NEW YORK Bill Blass opened the fall ready-to- wear collections here with a virtual plaid brigade for day and night.
For day, there were green-and-red-plaid silk dresses, jackets and skirts similar to uniforms worn by Catholic-school girls, as well as black-and-white-gingham suits and walking shorts.
For night, iridescent plaid bodices, also black and white, met short velvet or sheer net tulle skirts.
Blass was joined in his plaid madness by Carolina Herrera, who tossed in checks and houndstooth patterns for good measure.
Thus they became the first American designers to jump on the plaid bandwagon that rolled down the runways in Paris and Milan.
But more noteworthy than this was a more disturbing trend; designers, perhaps taking their cue from rap artists, are shamelessly sampling one another's work.
Sampling is the controversial practice in which recording artists, mostly rappers, electronically lift riffs, vocals and other musical components from previously recorded works and incorporate it into their own releases often without permission. Prominent samplers include M.C. Hammer whose smash hit "U Can't Touch This" lifted the music from Rick James' 1970s hit "Super Freak." (Hammer did pay James for the privilege.) De La Soul's debut 1989 album included music from the funk group Parliament.
Blass and Herrera were just as blatant so blatant that members of the audience shouted the names of other designers when the more obvious copies hit the catwalk. Call it "Name That Design."
Blass, whose show was at the stately Pierre Hotel, showed a black velvet dress with a skirt encrusted with gold embroidery and big glass jewels. Many in the audience remember seeing almost the same dress last season in the Oscar de la Renta
Then there were Blass' sheer net scarves and skirts laced with polka dots that were so like the spring ensembles Geoffrey Beene showed in the same room in October that a sense of "deja vu" filled the air.
Other similar designs included the big bright buttons favored by the late Patrick Kelly and wool, color-blocked swing coats and suits that were a mainstay in the previous Anne Klein collection for spring.
Even Blass' society ladies, among the most loyal clients a designer could wish for, were moved to whisper about the copy cat designs.
More Blass-like clothes were evident in his black-velvet-and-satin cocktail dresses and saucy numbers that combined black re-embroidered lace and sequins. Smashing were his floral tapestry velour pants, dresses and jackets in crimson and gold. The hemlines: mostly short.
A must-miss was Blass' short satin skirts that looked like lampshades.
Those who hungered for Blass' signature suits need only have walked a few blocks to Herrera's show at the Plaza.
Herrera opened her show with red-and-orange-plaid wool suits that were style twins to the red-and-yellow-plaid suits from Blass' fall 1990 collection.
"That's a Bill Blass," joked one fashion editor.
Herrera's show drew not only Ivana Trump but The Donald as well. Photographers abandoned the runway to photograph Ivana, who has untied her signature French wrap hairstyle to let her golden locks rest on her shoulders.
The former Mrs. Trump was absent from the last round of collections in October but now that she has received her hefty divorce settlement, maybe she's in the mood to shop.
As for The Donald, who owns the Plaza, he greeted VIPs like a captain welcoming people aboard a cruise ship.
Then Trump intently watched the show, but given his financial straits it would not be surprising if even he could not afford one of Herrera's pricey frocks for whomever he's dating these days.
Herrera's ensembles start at $2,000, but what lovely ensembles they were.
As with her spring collections, she continues to endorse dresses, showing simple bias-cut dresses, some with jackets, in shades of brown, gray, moss and navy.
Touches of velvet trimmed houndstooth suits and dresses, checked, doubled-faced taffeta coats topped black-velvet, knee-length dresses.
nTC Much applauded were her gold-and-black-houndstooth, sequined gowns. Like Blass, she showed gowns that featured plaid bodices with long solid skirts. True beauty came in her velvet gowns with tiers of organza skirting or fly-away organza capes. The colors were navy blue, forest green and wine.
Sampling appeared again with some ensembles that featured huge scarves wrapped around the neck a la Donna Karan.
But when one model walked out in a velvet and chiffon gown with one breast exposed, Herrera's horrified society ladies gasped audibly.
The photographers went wild, so uncharacteristic was this of the designer who fashioned bridal wear for the daughters of society's conservative set. Was Herrera following in the footsteps of Gianni Versace, known for making bosom-baring creations?
The answer apparently is no. The model, responding to the shouts from the audience, suddenly realized that she had put the dress on incorrectly. In a flash, she readjusted the top to cover her torso, spun around and walked off to loud applause.
Applause, albeit lukewarm, filled the air at the Norma Kamali show Monday. But even lukewarm applause is a blessing for the designer who once was the biggest name in American sportswear but who in recent years has been drubbed by the fashion press and has seen a radical drop in sales.