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A Breath of Fresh Air – Michael Kors, Narcisco Rodriguez, Roland Mouret, Peter Som

Designers lightened up this season. Luxe, fluid and easy looks floated down the New York runways for spring, showing off the drape, curve and cut of all things crisp and chic.

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Designers lightened up this season. Luxe, fluid and easy looks floated down the New York runways for spring, showing off the drape, curve and cut of all things crisp and chic.

Michael Kors: While divining the mood of his spring collection, Michael Kors established a strict set of guidelines: Deliver au courant severity. Retain charm. Banish the ho.

A tall order, certainly, but Kors achieved all of the above and more, wrapping his self-imposed requirements in a mood he called “romantic optimism,” coloring it with a soupçon of Louise Dahl-Wolfe and a substantial “Giant” moment. And if it’s a short stride from Elizabeth Taylor’s city girl displaced deep in the heart of Texas to the women of “Deadwood,” so be it; either way, Kors never lets even the best fantasy hide his ultrarealistic core.

The designer’s big mission was to tone down the flash without becoming a bore. To that end, he mixed austere tailoring with softer pieces, working in black, white and sober neutrals but touched with just the right amount of sparkle. Thus, a delicately embroidered chantilly lace shirt dolled up a sensible khaki skirt; a tiered, golden “Out of Africa” (or the prairie) skirt twinkled under a linen trench and white tank. The whole thing was a feast of pragmatic chic, look after look of terrific pieces rooted in the common sense premise that clothes should be first, last and always, wearable. The exception to the core principle came in discordant camouflage sightings. Whether Kors’ sophisticated customer is up for playing soldier at all is questionable; if so, she might love the little miniskirt under a big, cozy sweater, but chances are good she won’t shell out for the mink-lined camo coat.

As for Kors’ new nemesis, the fashion ho — gone, goodbye, outta here. Even at the beach, courtesy of adorable Grable-worthy eyelet two-piecers and at night, in glamorous gowns worn with a polished casual attitude.

Narciso Rodriguez: In a chat several days before his show, Narciso Rodriguez pointed to a printout of a bold, curved graphic tacked to the wall of his design studio and noted that the motif would appear in his collection. “All of the straight lines,” he said, “are much more curved.”

This story first appeared in the September 15, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

To a connoisseur of cut such as Rodriguez, that shift might seem akin to the earth moving. But to the clothes-buying public — and at least some editors — the change played as something less than seismic. There’s no question that Rodriguez’s clothes are beautiful and constructed to feel like a dream on the body. Yet most women laying down designer prices — even tried-and-true minimalists — expect obvious new-fangled visual oomph along with more personal subtleties, and many of Rodriguez’s clothes just looked too familiar.

That said, his dresses were ultrachic in structured, washed linens and springy lilac silks. A sportif touch showed up in cotton T-shirts and a new loosened-up silhouette that paired sleeveless tops with fluttering skirts while skinny pants and razor-sharp jackets lent a rare masculine edge. The designer continued his exploration of volume in a swinging gold silk coat, dresses that ballooned out from small, high bodices and a charming layered lavender gown that flowed tent-like from the bust but looked light as air. Yet this, too, had an aura of familiarity. Given fashion’s new austerity — and the void left by Jil Sander and Helmut Lang — this could be a golden moment for Rodriguez. But first he needs to mine a little deeper for new ways to express his so-chic aesthetic.

Roland Mouret: When a designer’s show notes mention deconstruction and distortion, you automatically assume things may wind up on the messy side. Not true in the capable hands of Roland Mouret, whose talent for artistic tailoring and sexy draping is winning him many fans — civilian and celebrity alike. Mouret’s distortion had a sculptural approach: molding, folding and pinch-pleating crisp linen and stretch wool into some dramatically chic pieces. Whereas last season’s lineup was of the supertight femme fatale variety, Mouret loosened up and was right on track with the resurgence of volume this season. Tailored pieces were done up in tiny gray houndstooth linen that hugged the body. And a peplumed suit and full-skirted dress were both cut with square necklines, exposing light-as-air organza collars. Mouret then indulged his softer side in wide fluid trousers topped with a flowing cutaway kimono. He closed the show with a dazzling rainbow of Thirties-inspired wool crepe and gauze dresses, the standouts being slinky raspberry and fitted yellow numbers, both belted in grosgrain.

Peter Som: “There’s nothing like waking up and flopping down on the beach,” Peter Som said after his Tuesday morning show. “It’s what I do all summer. I just wanted to impart that same feeling to the clothes.” Beachy ease, however, is nothing new for Som, whose collections often marry the freedom of sandy shores with the gilded world of his social customer. Who’s to say just how much actual flopping this lady does, but she will certainly appreciate Som’s intention of luxury sans ostentation, as in a look that paired a Deauville-inspired long cardigan over white sailor pants and a floral tank. In fact, the designer worked all parts of a sailor uniform — the double-buttoning of the classic pants also made it onto skirts and shorts and were infinitely wearable and chic. Not so the sailor collar, which, though well-intentioned, played it overly cute. But along with the nautical and sportif came a touch of romance in the form of high necklines and lace. Prints, a Som hallmark, were mixed. A graphic, oversized floral far outshone a tiny butterfly pattern. And for those who might sport his many linen pieces including two particular beauties — a gown spray-painted with stenciled flowers and an ivory linen dress — the designer offered some advice: “You have to embrace the wrinkles.”

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