CALVIN KLEIN’S AMERICAN TOUR DE FORCE
by Bernadine Morris
CHEERS, bravos and thunderous applause greeted Calvin Klein as he walked down the runway in a gray double-breasted suit after the best fall collection shown on either side of the Atlantic. It was brilliantly thought out and thoroughly modern, and it sported no extraneous detail. Woven into a fresh composition were all the separate threads that contributed to the widely heralded change fashion is undergoing for the new season; the result was enchanting. The show was the kind of tour de force that makes people look at fashion in a new way.
The clothes were certainly short; except for the floor-length dresses, no hemline was much longer than fingertip or mid-thigh level. And talk about showing the body: these clothes fairly clung to the models’ figures, aided and abetted by stretch yarns built into the fabric. Still, nothing looked vulgar. The short skirts were worn with opaque stockings or over-the-knee boots. Pants in stretch wool-jersey had the effect of tights.
Bright splashes of color, yellow or coral, appeared in the coats – short, swingy styles floating over dark legs.
Because the legs were so securely covered, even the miniskirts caused no problem. Nobody worried, ”Could I wear that length?” when, say, a black turtleneck shirt appeared over a small stretch skirt. The torso and the legs formed a single unit and nobody cared where the skirt ended.
Evening clothes were as dramatic as the day styles and included body-skimming short and long dresses, as well as contemporary versions of floor-length gowns in rustling silks with portrait necklines. In the modern manner, these dresses were made in two parts. The skirt, with its high-rising waistband, was lined in another color, and the shoulder-baring blouse was in a third shade.
”Everyone thinks of Calvin as a tailor or sportswear designer,” said Dawn Mello, president of Bergdorf Goodman. ”He proved today that he’s just as good with evening clothes.”
Retailers and the few private customers present were equally enthusiastic. ”Calvin’s fall clothes make all others look either obsolete or meant for a masquerade,” said Ellin Saltzman, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue.
”They are so American,” said Susan Gutfreund, who usually wears clothes from the Paris couture. ”I’m thrilled.” Members of the European fashion press were enthusiastic as well, and some expressed surprise that an American could present such a blockbuster. For the longer-established fashion centers in Europe, New York is still in the provinces.
The collection of just under 100 styles did not stray all over the lot. It focused on a few important themes, most of which will pass into the language of fashion before winter ends.
Trench coats have a fresh look when they are made in silk so light it seems airborne; they are belted over slender stretch pants. The dinner suit has a new life when it is made in silk crepe, and is worn without a blouse. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the collection is the transformation of re-embroidered lace, a material popular with the mothers of brides. In short clingy dresses or miniskirts with organza blouses it becomes a fashion for the young and trendy. Applause for the lace dress cut like a slip nearly brought down the house.
Some long lace dresses clung to the body as far down as the knees, where they broke into a silk flounce that reached to the floor. These were in the femme fatale tradition and, except for a few blouses, represented the only use of ruffles.
Shearling coats, in honey color or black, wrapped up stretch turtleneck tops and miniskirts for day. Mr. Klein even tried some shearling miniskirts, over the obligatory black tights and boots. A bit too bulky to work perfectly, they represented about the only idea that didn’t come off.
The collection as a whole is a beautiful entity, expressing one man’s view on how a woman can dress attractively and seductively. It is proof that, although fashion changes, some ancient adages still apply: clothes are best when they are not masked in froufrou; and there is no substitute for good cut. It is far from sportswear, but it retains the clean line and simplicity that mark the best casual clothes. It bolsters America’s place in the world fashion scene.
The New York Times
April 8, 1987