"I want the models' hair to look just like the Mayflower Madam's," designer Bill Blass told hair stylist Christiaan before his show at the Hotel Pierre, referring to Sydney Biddle Barrows' "very refined look."
Not only the hair, but Blass' entire fall collection was very refined.
"It was Blass at his best," Sol Kent of Rich's in Atlanta told everyone, including the designer, after the Monday morning show.
"It was the real me," Blass said. "We've had too many seasons of glitter and glitz. It was overkill."
Like other designers, he dipped into the upholstery market when he couldn't find the richness he wanted from traditional suppliers of dress fabrics. "When clothes are short, they need fabrics that are substantial," he said, pointing to an ivory brocade smoking jacket, a paisley suit and other styles in fabrics from Scalamandre and Clarence House.
To underscore the ladylike look, he showed few pants in this collection, and cropped daytime clothes and dinner dresses at the top of the knee. Everything longer was to the floor, including the evening coats.
The opening and closing groups in red were the designer's salute to Nancy Reagan, he said. (The first lady wore a red Blass gown to the inauguration and will take several Blass designs with her to Europe this week.) Everything was shown with gloves.
Shoulders remain fairly wide but are more rounded than before, and the silhouette is distinctly lean, never better than in a wonderful group of short or long black wool crepe, jersey and velvet dresses. Another series of slim wool jersey dresses were in splendid color combinations, such as marine blue, brick and purple.
There was plenty of embroidery in the collection, all done in India and always subtle, as in the short embroidered paisley boleros or embroidered leaves edging a short panne velvet jacket over a slim black dress.
Less subtle were the Marlene Dietrich-inspired costumes, such as a black broadtail suit worn under a silver fox cape, followed by a wonderful group of sexy black dresses, some touched with huge rhinestone buttons.
If Bill Blass returned to simplicity this fall, Calvin Klein has almost never abandoned it. And the collection he presented in his showroom Tuesday was sparer than ever.
His look is as simple as a cropped plaid wool jacket over a black wool jersey turtleneck sweater tucked into black wool cuffed pants, the only accessories a belt at the waist with a matte gold buckle, flat shoes or pumps, often in crocodile, swept-back hair, and makeup that focuses on bright lips.
The collection is essentially interchangeable pieces of sportswear, to be worn day through evening. Options include very long full skirts, short blazers, Shaker sweaters -- some with beaver collars -- and stirrup pants, in fabrics such as velvet, tweed, jersey, Charmeuse and cashmere.
"What's important is making the waist look small," said Klein as a crowd waited to congratulate him after the show. "Broad-shouldered jackets help accomplish that, and so do full-circle skirts."
Klein showed a subdued palette for fall. He often paired navy with black, or a loden green, teal blue, brick or caramel jacket, sweater or coat with the basic black turtleneck and trousers.
Tucked into the collection were a number of pale separates, particularly blond sweaters, and long white crepe tailored dresses with wide belts at the waist. "Without being retrospective," Klein said, "it's the kind of thing I can imagine Garbo or Lombard wearing."
You hardly need a label to tell these clothes are Calvin Klein's, but Klein has embroidered his initials in gold on the pocket of a black cashmere jacket and robe, the K inside the C in an art deco pattern. "It's not meant to be a symbol that you will see thousands of, because it is handmade in Paris," he said. "It's like a piece of jewelry."
That same gold piping is used to edge a sleek black flannel evening suit, the epitome of keeping things simple next season.