"What I love about the Ottoman Empire was that there was such a juxtaposition of texture and color and pattern, all put together," Barbara Tfank said during her presentation at Chelsea's Leila Heller Gallery. "It's a great way to dress." Taking cues from the textiles and general languor of Matisse's Odalisque in Red Pants, Tfank showed a collection of ladylike, figure-flattering dresses in custom-milled European brocades. The smudgy blooms visible in Matisse's painting became lamé roses on a full-skirted, portrait-collared dress; the gold tapestry elements appeared as gold medallions in a slim V-neck dress and reversed overcoat. Amid the shimmery florals, some of the most appealing looks were the quietest—particularly an A-line dress in double-faced satin with a scalloped neckline inspired by the shape of an Ottoman window.
But wait—doesn't the odalisque wear trousers? Tfank threw in one pair of flared black satin evening pants to cover all bases, showing it with a sash-belted smoking jacket in pink floral brocade with pink fox-fur cuffs.
It was all quite timeless—classically beautiful, even, to the point that the dresses could have come from any season over the past several years. That and the separates shortage might be a commercial misstep for another designer, but Tfank has attracted a clientele—most notably the First Lady—that keeps coming back for more dresses. Though she wouldn't own up to a muse, there wasn't a dress in the room that wouldn't look terrific on Mrs. Obama. "She likes feminine, she likes texture, she likes color—those are all things that I love," said Tfank. And the retailers love her for it, too.