Fashion Week opens with Versace shindig Spring fashion: His Versus line features bright colors and mix-and-match stripes. Donna Karan introduces "liquid tubing."


NEW YORK -- Could it be that the spirit of global harmony left over from the United Nations anniversary celebration here has touched the fashion industry?

If American designers were miffed about foreign designers kicking off the American spring collections for 1996, they were too polite to grouse about it.

Donna Karan, who traditionally opens Fashion Week with her pumped up DKNY extravaganza, showed a day behind Gianni Versace's debut of his Versus line. How do you say chutzpah in Italian?

The Versace shindig was everything a fashion event should be. There were stars -- tousled Timothy Hutton and Patti Labelle. There were supermodels -- Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. There was the best seating so far; all the folding chairs in the huge tent where the top designers show were upholstered and cushioned in a signature gold and black Versace classical scarf print.

There were clothes, too. Clingy, slinky brights in mix-and-match stripes, florals and fauna. The tiger-striped black and white, fuchsia, blue and yellow glamour dresses were the most Versace for the money in this less-expensive secondary line.

If the show was hot, the party sister Donatella threw afterward was hotter. It was a real circus maximus of well-wishers and acolytes who tried to crush and crash the restraining ropes at Twilo, a new club in Chelsea. Way-tanned and way-blond Donatella held court on a dais that could only be reached by clawing.

Admission was by invite and good looks, and the cavernous rooms were packed solid with gorgeous male abs, gluts and pecs encased in Versace stretch.

Not to be outstretched, Donna Karan debuted something she calls liquid tubing. The patent is still pending. The jury is still out. To get our attention, she opened the show with topless models coyly crossing their arms over their bosoms to focus attention on black tube bottoms.

The tubes then got brighter and longer, shaped into shifts, skirts and long gowns that could be hiked to any desired length. Think of Ace bandages for the body in tart shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

On other runways, Matsuda showed cyber-fiber vinylized separates in brights and prints, while Wolfgang Joop worked '80s excess with big hair, saucer earrings and tire-sized bangles.

Although prettiness and color are splashed on the runways, the fashion pros are still draped in gloomy black. Provincials and tourists taking in the scene around the shows could become confused about who is in and out of fashion. The nattiest dressers making their confident way through the fashion mobs are the security men. Ty Orio, head of security for the collections, keeps up with the pulse. He wore a Versace tie to the Versus show and will continue to coordinate throughout the week. Fashion does have its place in the real world.

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