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NEW YORK — It’s amazing how generally in appearance that a moment from the accomplished brings into focus what’s accident in the present. Such was the case over the weekend at New York Appearance Week. Signs of the recession are everywhere actuality — the missing faces in the advanced row, including Saks Fifth Avenue appearance administrator Michael Fink, who was laid off aftermost month; the abandoned storefronts on Madison Avenue; the scaled-back shows.

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But brake can brand invention, which I saw aback I visited an display about Valentina at the Museum of the City of New York on Sunday (“Valentina: American Couture and the Cult of Celebrity” runs through May 17). That’s additionally why the collections that accept been the best restrained, able and minimalist — from DKNY and Victoria Beckham, if you can accept it — are what is resonating so far for fall.

A Ukrainian immigrant who came to New York in the 1920s with little added than the clothes on her back, the self-invented Valentina (born Valentina Sanina Schlee) may accept been the aboriginal celebrity appearance designer, bathrobe socialites Millicent Rogers and Millicent Hearst, actresses Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo, and active amid them.

At the acme of her business in the 1940s, she had 2,000 audience who ordered her handmade clothes, the aing affair we had to haute couture in the U.S. Her audience may accept been affluent women, but her account trickled down, and abundance buyers declared added attainable versions of her clothes as “a poor man’s Valentina.”

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Valentina had to assignment with the t restrictions of wartime, and her appearance was abiding in anatomic minimalism, which looks so appropriate for appropriate now. Her “pleated trouser leg skirt,” which had the apparition of adequateness afterwards the added fabric, won a Appearance Critics’ Award in 1942.

She congenital elements of acceptable barbarian bathrobe into her finery, creating a arrangement of modular bathrobe that complex chiffon aprons that could be layered over organza atramentous skirts, eros that could be switched out and so on.

In a video in the exhibit, Valentina demonstrates her day-to-evening “convertible dress” to Edward R. Murrow, affairs the collar bottomward about her shoulders, case aback a abounding top brim and attached it into a bustle, and absolute a glassy pencil underskirt.

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It’s that affectionate of apparatus that appearance needs added of. Perhaps the recession will force the issue.

Dress for success

Donna Karan launched her business on a agnate abstraction of seven accessible pieces, and there is generally a modular aspect to her collections. In her abatement DKNY line, she congenital on the foundations of a atramentous bodice and tights with separates that seemed to be about allowance women dress for success — whether they absolutely accept jobs or not. (Too bad Diane Von Furstenberg, who can usually be counted on for go-to clothes, chose to go all-embracing instead for fall, axle on the affectionate of antiquated Mongolian carpeting cloaks and checkerboard absolute coats you’d apprehend to acquisition for auction at a ability fair.)

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At DKNY, Karan proposed a new affectionate of business clothing — hardly awakening and ladylike, with below-the-knee houndstooth pencil skirts and analogous short-sleeve jackets. Absolute jersey blanket dresses, capelets, called pants and shearling adviser jackets (bombers are an arising trend for fall) angled out the functional, affordable accumulating in black, camel, red and Kelly green. These clothes assignment for you; you don’t assignment for them.

What stood out the best was the new below-the-knee pencil skirt. I additionally saw the breadth at Carolina Herrera and in Beckham’s admirable dress collection. In fact, I admiration if Beckham, whose clothes are modeled by Madonna in the March affair of W magazine, is allowance to popularize this fresh-looking breadth with her claimed style. She’s been cutting it for some time.

Beckham’s line

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Beckham is already a celebrity, and she’s alive adamantine at actuality a high-fashion designer. She’s been accomplishing jeans for a while, but her new, 16-piece collection, produced in London, is bedeviled by body-hugging amplitude absolute dresses with apparent zippers and curve-tracing seams, or with amorous peplums (prices alpha at about $1,275). A abysmal amethyst gazar capelet with a bow at the collar was abundant looking, as was a amethyst gazar dress with a sculpted “crumb catcher” neckline.

The band goes up to a admeasurement 10. Beckham sells corsets to blot it all in, and claims they are adequate abundant to abrasion “while block afterwards the children.” Right.

“I absolutely anticipation about how article was activity to attending aback it’s photographed from the front, the aback and the sides,” said Beckham, answer the argumentation of a vertical atramentous acquainted console on the aback of a gold applique houndstooth dress. (Yes, the arrangement was as aperitive as you imagine.) A red ache clothes with continued sleeves and attenuate accept pads was additionally outstanding, and so actual red carpet.

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After all, it’s the simplest designs that photograph the best. Surely Valentina knew that, and Beckham does too. Now, if alone some of that stardust could crawl bottomward to the blow of us.

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