New York spring previews

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MARC JACOBS

With his reborn business still too modest for the fashion week tents in New York's Bryant Park, Marc Jacobs got a day's head start showing in a photo loft in Soho.

It was a select audience, with the top fashion players in attendance. A showroom setting with limited seating is a more accurate barometer of fashion clout. What they saw was a first glimpse of the retro fever that raged through many spring collections. Marc Jacobs hopped decades and drew inspiration from clothing as diverse as Dale Evans cowgirl frocks and Busby Berkeley tap pants.

The '70s leisure suit even made an appearance, made more acceptable in satin brights instead if polyester mint green.

By the way, white patent leather belts and shoes are in fashion. Aren't you ashamed you laughed at pop's?

NICOLE MILLER

Nicole Miller, the queen of conversational fun prints, did it with pattern as well as cut. First out were deep blue and white op prints made up into halters, skirts and rompers and paired with navy pin-dot separates, a fresh take on spring's traditional navy/white combination. Sweet.

Sweet and sexy were snake-print separates, if you can imagine reptilian charm in a short-sleeved, cropped jacket with a Peter Pan collar.

It was a collection strong on dresses with a light easy-to-wear touch. They were shapely yet not constricting and not embarrassingly bare.

Her retro trick was a reprise of little black cocktail suits and dresses brightened with glittery brooches which were permanent and embroidered in the big spray vintage style of the '40s and '50s. Too Joan Collins and not enough Lana Turner.

DONNA MILLER

The collection was all woman ' sexy, sophisticated and shaped to a fare-thee-well. When a designer includes a "dress bra" in a new line you can be sure there is no mincing around about curves.

The new foundations of the Donna Karan wardrobe are softer versions of old underwear hardware.

There were bra dresses holding the figure up, there were corset jackets holding the shape in, there were molded dance dresses holding on for dear life.

There were more relaxed pieces more suitable for Donna-type figures than Nadja-type figures. Mannequins can wear trash bags and look super, matrons need help.

The Karan colors were black, red and nude, nude being a relative appellation inasmuch as our birthday suits come in a variety of shades, but we won't quibble.

CALVIN KLEIN

The thing about Calvin Klein's shows is that one knows the clothes are marvelous, but the show drones.

He's a purist, and like all clear thinkers he can be a bit of a bore ' no rambling, no distractions, no jokes on the side.

He opened his spring collection with a procession of black, unrelieved except for strappy bone sandals and python mary janes. Clean shifts, clean suits, clean slips in wool crepe, gabardine and twill.

The surprise from Mr. Natural was a series of dresses and suits in industrial-looking nylon. He's on to something, just as he was about the knee length which is now a given across the designer board.

From black he moved to navy and then to white. Color was barely there in tints of misty rose, ice blue/gray, alabaster and quartz. The show lightened up with ivory and ecru satin slips.

RALPH LAUREN

Ralph Lauren delivers consistent design that is understandable, if not always affordable by the mass market. For spring Lauren came back to America's country clubs and polo grounds, familiar turf for the man who built a label on the clothes of America's privileged class.

His debs wore cashmere sweater sets, classic polo shirt looks in silks and sequins and cream and white tennis separates in knits and stretch satin. For parties on the veranda there were garden dresses in large florals in soft georgette. Peter Pan collars and pearls were a nod to nostalgia.

The junior-year-abroad look for his younger Ralph line featured Parisian bohemians in curvy shrunken T's, slashed skirts and can-can mesh stockings.

CAROLINA HERRERA

For the ladies who want trends without trauma there is Carolina Herrera. She sent out a collection that proves any extreme can be refined to meet with approval and envy in the toughest luncheon crowd. Her dresses suggest curves with contrast piping and shaped details. Striped suits were mitered on the diagonal to give the illusion of a tiny waist. Her corsets were modestly suggested by scalloped shaping and vertical piping. She even had her way with the ubiquitous polka dot, making it a square dot in black on white and ever more sophisticated.

The suggestion of retro was in sleek and narrow-shouldered day dresses in the Jackie O style, which made the point without those big, dark glasses that are being shown on other runways.

The Herrera evening dresses have glamour without gaudiness, despite strong color combinations such as crimson and marigold. Color and cut are sure, tinsel is a temporary thing.

ANNE KLEIN

In his second year as designer for the once-staid house of Anne Klein, Richard Tyler is learning how to shake up the old line without scaring the customers. It's a difficult task for a designer who also produces his own signature collection.

He played his strong suit here, which is tailoring, with enough variations to suit the figure types and attitudes of the label's career dressers. You want this season's fitted silhouette? He nips the jackets over coordinating bras and skinny skirts. A blouse would be an option.

Need more breathing room? He pairs a jacket with a fuller cut with a side-slashed skirt for more interest. Prefer a dress? His are classic, streamlined and black with a frequent kick of white.

Not for the corporate jungle were sheer stretch tops embroidered with the Anne Klein lion logo. The unconfined breasts of the models animated the lion's face with expressions unsuitable for the king of the jungle. Best to give the lion a rest.

ANNA SUI

Whatever it's all about, Anna Sui does it more. The designer darling of the downtown crowd, who last season put women in baby pinafores, this time put them in dominatrix gear complete with rhinestone whips and black lace masks and eye patches. Oh, mercy!

She also did shiny gangster stripe suits with feather boas and fedoras, Andrews Sisters suits with fruit-trimmed hats, and dance marathon polka dot dresses with rolled down stockings. Boogie woogie!

Then there were hula girl grass skirts, Hawaiian print halters and gold and silver slinks and pedal-pusher corsets. Leather jackets were paired with silk half-slip skirts. Hubba hubba. The surprise was a lineup of nurse wretcheds in rubberized transparent organza uniforms complete with winged caps and name tags. Ouch!

TODD OLDHAM

If shoving groupies and blaring bullhorns are the measure of a designer's success, Todd Oldham's show during fashion week should get top rating. Once the audience settled down to the call of "Divas to the dance floor, please!" it was a feverish romp through all-out glamour -- all-out as in the pantsuits with models wearing almost-a-bra rhinestone bosom underwires and pasties. Viva Las Vegas!

It was that kind of show, with clothes for women who would rather be dead than unnoticed.

Jacobs had fun with puns, labeling a series of sequin skirts and matching bras cocktail shakers with variations such as "eye-opener, happy hour, nightcap."

Drifting through the trash fash glitter and exposure, however, were some beautifully crafted clothes on seriously constructed models. Lucky is the woman who has a body and a budget and a place to wear them. The rhinestone tube tops and loincloths may be a bit of a stretch, but hey, you only go around once.

ISAAC MIZRAHI

When Isaac Mizrahi does his own thing, he hits star quality. This season, his movie glamour direction was sidetracked by too many old TV reruns. What's with the Lucy Ricardo babushka? What's with the Blondie house frock? What's with the Laura Petrie capri pants? Oy!

When he went all Hollywood he showed some marvelous suits a la Barbara Stanwyck and Esther Williams for work and water, but his leisure looks got out of control. Floral "Tiger Lily" prints may have been an homage to the Palm Beach style of Lilly Pulitzer, but the original did them better.

Pink and green, the summer colors of old money, are best left to little old resort shops.

Like many other designers, Mizrahi was thinking pink, some marvelous, some Pepto. Among the loveliest were full-blown evening dresses covered in petals. Kate Moss wore one, looking dewy and prom pretty. Mizrahi is at his best designing for Hollywood galas.

And the winner was a poured gold statue-ette gown modeled by Linda Evangelista. We want to thank Isaac Mizrahi for making that possible.

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