Menkes longs for comfortable classic fashion

Suzy Menkes wrote a short piece, "American Beauty" in the New York Times' T Magazine's Holiday 2009 issue, lauding the golden age of clean, clear sportswear from the 1980s; Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan.

She also lauds their roots, the impeccable designs of Claire McCardell, founding mother of functional, stylish "work clothes for the city" in the '50s and '60s.

Today's Calvin Klein, under the leadership of Francisco Costa, has veere
d into a more recherché look, and Menkes calls Donna Karan's clothes today "far more complex", not intended as a compliment.

Menkes said:

".. there is something weird about the way American fashion has turned its back on its heritage, while in Europe thoughtful women designers like (Celine's) Phoebe Philo are embracing it.

British women in the 1960s turned their backs on the Burberry trench coat, the sweater set and the kilt because they seemed like symbols of an old, class-ridden society. Yet when it comes to choosing an outfit, aren't women the world over more likely to find fashion comfort in a skirt and jacket than in a statement dress with built-in bra?

Perhaps it is time for America's designers to revisit a not-so-distant past when
easy pieces were fashion staples that offered women that holy grail of fashion: wardrobe solutions rater than design challenges."

Amen, Suzy, and I would like you to lead me to these, at perhaps a gentler price point than Philo's spare masterpieces.

Who might fulfill Menke's wish

Tommy Hilfiger?

Judging by this vivacious pink coat with tall boots and an outrageously good-looking bag, he seems poised to step up. But a look at his website
was discouraging, too many skimpy junior styles.

Ralph Lauren?

I've avoided Lauren for years, there's a tough edge, rather than grace, in his department-stor
e boutiques.

But some pieces are softer, more thought-out.
This Blue Label pea coat delivers the absolute American ease that puffs Suzy's pompadour.

Michael Kors?

This belted Slide Dress (from Bergdorf Goodman online) is a perfect example of something that dresses, but does not wear you. And at $1,395 I hope you'd wear it a lot.

Maybe the answer is to stop pinning hopes on a single designer and just look for quality clothing. This Pendleton featherweight merino double-face jacket with McCardell sensibility, is on sale now, $199, reduced from $278; US shipping only.

Chloe black cotton belted cotton tunic dress, $1,515 at Net-a-porter.

Zac Posen canvas day dress with ecru trim, $890 at Bergdorf Goodman.The details make a simple dress memorable.

Lela Rose coral silk-linen coral sheat
h dress, $895 from Bergdorf Goodman. A delectable backdrop for a necklace!

The real deal: Wool jersey dress, lined in blue silk, size 6, by Norman Norell, $425 from Swank Vintage. In excellent, new condition.


Anonymous said…
I think J Crew, Banana Republic and the more upscale J.McLaughlin are trying to do this. For me J.McLaughlin is too country club set. J Crew and Banana Republic don't have that mix that Calvin Klein and Donna Karan had.
The mix of Audrey Hepburn dancing in the street. Street being the important word when talking classics.
mette said…
One of my best jeans ever were C.Klein´s around the 80/90´s. At that time, only Stockholm sold Ralph Lauren. I always found something to bring home with me. Since then, the quality is not the same anymore, nor are the styles. Burberry managed to do a facelift already some time ago. I too long for comfort in fashion, and dress in a rather classic way.
LPC said…
I find that designers putting this kind of wares out are often referred to as "minimalist."
materfamilias said…
By coincidence I'm wearing a dress today that fits the standards you point to, although at lower price points. I bought it at Winners -- simple heavy black jersey sheath with elbow-length slim sleeves -- what lifts it from drab is that the collar -- somewhere between a simple crew and a boat is festooned with black and tobacco fabric flowers, so there's some drama but it's wearable for work yet can be switched up for evening (bag, shoes). So easy to get dressed in the morning and I'm not adjusting or fussing during the day -- perfect! I wish there were more of this style available . . . keep up your campaign!
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: That's how I see them too. However McCardell was more "penthouse" than street. She used to imagine the occasion, then design the clothes.
metscan: Burberry's clothing sizes stop at I think a US 12, which is not helpful to many of us.
LPC: Referred to, but so much minimalist is not very well cut, or, like Eskandar, what I call rectangular clothes.
materfamilias: Not adjusting or fussing during the day is a perfect summary. Menzies will have immeasurably more influence than I could! And am astonished you found a decent dress at Winners.
LaurieAnn said…
I love the Chloe black shirt dress. Functional, not too severe, but way too expensive. I also really liked the Lela Rose piece but I think both of these designers only manufacture up to U.S. size 12.

I miss Ellen Tracey. They've closed down due to the economy. I liked the rich colors, quality fabrics, clean styling and full range of sizes. Dana Buchman (before the name was licensed to Kohl's) was also excellent.

Bring back upscale bridge fashion.
Frugal Scholar said…
My mother bought a great trench coat from Calvin's very first collection. She got a sample. It was gorgeous. Calvin was always expensive, but affordable on sale. We used to hunt it out at Loehmann's and I had many, many pieces.

Donna Karan's line was not very wearable, as I recall. She was famous for cashmere and featured many cashmere leotards w/ wrap skirts. Since I never had a waist, I could never wear the line. Very unforgiving to the less than fab body.

My parents bought Burberry raincoats about 30 years ago, during a moment when the pound and dollar were par. Mr. FS and I have the hand-me-downs. We never wore them, but broke them out for a funeral we attended on a rainy day. They really remind me of my parents younger a little happiness on a sad day.
Frugal Scholar said…
ergh-sorry about the missing apostrophe and other typos. I hate typing--esp when my hands are cold.
Duchesse said…
LaurieAnn: Those brands will be missed by many career women. I liked the '70s to early 80s Anne Klein, quality has slipped badly.
But mostly I miss a rather obscure line, Glen of Michigan, by Bill Atkinson. He made the most wearable clothes.

Frugal: I had that Donna Karan body, but not anymore :)
I have to laugh, first, the lines have changed, second, I have!
Duchesse said…
metscan: In a box, with mothballs, i have two original CK cashmere sweater vests. Have never been able to part with them though too tiny for me now. Keep trying to give them to more petite friends but they say they don't wear vests.
mette said…
Oh Duchesse, cashmere..I love the feel of it on my skin. There are differences in the quality, as you well know. BTW, are you sure Burberry sizes end in US 12? I have seen sizes XL, though every garment has to be tried on to get it right. Some pieces I have are size M, sometimes I prefer a loose size. What about Boss? Their collection is quite classic. And I too like Dries van Noten. Marni has personal pieces too.
Some gorgeous choices. You are right - you'll never get everything from one designer or shop. And wouldn't life be boring,
Charlotte said…
Oh, how I covet that Chloe dress!
Duchesse said…
metscan: Since Burberry clothing sizes are UK, they will not fint abouve a US 12. For some reason their coats run up to larger sizes. Yes, Boss has some classic pieces, thanks for reminder. IMO Marni does not conform to this particular aesthetic. Though I adore DvN, only some pieces are exactly what Menkes describes.

Imogen: I'd actually be grateful for one well-edited shop!

Charlotte: It stands out, does it not?
Susan B said…
I'm with Suzy. I've been feeling rather down on Fashion lately, as I never see anything I could remotely imagine myself wearing, even in the watered-down, priced-down mass-produced versions. I do remember in the 80's paging through fashion mags and seeing clothes I'd actually want to emulate. Now it's all about skin and shock.

But you've found some flowers among the weeds here!

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