Peter Jensen’s elevation of eccentric elegance reached an oddly logical way station with his Pre-Fall collection: the masked Black and White Ball hosted by Truman Capote at New York’s Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966. Jensen has always had a thing for the ’60s anyway, but “the chicness and exclusivity” of the ball hold a special resonance for him. “Those things don’t exist anymore,” he noted, “because people are obsessed with almond milk and Kardashians.”
Such unusual analogies come easily to Jensen, in the same way that his last collection could be inspired by the Peanuts gang and this one by Capote. Maybe only he can make sense of such idiosyncratic progressions, but what the rest of us see is a designer who has steadily refined his aesthetic until it has reached, with his latest effort, a new peak of polish, without compromising any of the quirk that has always made his clothes so winning.
The presiding sprite of Pre-Fall was ’60s model Penelope Tree, muse of David Bailey and Diane Arbus. Here, she was evoked in girlish silhouettes like an abbreviated smock printed tone-on-tone with daisies, a corseted onesie in the puppy-tooth-patterned fabric from which chef’s uniforms are cut, and a crepe de chine shift printed with Jensen’s big-eared bunny logo. A gray jumper and bias-cut skirt set were inspired by Tree’s school uniform. Some of the models sported a version of the mask she wore to the Black and White Ball; others were wearing copies of the bunny mask that Candice Bergen wore that night. A blouse printed with swans was an obvious reference to the coterie of high-society women whom Capote called his Swans. An outfit consisting of trapeze top and pencil skirt had the distinctly dressy edge of such women’s wardrobes. So did the patrician color palette—black, white, pink, navy—and the bows on everything, though Jensen claimed he’d borrowed that detail from Patty Hearst’s wedding dress. The Plaza itself was abstracted as a print for a pair of pants.
One last detail: Jensen’s models were members of a professional tap-dancing troupe, who hoofed gamely through the presentation. “I was imagining the glamorous guests at the Black and White Ball tap dancing behind closed doors, smoking furiously,” the designer said by way of explanation. Yes, that makes perfect sense.