It took Calvin Klein longer than most designers to discover that women are ready to move into soft, pretty, feminine clothes.
Klein had, of course, put American sportswear on the map (and on customers around the world) with his easy, tailored separates, often in menswear fabrics. Little wonder he was reluctant until now to give them up.
Yesterday Klein switched gears. In a collection shown to buyers in his packed, mirror-ceilinged showroom off Seventh Avenue, he showed that it's possible for women to look comfortable and modern in clothes that are long and full and feminine. He has abandoned the idea of women looking charming in men's clothes. Now he has put women into clothes that are strictly for women. He's proved it's possible for women to look successful without looking masculine and to look feminine without endless ruffles. The buyers loved it.
Whether skirt or dress, Klein's silhouettes are always long and swinging, the waist always tightly belted in a wrapped cummerbund. It's a far cry from Klein's favorite slim skirts of past seasons.
His belts are the widest, boots the tallest, dresses the fullest, shawls the biggest of any around.
To keep his show at a fast pace because the full clothes took a little longer to adjust. Klein hired 70 models, more than twice the usual number, to present his 113-piece collection.
It was the first time Klein had bothered with lots of jewelry. It was not the diamond-and-pearl variety, but strong metal shapes by Robert Lee Norris. For many of the models, the hair was very full and almost wild and feline.
Klein also shifted his palette to brighter colors, including roses and coral and azure blue, a major switch from the murky tones he has liked for a couple of years.
But Klein, who got his start as a coat designer, hasn't totally abandoned his customers from over the years. There are a couple of trench coats in the collection, but his newer coats are shaped like wrapped blankets, while some are not shaped at all. They are actually big, wool blankets that he expects women to wrap themselves in when it's cold.
Klein's collection also contains a couple of gabardine pantsuits, and he's continued the draped Persian pants he introduced last season. But his newest pants are cropped and tucked into over-the-knee boots with elasticized tops that Guido Pasquali has made for him for $600 a pair.
And while the shapes are fuller, they do follow Klein's earlier classics, including easy-fitting pullover tops, which he calls slides. Some extend to be dresses, meant to be worn belted or not.
Klein ended his collection with a group of simply shaped separates or dresses in printed gold. These looked like fabrics dipped at Fort Knox -- and it could take a trip there to pay for them.