In a season when body-conscious clothing and luxurious fabrics are the major thread of the fall collections, designers Geoffrey Beene and Donna Karan, who presented their ideas on Friday, provided a fitting finale.
"That was one of the best collections I've seen on either side of the ocean," said Dawn Mello, president of Bergdorf Goodman, after the Beene show at the Hotel Pierre.
"I've always been a Geoffrey Beene fan, but this collection went far beyond that," said Vogue Editor Grace Mirabella.
While both Beene and Karan have come to the conclusion that women want to dress in comfortable, fitted clothes in the best possible fabrics, they start at very different places. Beene has been a designer of masterful couture clothing for more than 25 years. Karan has had her own business for only a year, but for 13 years before that she was codesigner of Anne Klein with Louis Dell'Olio.
Karan's collection is anchored in the bodysuit, now in new shapes and new fabrics, such as suede and bugle beading, all with a snap crotch. Over them she shows wonderful easy-fitting jackets with elastic waistlines, swing coats or tightly belted ones, often in a supersoft, lightweight and warm (and extremely expensive) fabric called baby llama. A new pantskirt wraps around the body, and a new "serape" skirt has such a long wrap that it extends over the shoulder into a shawl.
Also included in the collection are some dresses in wool jersey and cashmere, and a satin-collared, fitted cardigan suit with tube skirt to the floor -- which prove that Karan doesn't need to rely on the bodysuit to show off her strengths.
Beene's strength for fall lies in his superbly cut jackets -- a vast number of them -- which prove that not everything in fashion has been done before. He varies the fencer jacket with deep points in the front, the bolero has a new shape with his curved hem treatment, and one white jacket is made from a Hudson Bay blanket, with sleeves in mohair made to look like Mongolian lamb. His dolman sleeve coats are among the best around.
Both Beene and Karan believe in practical clothing. At the start of the Karan show a model, dressed in a bodysuit and tights, pulled on boots and then wrapped a pantskirt around her body, added oxidized gold jewelry, a knit poncho and shoulder bag, and walked away to the enthusiastic applause of the audience.
Beene's versatile clothing was presented far more subtly. His carved jacket, shown with both short skirts and pants, reappeared later in the show over an evening dress. The long coats in emerald green or orange, worn by models in black turtlenecks and trousers to open the show, reappeared toward the end, again over evening dresses. A sensible and realistic way to wear clothes, particularly at these top prices.
Beene's clothes cost a fortune and they look it -- not only in the cut, but in the fabric. Some of his fabrics have taken years to develop, such as the leopard-print unbrushed mohair. Others he simply made in his own workrooms, such as the double-faced panne velvet -- two layers stitched together, with a result as rich as fur.
While Karan's customers will have the option of long or short hems, all the hemlines at Beene -- except for a few coats and floor-length evening dresses -- are at the top of the knee. "I can't be everything to everybody, so I guess I'll lose some people," he said. "We're a mobile society, and women shouldn't be hampered by bulk. Keeping hems short is a way of minimizing that bulk."
There is a crisp military feeling to a lot of Beene's designs, apparent in gold metal buttons and gold-embroidered stars and military "scrambled eggs" on jacket pockets and cuffs. Beene refused to be drawn into a suggestion that his clothes might have a political overtone. "I never get politically involved because there is nothing you can do about it," he said. "My grandfather taught me that when I was a little boy.