the-Beltway by combining vibrant colors with a little sparkle on a dazzling red and gray sequin pencil skirt, and a trompe l’oeil sequin dress.

Jacobs’ Hollywood fans (Joss Stone, Michelle Rodriguez, Kimberly Stewart and Lil’ Kim were at the show) may not take so well to this brainier look. But no matter. His talent is in capturing the intersection of fashion and culture, giving us what we want before we know we want it.

Many of last fall’s grungy plaid sarong skirts, pointelle leggings and leopard velvet wrap dresses ended up on 70% clearance at the Melrose Place boutique, but that vision helped usher in the trend of layering, and now apparel manufacturers are making a mint on it. So if we’re not dressing with more polish come fall, maybe we will be the season after that. And Jacobs will have been the catalyst.

The basics

FASHION WEEK got into full swing on Monday with strong, gimmick-free collections. Phillip Lim is fast earning a reputation with his 3.1 label for keeping it real -- real clothes for real women in a real world price range. This season, he continued to build on that, turning out one piece after another that could fit seamlessly into anyone’s wardrobe -- a classic purple shadow plaid skirt, a white bow-front T-shirt (not a blouse, a T-shirt!), a swingy black leather jacket, a gray sweater coat with gold buttons.

But he can also be counted on for something unexpected, like the genius of spicing up a navy knit tunic by rolling up the sleeves and fastening them with Art Deco clips, or adding crystal suspenders to cropped black pants, or cream tulip cup pleats to the hem of a navy shift. Like Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, Lim knows it’s those small, special touches, like an organza crystal headband or satin belt, that keep us swooning.

Fashion as function is at the heart of everything Diane von Furstenberg does, and this season was no exception. There was a Spanish feel to a pink ruffled taffeta wrap dress and Miro-inspired sack dress, but had she pushed the theme further she might have ended up with a more interesting result. As it was, the collection felt a bit thin. She did touch on some emerging trends -- chunky knitwear and the return of embellishment -- with a gray knit sweater coat and a black taffeta cocktail dress encrusted in crystals.

Oscar de la Renta, who is about to open a boutique on Melrose Place, is constantly thinking of new ways of achieving full hilt luxury. This season, he added polish to coats and jackets by laminating wool houndstooth and boucle, and found new ways to reinvent fall knits by trimming a gray cardigan in square-cut crystals, and a black taffeta gown with a gray cable knit collar and cuffs. The effect bridged the divide between casual and dressed up, which should appeal to a younger customer.

For the Old Guard, there were lots of shift dresses, one in Washington red with cap sleeves, and another in a fabulous gold and black ikat print velvet. And that hand-woven mink tweed coat looked particularly inviting on a frigid day. For evening, he kept things simple and close to the body, embellishing a pink cocktail sheath with sequin leopard spots, and adding the surprise of a lolling collar to another sheath in black silk faille. But the best look of all may have been those black silk tuxedo pants, topped with an ivory pleated blouse with flower cutouts at the collar.

An elegant shift

IN one of her best collections in recent memory, Carolina Herrera added interest to classic slim felt skirts and shifts with keyholes and other elaborate cutouts, which made for an elegant but unfussy look. She played with texture on a spidery black and ivory fil coupe blouse, paired with chic looking, wide black wool pants, and mixed colors such as captain blue, grape, poppy and bark, inspired, she said, by Edvard Munch’s portraits.

There was a 1960s refinement to jeweled shift dresses and matching coats, and the jeweled tights Wolford made for the show were nothing short of awesome. Pants with loud blue and brown jacquard circles all over were not for the faint of heart, or the thick of thigh, but they were fun. On the safer side was a gold tinged black lace cocktail dress. A grape colored moire jacket pleated at the collar and cuffs like a party lantern looked fabulous with a raindrop print ball skirt, but some of the other evening looks were too tricked out, with hand-painted georgette prints layered under beaded tulle.

In the world of fantasy eveningwear, and about as far removed from Jacobs’ girl power collection as you can get, Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig are on top with Marchesa, the go-to eveningwear label for the red carpet set. Staging their frothy gowns in a walk-through presentation gave everyone time to inspect them close up. And there were quite a few stunners, from the cheeky serpent print draped chiffon gown with a ribbon winding round the waist, to the crystal fringe flapper dress, each piece more beautiful than the next. The ombre strapless silk gown with feather bodice was quite a showpiece, even if the model had difficulty getting it to stay put (imagine trying to walk in the thing). But a black wool crepe cocktail dress with a nude satin bodice and sheer black overlay proved the designers are also schooled in subtlety. The collection was all the more impressive, considering last season several of their dresses came out on the runway half-sewn.

Stylist Rachel Zoe was browsing the wares, so don’t be surprised come Oscar night if an A-list actress has one of the Marchesa creations working for her.