By  on July 24, 2008

COSTA MESA, Calif. — There was something for everyone when St. John presented its spring 2009 runway show Tuesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center here.

The first collection under new executive vice president of design George Sharp was intended to appeal to the 45-year-old company’s fan base — both mature and younger women — and ranged from colorful silk paisley jumpsuits to sparkly evening gowns to classic navy suits.

“People are ready for change and it’s tough out there,” said chief executive officer Glenn McMahon. “Everyone wants something new and exciting, they don’t need anything else in their closet. They need a reason to buy, so we really worked hard on innovation and color.”

The show, attended by about 400 loyal customers, opened with classic black and navy suits, palazzo pants and day dresses, followed by similar silhouettes in nearly Day-Glo brights. Knit dresses featured either intricate new textures that mimicked the look of lace or ruching on solid colors, as well as allover patterns such as paisley.

St. John co-founder Marie Gray, who is now serving as a creative consultant, said, “The new featherweight knits and innovative stitching” are enticing.

“They can do anything at St. John,” said Sharp, a former vice president of design at Ellen Tracy who was hired in January. “As a designer, it’s a real joy to hand them something and see it get made. For me personally, working with all the technicians and knits was a thrill.”

Marie Gray and her daughter Kelly Gray, the former St. John creative director who also has rejoined the $400 million company as a creative consultant and stayed backstage prepping the show, seemed content to let the new executive team get most of the credit. At the end of the presentation, Sharp took a solo walk down the runway, bowing to Marie Gray, who sat in the front row. In years past, the Grays, along with the executive design team, all took the stage.

“George did all the hard work, so he deserves the round of applause, and Glenn is the driving force,” Marie Gray said.

The new team appears to have found balance, paying homage to classic St. John signature details such as the rhinestone button, while moving the collection in a youthful, yet subtle direction.

For example, Sharp took the crystals and amped them up to create jeweled necklines on cardigans and gowns. There also were fresh details like an organza dress ruched and gathered to resemble a flower blossom, and chiffon cherry blossom appliqués on the neckline of a solid white suit that echoed the chiffon print blouse worn underneath. Also new for the house were printed full-length chiffon gowns that embodied a “light and airy” feel that Marie Gray cited as inspiration.

“Taking some of the knits and making them look like prints was a clever touch,” Sharp said. “We wanted to take the best of St. John and mix it with the new so we can dress this lady from day to evening to weekend.”

McMahon said the collection, along with a soon-to-be unveiled store design, as well as a revamped advertising campaign and Web site, were ushering in a new era at St. John. “We continue to evolve,” he said.�

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