Fashion designers on Seventh Avenue have called on the entire Hapsburg Empire for inspiration for their fall collections. And because they are smarter about hemlines than history, they have mixed in a little Victorian and Colonial America at the same time.
Jackets and coats with passementerie embroidery on the front, frog clothings, fur trims, high ruffled and lace-trimmed necklines, loden and velvet are in the current scheme of clothes for fall. And when they are done well, the effect is decorative and cheerful. Other times, it is pure costumery.
The Hapsburg influence is hardly a surprise. Mainly it's because of the current show, "Fashions of the Hapsburg Era," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the eighth annual exhibit generated by Diana Vreeland, special consultant to the costume institute at the Met.
But it is also a way of faking some favorite classics -- like the Chanel jacket, or little fitted jackets, suits and coats -- and gussying them up a bit.
Oscar de la Renta, who with a delicate hand has done the most literal translations from the Hapsburg show, is quick to give full credit to the source. "I loved the men's court costumes in the show. And I've always like the idea of loden for city or country." De la Renta tips his hand to the costumery with a true alpine hat that is part of the traditional dress of Austrian men and women. Of the parade hat of a soldier or drum majorette, obviously meant just for the show.
De la Renta uses the Hapsburg theme effectively for daytime and evening, in both instances with embroidered jackets that could jazz up everything else a woman has in her closet.
Bill Haire, on the other hand, was swept away with Hapsburg lore strictly for evening. His jacket has embroidered sleeves, and was shown with suede pants or knickers and a white lace-ruffled collar blouse.
Authentic loden shows up in the Gloria Sachs collection, the made-in-Tyrol (Austria) variety. But while many others are opting for the olive bronze color, Sachs uses a blue-green that is far more flattering and easier to wear than the traditional color. And for the Passementerie embroidery, hers is not a seasonal innovation. One of her best-selling suits this spring was white with just that embroidery. For fall she has teamed her suits with a high collar blouse she aptly calls the Byron Blouse.
When Ralph Lauren was fitting models earlier this week she kept asking his assistant, Buffy Birretella, "It isn't too costumey, is it?"
Lauren isn't sure whether his clothes look Edwardian, Victorian or Hapsburg. It's a mix of the three, says Lauren. He says the biggest boost to his current collection was the success of his lace blouses this spring. Now he has moved this look forward to fitted velvet dresses and jackets worn with lace blouses, of course. ("I want you to be my best friend so I can wear these clothes all the time," teased model Connie Cook as she was fitted for the show.)
Diana Vreeland's shows at the Met have always had an influence on Seventh Avenue designers, who are permitted to study all of the garments. The repercussions of those shows spin off into collections all over the world, including Yves Saint Laurent's much-touted Russian collection several seasons back.
The current Hapsburg show, which continues through August, starts with a nobleman's coat of the 17th century, and includes many lavishly decorated uniforms worn by Austrians and Hungarians at the imperial court of Franz Joseph.
Some of the fall clothes have been translated almost literally, including the red wool pleated page's coat with velvet collar and cuffs. There are other, more fanciful spinoffs, such as De la Renta's copy of a coat with a fur skin over the shoulder that he has updated with jeweling and embroidery.
While the trim in the actual uniforms denoted social and military rank, in their reincarnations for fall, the embroidery may denote financial status; they run from expensive to more expensive.
Said costume curator Stella Blum at the opening of the Hapsburg show, "The elegance, beauty and dream world may be just what people need right now in this period of our life which is so difficult." The designers are counting on the same thing.