By Carter B. Horsley
Browsing through an associate's women's fashion
catalogue from Saks Fifth Avenue several months ago, I was struck
by the fact that it actually had some very beautiful clothes in
I don't normally peruse such literature as
for the past couple of decades most women's fashion as trumpeted
in the magazines has seem uninspired, if not usually unattractive.
I happen not to be a woman, so my sensitivity
and consciousness admittedly have not ascended in all aesthetic
Like most men, I believe, great fashion is Chanel,
Fortuny, Issey Miyake, and Pisanello (the Italian Renaissance
painter), and was $25 Izod polo shirts, though I deeply regretted
giving as gifts a scarf by Bill Blass and another by Yves St.
Laurent a few decades ago. The "House" of Chanel, incidentally,
continues to produce magnificent fashions as can be seen in the
photograph at the right, which has been altered slightly to remove
the catalogue text that explained that the ecru suit in vicose
rayon/cotton/acrylic costs $3,305. Here the spirit of the classic
Chanel suit and its marvelous textures have been retained but
made even more sensuous with the jacket's one top bottom permitting
more freedom and the tight, longer skirt more form-fitting.
Having sat a few desks away from Bernardine
Morris at The New York Times for a while, I cannot claim not to
recognize a few designers' names, but anyone who has met me knows
that I am not now, and have never been, fashionable. My classmates'
parting notes in my Trinity School yearbook (class of '57) all
either remarked on the hope that I get some sleep, or the haunting
memory of my clashing attire.
So when my officemate's copy of the new "Defining
Style" February 1999 edition of a fashion catalogue from
Saks Fifth Avenue arrived, I grabbed it, put on my spectacles
and began to slowly turn the pages. It did not start off well
and I was about to get back to work as it was not until page 49
that I spied something interesting: the top of a teal embroidered
jersey skirt in acetate/nylon, priced at $195 by Anna Sui. The
rich color was fine, but the top of the skirt had little loops
and the hang of the skirt seemed to sensuously dip just a bit
above the navel. The rest of the outfit was color-coordinated
but too strong for the subtlety of the skirt.
Before discovering that skirt, however, one
was affronted by a particularly unattractive backpack and matching
boot in dark brown leather and natural canvas by Prada, for $700
and $720, respectively, that seemed suited only for Hannibal Lechter.
Some items, such as a camel color alligator
tote by Judith Leiber for $4,975, and a Strenesse Gabriele Strehle
khaki cotton fitted jacket for $780, were just overpriced and
One of the more reasonable items was a pink
freshwater pearl illusion necklace by Carolee for $250 that was
very elegantly strung and had nice iridescence.
Iridescence is always attractive, but often
in the past it has seemed either flashy or cheap. New materials
however may be the answer to why the best items in the catalogue
were iridescent such as the sky blue big shirt and tank dress
in rayon/polyester/nylon, shown below, by Linda Allard for Ellen
Tracy Dresses for $755. The dress was simple, but the shirt is
sensational, and powerful with big cuffs and collar. Another standout
was the iridescent green cotton inverted pleat dress from Geromiino
by Stephen DiGeromino, a simple, bare-armed sheath with one large
center inverted pleat for only $190. The iridescence here was
minimal but the cut of the dress is very fine and it would probably
be even more attractive in ruby or turquoise.
Iridescence is usually associated with sleek
glitter and glamor and Chanel has an iridescent rose organza bag
accented with matte silvertone for $900. The small purse, however,
was not too dazzling and would have been a perfect accessories
for DKNY's marvelous tulip silk organza pleated full-length skirt
that was only priced at $200. Dolce & Gabbano had a pair of
silver hologram leather slingback shoes for $520 that would have
been a fine complement to the iridescent shirt.
Grey was the one color that stood out in this catalogue,
the most notable example being Shinin Guild's grey earth linen
coat, shown at the left, for $795. (This picture was cropped to
cut out the text but the catalogue picture actually cropped out
the model's head for inexplicable reasons.) What is fantastic
about this coat, apart from its superb cut, is the texture and
the way it falls but creates very dark silhouettes at its folds
as can be seen around the model's left arm. This is supremely
Oriental and magnificent. Similar but not quite so stunning was
a heather grey wool shirt by Mondi for $180. In a slightly different,
pin-stripe vein, Dana Buchman had drawstring pants for $210 that
were very striking but also casually fun in contrast with the
rather blatant pinstripes of a very long viscose/rayon/mohair/wool
jacket with four buttons and a high label for $355 by Philippe
Adec that was too stylish.
Probably the sexiest item in the catalogue
was an apricot tie-neck suede blouse from Ralph by Ralph Lauren
for $898 that was, for a change, not derivative, and was perfect
for women with beautiful shoulders, one of the most underrated
parts of a female's anatomy and one of the reasons why many men
don't look at fashion magazines with skinny, bony models.
Other highlights included a white and pink
rose beaded chiffon dress with ivory chiffon stole in rayon/silk
for $480 by Kay Unger and Adrienne Landau's exquisite cream embroidered
and beaded silk stole for $325.