First came the ankle-length Zouaves, looking a bit like baggies gone berserk, worn under two layers of fitted, belted coats with full skirts, Russian peasant hats with tassels and ankle-high boots.
Then came the shorter Zouaves, like knee-length bloomers, sometimes worn with fitted jackets, knee-high over tights and ankle boots.
There were tight-fitting knee-pants and full-sweeping double-circle skirts, pleated mini-culottes with handknitted sweaters, the widest trousers and biggest sweaters in a Donegal tweed that paired easily with oversized blazers and cutoff pants.
This was not Brooks Costumers gone bonkers, but New York designer Perry Ellis at his best. He had only to look around at yesterday's audience -- many wearing the long full culottes and cutoff pants he had pushed in earlier seasons, and the kids assisting him in striped minis and knee socks -- to feel confident that he already had a following for some new fashion adventures next fall.
The Ellis show opened the final round of fashion shows that previously attracted U.S. buyers to Milan, Florence London and Paris. In fact, New York is where most stores spend most of their money.
Ellis has a lot in common with the European designers -- he likes a full house. A half hour before the showing on Seventh Avenue, a line stretched down a flight of stairs, and once inside the designer's two-floor marble showroom the audience was stuffed hip-to-hip on bleachers.
Ellis' clothes also are in sync with those of many of the Europeans, who have tilted to fuller, looser, layered looks for fall, along with many more pants shapes.
But where Ellis separates from his counterparts is that while he cares a lot about the avant-garde customer who will brave the world in full-blown pants next season, he knows there are plenty who are not ready to go that route.
For them he's got silhouettes skinnier than ever, right down to handknit skivvies, which actually are matching knit sweater and tights, often bi-colored. Ellis calls these his Columbia suits, an obvious salute to the recent space travelers. And they are likely to show up here on Earth worn with skirts.
For the Washington work set, there are wonderful crunchy hand-knit sweaters with long, full culottes (already selling well) and suits with full skirts or cuffed knee-pants.
Ellis is on a fabric binge that has taken him to Ireland for Donegal tweeds, England for his heathery plaids and France and Italy for his paisleys and duck-print challis and skills -- a winning combination.