It was high noon, high season and hurly-burly last week on that nondescript stretch of Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue that is the fount of American fashion. In scores of clangorous workrooms, dressmakers tacked and stitched round the clock filling orders for spring and summer lines. Designers and assistants were feverishly sketching the fall collections that will go on show in May. On the street, whose signs proclaim it FASHION AVENUE, traffic was all but paralyzed by porters pushing wheeled racks of garments from shop to shipper. The end product of all this activity festooned stores large and small across the country, as window displays and clothes departments bloomed with the bright fresh crop of U.S. fashions.
Shoppers lingered longingly over jumpsuits in gung-ho cuts and colors, carefully fingered exotic fabrics. At Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan, swimsuits and playclothes were selling as if August were around the corner. At I. Magnin in San Francisco, suavely tailored pants outfits and evening pajamas vied for attention. Many of the designs, such as Calvin Klein’s apron dress and Oscar de la Renta’s rhumba number (see color pages), are deftly droll. There were raincoats that managed to be practical and chic as well, T shirts that could be worn to the opera, sportsuits that could enhance a dinner table as easily as the driving range.
The clothes, like those casual, comfortable, contemporary Americans they are made for, will not only be bought and worn at home but will be noted and copied in Rio and in Rome, on the Ginza and the Avenue George V. After more than a century of obeisance to Europe’s high priests of couture, American designers have won worldwide respect as creative interpreters of a way of life—and style. It is a rebellion and an achievement that has been building since World War II. But it has, in the eclectic fashion world of 1976, undeniably come of age and attained a new level of élan and confidence. “I think for the first time that the attitude that the American woman has about dressing is the concept most admired and emulated in the world,” says Grace Mirabella, Vogue’s editor in chief. “It is because she is on to something—a certain way and kind of dressing, a demand for ease and a kind of good looks, a simplicity of looks.”