Ten Best Looks from the New York Fall 2004 Shows

- by Bernadine Morris, senior editor lookonline.com

"Choices" is the word that best describes the myriad designs shown for Fall, 2004 in New York. There is no single color or style that pervades the collections. Diversity is the norm.

Women who have complained that "there's nothing for me" will find there's a surfeit of styles for all kinds of lives.

Is this a good thing? Of course. It means that designers are opening up, refusing to be hemmed in by trends, by existing standards or vague ideas of what constitutes style.

This is true of well-established designers like Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Ralph Lauren and Geoffrey Beene as well as relative newcomers like Tuleh, Proenza Schouler and John Varvatos.

Is it hard to pick the right style? Of course. Not every experiment is successful. When unifoms are the norm, it's relatively easy to pick the style that suits you. But it's certainly more fun and more satisfying when you have a choice. This season, the range is impressive. It includes a vast array or furs, ranging from Herrera's luxurious sables and ermine to de la Renta's elaborate embroideries and laces. There are casual jackets that have a fresh look and sparkling bare tops, strewn with sequins, for formal dressing. Even visitors from abroad like Vienna"s Atil Kutoglu, who help give the showings a cosmopolitan fair, refrain from a single look. In Kutoglu's case it includes cowhide coats with sequin-strewn pants and loose bloused jackets.

Ralph Lauren took a special stride of his own with widely flaring skirts that offer a fresh silhouette to women who are tired of narrow clothes. Tuleh gives the fur jacket a new lease on life and Proenza Schouler gives the short, curved-front tweed jacket a fresh look.

What gives the season its special flavor is the spirit of adventure as designers try not to copy from the past--their own successes or others--but to find new ways to capture the spirit of today. This ranges from Roberto Menichetti' casual clothes which give a contemporary image to informal dressing to Chado Ralph Rucci's designs which bring to mind that long overlooked word, elegance. His neat black dresses are defined by raised seams which look serene, not cluttered. Even when he uses feathers and paillettes, Rucci gives his clothes a gentle air which suggests French couture clothes of long ago, He was the only designer whose collection received a standing ovation.

Geoffrey Beene is a designer who offers elegant workmanship and he shows his clothes in his salon on static manneqins so viewers can walk around and examine his work closely. In addition to boiled wool jackets he offers delicate rosettes and other decoratve touches which seem to bypass the days of mass production.

Since its inception Donna Karan's collection has avoided sticking to a single look for all comers. This season's assortment included leather jackets with chiffon skirts, shearling coats and parkas and plenty of pleated skirts and dresses. A mossgreen tweed coat over a pink chiffon dress was one of the arresting color combinations. Burgundy, bright green and chartreuse were other sparkling colors.

Yeohlee who also had a walk-around exhibit, keyed her clothes to "collaborators" from other fields .Her collaborators included art historians, museum curators and actresses. The clothes ranged from big. sweeping cape-like dresses to l920's inspired shapes.

This is just a sampling of the more than 70 collections shown in the tents in what was one of the liveliest presentations in years.

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Below are my 10 ten best representative looks from the shows. All photos are by Randy Brooke except for Ralph Rucci which is by Ernest Schmatolla. Click on images for larger views...

 
1. This is the full skirt that Ralph Lauren brings back after a long-time absence, the kind of shape representing a change after so many years of narrow, straight-line clothes.
 2. Carolina Herrera brings back fur coats and jackets after avoiding them for some seasons. The small, fitted ermine jacket is one of her enchanting revivals.
3. Long narrow dresses by Oscar de la Renta have slender lines emphasized by fringe or lace.  
 4. Casual clothes by Menichetti have a certain charm and include a hooded top for really bad weather.
5. Tuleh gave its casual clothes a special gimmick with colorful T-shirts that emphasize the informal tone.  
6. Small curving jackets, often in tweeds are a highlight of the Proenza Schoeler collection worn with everything from feather skirts to cashmere pants.
7. Glamorous side of Donna Karan"s collection featuring low neckline, brilliant embroidery and slinky shape.
8. Plain jacket with some decorous embroidery by Geoffrey Beene makes a big point of dramatic simplicity.  
9. Elegance for evening by Chado Ralph Rucci recalls the glamour of French couture shows. .
10. Narrow softly draped dress by Narcisco Rodriguez is topped by small pink jacket.  
 Daily Fashion Report