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Some of the recent fall collections were all about the pretty and polished, with designers turning out simple cocktail dresses, smart little jackets and great-looking patterned coats.

Chado Ralph Rucci: As always, for his Chado Ralph Rucci collection, Ralph Rucci showed detailed clothes with superb cut and craftsmanship in exquisite materials, albeit with his typical architectural pomp. Still, what distinguished this line from previous efforts was the sheer number of accessible clothes. His lemon-colored cashmere jacket and the deep forest green high-necked cashmere coat, for example, didn’t suffer any of the Rucci tricks, but rather were enriched by a monotoned paisley embroidery. The snug, sexy sheaths with tiered lace overlay worked a light-handed flirtiness, a rare treat in a Rucci collection. And the black silk velvet off-the-shoulder gown reflected the best of his talents — a perfect mix of cut, artistic flair and drama.

Zac Posen: Just ask Drew Barrymore — growing up in the public eye can be a tough, slow process. Zac Posen, all of 25, continues to experience his own growing pains, mired in conflict between youthful notions of glamour and the realities of modern dressing. Caught in the middle: his overwrought fall presentation, too much by day — the shoulders, the snakeskin, the ponderous silhouettes — and by night — full skirts, feathers and a pair of models wrapped so tightly they couldn’t walk. Which is a shame, because Posen has made considerable strides. On the upside, a demure plaid dress, sporty jackets and skirts, a terrific peacoat, and for when the lady wants to be a vamp, a smartly cabled mink-and-lamb trenchcoat, all featured interesting — but reasonable — quirks of construction. And at night, when he controlled the urge to overflex his considerable technical muscles, he came up with a chic navy satin sheath and a terrifically effortless silver sack dress. But these looks needed some toned-down company. Would that Posen could relax, flip through a few celebrity tabloids, watch the starlets banter with Letterman, pay attention to the comings and goings of thirtysomething socials. Which is not to say he should design to the blandest common denominator. But like it or not, these are casual times, and most women just don’t feel comfortable in highly complicated clothes.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Sweetface: Add “quick study” to Jennifer Lopez’s title of actress/pop diva/designer. The tight Sweetface collection Lopez showed on Friday indicated the willingness — not to mention the savvy — to take her lumps and learn from them. After her much-ado-about-little extravaganza a year ago and a one-season hiatus from the runway, Lopez returned with a shrunken presentation. It pulsed with “I-still-have-much-to-learn” humility, all while she worked her superstar wiles to uber advantage, greeting her guests before the show wearing a politely sexy dress and pumps. “I wanted to do something more personal, so you can really see the clothes,” she said.

With an Airstream trailer as the backdrop, out came her models — each in La Lopez hair and makeup — in an appealing dialogue between ladylike dressing and street-smart style, the former attributed to a Sixties obsession triggered by her work in the biopic “El Cantante.” Dresses were cut close to the body in plaid gabardine or full-skirted in lace or metallic tweed, cinched with belts; outerwear ranged from a plaid swing coat belted in front to a shiny hooded vest trimmed with fur, and deep-ribbed, knit-cuff knits lent attitude to skinny jeans. The results were more polished than before, and twinkled with the glow of a still-new endeavor really coming together.

Matthew Williamson: Times are tough for designers who revel in all things bohemian. And Matthew Williamson seems to be having a particularly hard time of it. With its overly retro silhouettes, his perplexing fall collection resembled a casting call for extras in “The Ice Storm” — a seeming attempt to turn tailored wool groovy. So, too, his usual strengths of color and print appeared to malfunction. His palette swung from excessively bright to dull and muddy. And a fluorescent Aztec print that ran throughout in silk dresses, bow blouses and flouncy skirts was appealing in none of the above. In all fairness, there were redeeming factors, namely those cashmere sweaters and bouclé-and-lamé coats and yes, there will always be a customer for beaded chiffon.

Cynthia Rowley: As the New Amsterdam Boys Choir performed a medley of reworked pop ballads, Cynthia Rowley was singing the blues. Channeling painter Yves Klein’s yen for the color, she worked her flirty little pieces in every imaginable shade, only throwing in spots of red, gold and pink here and there. Some noteworthy looks included her pretty puff-sleeve blouses worn with cropped skinny pants, delicate lace dresses and a playful trapeze coat. Yet that color fascination seemed to be the designer’s only focus, as the rest of the collection was incohesive: exaggerated cowl-neck dresses; an ill-fitting satin cocktail slip worn jumper-style over a knit top; an asymmetric-gone-haywire dress. Then there was the peculiar “Magical Mushroom” motif worked into all of her prints, and also etched into the gold-plated hardware. It all left us wondering if Rowley was spending too much time in “Wonderland.”

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