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(Fashion Review)

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK Necks craned at Oscar de la Renta's show to see if two men would take their bow. If you haven't heard, John Galliano spent the last month working in the de la Renta studio, a first move to possibly salvaging his wrecked career.

Galliano was not picking up pins, it's safe to assume from the style of some of the clothes and a lighter attitude that seemed injected, as if by eyedropper, into the collection. Of late, de la Renta's collections have looked cramped, from too many ideas, teenage bedroom colors and dubious fabric experiments (latex pencil skirts) that scattered his talents.

The fall line was well along when Galliano came aboard. But if a single garment suggested his influence, it was a Red Riding Hood cape in gray double-faced cashmere with a generous hood. Shown with tight black leather pants, it was the sort of brisk theatrical gesture that he likes; at the same time, it was charming and in keeping with de la Renta's world. Did Galliano propose it? Who knows. He was not listed with de la Renta's 11 assistants in the program notes, and though he was backstage during the show, he remained out of sight. A security man prevented visitors from going beyond the dressing area.

Though it's pointless to speculate about exactly what he may have designed, it's clear his presence made a difference. De la Renta seemed pleased to have him there. The collection was strong for its sinewy tailoring, mainly draped-front suits and coats in charcoal or teal flannel and a ruby shade of cashmere, and polished but sexy separates, like those stretch leather pants and a pea jacket. There were big party dresses, but the more pared-down numbers looker newer.

Last December, before the news that Galliano would join his team for a few weeks, de la Renta and his stepson-in-law, Alex Bolen, who manages the company, said they were interested in adding more sporty separates. To be desirable, such clothes would have to look not merely rich and sophisticated but also a little bit cool. The hooded cape fits the bill. It doesn't hurt de la Renta, or any designer, to have a peer, even a disgraced one, tell him how his brand is perceived and what small adjustments might more fearlessly plant it in people's imaginations.

Collaboration often helps the creative process, and it's popular among designers. Still, it's worth remembering that the most powerful fashion is more often than not a result of individual effort and vision. Narciso Rodriguez practices a kind of minimalist alchemy, taking inspirations from sports and architecture, then making skillful decisions about cut and the right mix of colors. His fashion is utterly distinctive, and with more confidence (and perhaps business success), the work only gets better.

The most interesting details this season are embedded in the clothes: in the seams of jackets, the origami folds of bonded fabrics at the hems of tops, the crumbly texture of embroidery on the fronts of plain black evening tops and shifts. The collection ranges from impeccable, almost tough-looking suits to serene wool coats in shades of wasabi and cognac to a sleeveless white crepe top with an asymmetrical panel of black duchess satin. That top, worn with pants, offers informality, novelty and grace in one punch. How he made the satin do the work is his secret.

It stands to reason that a Frenchwoman, who trained with Azzedine Alaia, wouldn't be interested in prissy ladylike clothes. In fact, Sophie Theallet does everything to avoid that look while creating something self-assuredly feminine. This season she's high on gray flannel and knits that lightly evoke old-time skiwear. She, too, has a vision and you have to patiently absorb the ideas, like the use of selvage as trim on dresses or the school-uniform cast of her sweaters, with a contrasting yoke or neck ribbing. Everything is on an intimate level. She also makes a fantastically flattering skirt. She's a finalist for the Woolmark Prize on Saturday.

Each season there is a hope that Rodarte, the kooky California label by Kate and Laura Mulleavy, will become more commercial. And this time they offered great biker jackets, nudie bodysuits and flouncy coats. But, bless them, the Mulleavys are holding out. If you can't imagine wearing a fully tie-dyed evening dress, you can at least appreciate its spirit of dissent. That's a more crucial worry than having more salable clothes.

A few Japanese twists and Balenciaga balloons did not spoil Vera Wang's signature style, which emerged strongest in dark silk minis with poufy overskirts and quartz-colored embroidery.

At first I raised a big fat eyebrow at Michael Kors' athletic romp well, it was 10:30 a.m. and who can look at taxi-yellow serge at that hour? Or a mink coat in bright blue camouflage. But then I decided it was all a pretty great sendup to just about everything that beats and honks in New York. The fact that he also showed some nice Donegal tweeds and things seems almost impertinent to mention, like asking your taxi driver to turn down his radio.