By  on February 7, 2008

Marchesa's Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig know just how to weave that red-carpet magic, and the collection they showed on Wednesday was full of drop-dead dramatic numbers. Here, one of their exquisite dresses, in lace lavished with lots of rosettes and a cutaway back. Whether the looks were influenced by "Mad Men," had an up-to-the-minute cool austerity or were just right for the red carpet, looking feminine, polished and even "done" is definitely back. Michael Kors: Sometimes a collection gets you thinking, and thinking can sometimes be unfair to a designer. The collection Michael Kors showed on Wednesday was undoubtedly delightful, filled with beautiful clothes that looked alluring, feminine and optimistic.Digressing from his typical Seventies Ali-Bianca-Lauren Hutton fixation, here Kors backed up a few years and looked to the late Fifties-early Sixties for inspiration. He came away with a lineup that swung variously sexy librarian, young society matron and "Mad Men" career girl (could she be emerging as a minitrend?). And though the mood was decidedly retro, it had nothing to do with the Prada-instigated vintage-y, granny's attic aura of yore thanks to gorgeous pristine fabrics and a distinct high-polish attitude.On the girly side of sportif, loose car coats flew open over pencil skirts and Lana Turner sweaters, often getting a touch of panache from fur, either collar or stole. And Kors dolled up solid meltons by pairing them with Impressionistic florals. When he went more obviously sporty, it was with a dashing herringbone tweed coat over a matching shell and cashmere tube skirt.Kors' dresses were plenty appealing as well, lovely sheathes with bow-tied bodices or capelet backs and one chi-chi number embroidered all over in iris and green paillettes. Like his gowns, they all looked photo-op ready. But, alas, there's the rub. In his program notes, Kors mentioned "camera candy," which is exactly how these dresses projected. We have become accustomed to designers using their runways to pitch directly to the red-carpet set and its stylists; hence the conservative redundancy of evening motifs out there. Something about the pristine prettiness of Kors' buoyant, body-conscious short dresses suggested he is now taking that marketing ploy one step further and going for the movie premiere market. It's not wrong; designers are supposed to want to get beautiful, high-profile women into their clothes. And Kors certainly isn't the only designer out there who is so preoccupied. But excessive emphasis on Hollywood can't be good for fashion in the long run. Kors and others tread dangerously when they focus on camera candy to the exclusion of a broader range of end uses.Narciso Rodriguez: On one hand, Narciso Rodriguez's clothes are the epitome of cool, clothes that broadcast the obvious confidence of the woman who wears them. On the other, they're typically steaming hot; by Rodriguez's lights, sexy is always in. For fall, he worked both sides of that counterpoint, yet took a little off each for a collection that was, if not exactly relaxed, a bit more nonchalant than one might expect, yet every bit as chic. By day, he favored shapes cut with an ease that belied their first-glance austerity, the black serge jacket and pleated skirt that opened the show, for example. The loosened-up look extended to sculpted suits and fabulous egg-shaped coats. And he kept the simple shapes interesting via luxed-up fabrics such as a meaty black-and-white wool-and-alpaca blend, and a fabulous thick chiffon tweed. But Rodriguez is only willing to stay on the loose for so long; thus his lineup of tight, black dresses for evening, often with bold graphic cutouts in back. In fact, his details were often of the geometric sort. A charcoal coat had a criss-cross bodice detail, and industrial zippers added a hint of tough chic to some of the clothes and boots alike. As for last season's artsy flourishes, he all but abandoned them save for some intricate grid-like metal embroideries. Pretty cool — and hot — indeed. Marchesa: Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig have certainly come a long way. Their Marchesa collection is all about red-carpet, and by extension, special-event dressing, and has it ever come of age. The collection the designers showed in a presentation at the Chelsea Art Museum on Wednesday looked exquisite, filled with lavish dresses that were as breathtaking in their execution as in their embellishment.Supposedly, inspiration came from "England's Golden Age and King Philip II's Spanish Armada," although what exactly that had to do with a gorgeous red goddess gown with a lavish spill of rosettes, or a seriously sculpted black curvature worthy of Lillian Russell is uncertain. But who cares? These are dresses to take your breath away and start the cameras flashing.Yet increasingly Chapman and Craig have shown an inclination to expand their repertoire, which they did with chic smoking offerings and gorgeous short dresses including an intricately folded bustier number in rich aubergine satin. In a word, stunning.Isaac Mizrahi: The first look out at Isaac Mizrahi, a gray flannel bustier dress under a slouchy tawny cardi, set the tone. This was going to be a smart ladylike affair. What followed were terrific sportswear separates — herringbone trousers, sweater sets and bouclé skirts. The designer also kept his penchant for poufed Fifties silhouettes — think housewife Betty Draper on "Mad Men" — that, rendered in this mostly subdued palette, looked fresh and grown-up, not kitsch. Mizrahi's zip and zing came through in the amusing Fair Isle-patterned mink top (the designer recently signed a fur licensing deal with Goodman Couture) and the trio of "leaf" dresses, for which he layered autumn foliage and fruit graphics over plaid skirts. But what started out as a strong study in pretty polish lost its energy by the end. And the models' too-slow pace didn't help either.

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