By  on February 29, 2008

Certain designers relish playing with big ideas and avant shapes, and they did so for fall, with varying degrees of success.

Hussein Chalayan: Fashion loves themes — but can anyone think of a designer who has tackled the evolution of humanity? It would seem that no concept is too big for Hussein Chalayan, he of the esoteric tricks, from dresses that double as chairs to disappearing mechanical gowns. As with any proper story, Chalayan divided his narrative into chapters. First came nonexistence, conveyed in draped, textured and printed dresses and tailored jackets worn with slim trousers. Nice, approachable fare with a modern allure.

Next he explored the creation of life on earth up to the Stone Age, with a series of black dresses with monkeys sculpted from the fabric. They looked straight out of a PBS science-education program. A Flintstone moment ensued with dresses decorated with primitive stone tools (any sexy paleontologists out there?). And man's trek toward civilization was completed with flowing silk dresses printed with a gun surrounded by a cornucopia of abundance.

Then the lights dropped, and out trotted two dresses of moving lights. Spacey? Of course. But having just signed a lucrative deal with Puma to sell his company and serve as creative director for the German sports giant, Chalayan proved his own evolution is totally grounded.

Giambattista Valli: Between the Moncler puffer jackets he'll unveil this evening and the wildly exaggerated poufs that populated his own fall collection, there's no such thing as too much puff for Giambattista Valli. Here's betting his loyal socials and swanky starlets disagree. While Valli's party frocks have never been the stuff of safe, snooze-worthy celebrity dressing, the extreme egg-shaped cocktail dresses, many of them too eggy in stiff ivory fabrics, and the overblown balloon gowns he showed on Thursday afternoon bordered on the absurd.

White, red and pink coats and dresses were pouffed and padded in the most unlikely places — at the thighs, hips and shoulders. The designer used fur to create a humpback on one skintight dress and a kangaroo pouch on another. Some dresses curved in the back for an effect not unlike that of a turtle shell. And when he didn't run amok in extreme architectural volume, ridiculous decoration, as in bulbous bunches of ruffles that hung off a body-skimming dress like a fuchsia topiary, sufficed. There were a few subtler moments in some deflated dresses, but not nearly enough. If Valli hoped this would be a collection of influential, directional clothes — well, not to burst his bubble, but he has a way to go.Celine: Now well into her tenure at Celine, Ivana Omazic should have a firm hand on the rudder. But judging by her fall collection, the designer's still struggling to unfurl the sails in her quest to give the brand a modern resonance. Balancing techno elements with more feminine shapes was one of Omazic's themes. A fuzzy fur coat, for example, came with a hood, while slouchy trousers had sporty ankle tabs. Long satin dresses were accessorized with short techno-silk boleros. And one long gown was worn with a leather backpack (perfect, of course, for a glamour puss on the run). While examining an active woman's needs may be a noble pursuit, Omazic's results largely looked overwrought and unflattering. Proportions on the asymmetric folded skirts, for instance, were awkward and the chunky knit dresses with wave-like folds needed a lighter hand. In the notes, she said she wanted to design a collection for "here and now." That's what Celine needs.

Anne Valérie Hash: Picking up where her January couture show left off, Anne Valérie Hash mused on geometrics. Consider her first look out: a sapphire blue top with sheer paneling and boxy, faceted sleeves. The motif found its way, as the show rolled on, onto everything from blazers with angular 3-D lapels to bustier frocks with curious protrusions jutting out above the hips. The former proved weirdly intriguing; the latter, seriously awkward. But this was only the beginning of Hash's rather eclectic affair. She did her part for fall's plaid movement — Prince of Wales checks aplenty — as well as the vibrant color trend, which was tempered by doses of gentle degradés. Fur? It came sleek and thin, not beastly, as with one body-skimming turtleneck. She also offered up her signature tailored onesies, printed, plain and all-out sequined. And, yes, the lineup looked as busy as this sounds. Exploring ideas is a good thing for a designer like Hash, but it's best when they're not overwhelmingly served up all at once.

Sophia Kokosalaki: Sophia Kokosalaki has a way of avoiding the obvious when it comes to her signature pleating and draping techniques. There wasn't a sweeping Grecian-goddess gown, rope detail or origami-style pleat in her fall collection. In fact, she practically eschewed the motif entirely in the black dresses, unfettered aside from a curving strap at the neck that opened her darkly romantic lineup. For the most part, silhouettes were slim, as in subsequent plain black dresses that worked as backdrops for curlicues and the scalloped edges decorating necks and backs. Where she pleated, she did so subtly on lantern sleeves, or short, sexy party dresses that swirled like a cloud around the body. Restraint pairs nicely with Kokosalaki's style — something she should keep in mind when the temptation to experiment, as in the show-closing bunchy, hulking coats, strikes.more from the shows…

Veronique Branquinho: Known for her user-friendly chic, Veronique Branquinho concentrated on basics with a twist — a camel coat with a squared shoulder or a long wool blue dress with gray stripes — that were proper but lacked an original flavor.

Haider Ackermann: Draped and wrapped, Haider Ackermann's collection offered sure-handed standouts that included feather-trimmed coats, romantic dresses and jackets that laced up the back.

Jasmine di Milo: Ultrabaggy gold lamé pants as well as a high-waisted wool minidress with peaked shoulders and a sweet allover heart print made for fun elements in Jasmine Al Fayed's lineup, which ranged from fluid jersey pantsuits to high-octane gowns.

Leonard: Véronique Leroy's wilder looks, such as the designer's airy gowns doused in blown-out animal prints in eye-popping combos of vivid pinks and reds, worked best for her fall lineup for Leonard — a pretty affair.

Bernhard Willhelm: The scarlet-and-gold tunics worn by the Beefeater guards at the Tower of London formed the basis of Bernhard Willhelm's typically esoteric collection, translated into roomy felt baby-doll smocks and slim coats.


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