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Designers dress up runways in '80s excess


NEW YORK - After almost a week of going to designers' shows, here's the skinny on spring fashion - and we don't mean the models.

Best Spectacle - Betsey Johnson

This was the most talked about show of Fashion Week - and believe me, it wasn't because of the clothes. Johnson wisely created this buzz by sending 29 former Playboy Playmates down her runway wearing skimpy outfits that few naturally endowed women could fill quite as well.

To the beat of songs like "I Want Your Sex," the Playmates flounced about wearing pink fur bikinis, tight tube dresses, super-short shorts and skirts with fluffy, "Please-grab-my-behind" bunny tails.

As they sashayed toward the audience, some Playmates were spotted self-consciously yanking on the wisps of cloth (which the program referred to as "dresses") to cover their rock-hard bosoms.

A Playboy Playmate modest about nudity? Interesting concept.

Best Spectacle (Sans Silicone) - Marc Jacobs

Boyish-looking designer Marc Jacobs is such a darling among young celebs that you can always count on big names to show up for his shows.

Puff Daddy (donning a dazzling diamond-encrusted watch), Milla Jovovich, Winona Ryder, Blondie's Deborah Harry, "Law & Order's" Angie Harmon and her New York Giants cornerback fiance Jason Sehorn were among those spotted in the front row.

Best Collection - Ralph Lauren

After days of seeing the garish hues of the '80s pop up in several shows, Ralph Lauren's classy collection of tailored and highly wearable outfits in crisp whites, stark blacks and rich browns was a welcome relief. (It also was nice to see strings of pearls circling necks and wrists instead of cheap-looking chunky gold jewelry.)

The sleek, black and white chevron-striped evening wear, chocolate brown windowpane leather suits and white leather dresses with thick black trim were breathtakingly elegant. But one of the biggest hits of the show was Penelope Cruz in the front row looking stunning in a chic black Ralph Lauren dress with a crisp white collar and French cuffs.

Worst Collection - Bill Blass

New Bill Blass designer Steven Slowik (formerly of Ferragamo) seemed to try hard to come up with a wide variety of suits, playing around with details for different effect. Unfortunately, most of his attempts fell flat as the suits in dull shades like walnut and stone came across as drab yawners.

Particularly bad was a stone-colored cotton suit with a big print of an orchid on the front and back of the jacket. Yecch.

Best Urban-Hip Wear - Helmut Lang

Helmut Lang presented a collection devoid of much variety in style and color. Lang basically had three themes - his trademark suits, a dominatrix-esque set of dresses featuring bands of leather wrapped around parts of the body and outfits done in perforated leather. The designer also limited his palette to blacks, browns and shades of cream and tan. But the collection was delicious, nonetheless.

The strappy, short dominatrix dresses in cream, tan and black were sexy and wearable, and the perforated leather dresses, pants and coats had an interesting texture. (One male model did the walk in low-slung pants with the top of perforated leather boxers peeking out just so.) But for the show's finale, the designer appropriately chose to close with four men in sharp, slim-cut black suits that had Helmut Lang written all over them.

Best Evening Wear - Badgley Mischka

The order of the night at Badgley Mischka was gold, straight up, and the more the better. The dynamic designer duo unveiled a classy collection featuring sparkling gold cocktail dresses with the rich color woven into the fabrics, one-sleeved glittery tops with gold pants, and gold chain-link belts tied around evening suits and dresses. Definitely a wonderful collection for putting on the glitz.

Coolest Venue - Kenneth Cole

Grand Central Station's Vanderbilt Hall was the perfect setting for hip designer Kenneth Cole's collection. The cavernous hall, with its marble floors and walls, ornate chandeliers and dim lighting, made everyone feel like ordering martinis, even though it was only 10 a.m.

Yummiest Spring Colors - Donald Deal

Aqua, lime, lilac, powder blue and mint green were among the frothy hues that Donald Deal picked for his new line of cocktail suits and tres feminine evening gowns. Deal's accessory choices were a big hit with the audience - especially a Swarovski crystal belt with tiny baubles, looped twice around the waist and then dangled near the ankles so it swished oh-so-delicately as the models walked.

Spotted: Kathie Lee Gifford with a grumpy-looking Frank, who seemed to perk up when the models started coming down the runway. Perhaps he also thought Deal's, um, colors were yummy.

Most Interesting Use of Men - John Bartlett

John Bartlett - known in the industry for putting on highly artsy shows - definitely delivered this season. The designer's show took place against the backdrop of a wall of five rows of men standing still, wearing nothing but briefs and painted white from head to toe. In the middle of the wall, however, stood a man painted cherry red. Midway through the show, white paint began pouring down, creating striking rivulets along his well-toned body.

What did this have to do with Bartlett's clothes? Nobody knew.

Best Quote

Overheard at the Jill Stuart show: "Did you see that second to last dress? The black one with the bustier top and poofy skirt? Oh my god, that was my prom dress in 1989."

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