Baby Phat: At some point, Baby’s got to grow up. Kimora Lee Simmons gives every impression of wanting to be perceived as a serious designer developing a serious business. That is until showtime, when all bets — not to mention anything resembling a modicum of professional decorum — are off. Yes, fashion has become a celebrity circus, especially in New York, where any Tom, Dick or Tori can send the paparazzi all agog. And certainly this is not an issue that begins and ends with Baby Phat. But the savvy apparel exec must know when to refocus her priorities. Simmons has been staging her free-for-all celeb fests for some time now, and it’s starting to irk the people who go to fashion shows for a living. Just ask André Leon Talley. (See scoop.) Getting into Simmons’ Baby Phat show at Ace Gallery on Saturday night was nothing short of a nightmare, and the raucous focus on her arrivals — Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Usher, Ashley Olsen, Paula Abdul, JC Chavez, Shannen Doherty and Tori Spelling, to name a few — and the pushing, shoving and ill-will the mess created, demoted the show itself to little more than a footnote.

That footnote was all about Bond, James Bond. Within that theme, Simmons worked in high-powered pantsuits, some with jet-set appeal, and plenty of come-hither furs as well as low-cut dresses and skin-baring tops, the better to seduce with, of course. She also showed a number of lean, mean, miniskirts, because Bond girls mean business and frills just won’t do.

Unfortunately, Simmons took her motif way too far, going less Bond and more bondage. The mesh leather short-shorts, slashed dresses and leather corsetry are better left to the call girls of Hunts Point. As for the patent leather bras, one is an S&M statement, three’s a crowd — and a crime. And eventually, such criminal behavior loses its luster. Racy or raunchy? Fashion pro or pretender? The sooner Kimora decides, the better.

Tracy Reese: Girls will be girls, and Tracy Reese wouldn’t have it any other way. The designer works an oh-so-pretty attitude, one that often veers toward retro with a Fifties vibe. For fall she tempered that with more than a dash of Deco, and came up with a mostly lovely collection. Gentility reigned as Reese’s good girls sashayed about in an array of proper looks, their jazzy golden shoes belying just a hint of naughtiness. Throughout, she favored a full-ish silhouette, from almost-prim princess coats and a double-bow suit to a jeune fille sweater over a Prince-of-Wales skirt, its charm heightened by a lace underskirt playing peekaboo at the hem.But sometimes, a skirt just won’t do, and a girl wants to go for the full-on coquetry of a gentle dress. And despite the now classic status of such fare, Reese kept the genre fresh with a lineup that beguiled, including peonie-printed tiers and beaded flapper frocks. What didn’t work were some too-literal Fifties references, especially the fur-collared clutch coat shown in several variations — too familiar from other runways. And despite the designer’s yen for the frou of bygone days, one would love to see her update the styling of her show, such as the kitsch of big hair and feather headdresses in favor of an aesthetic more suited to a modern It Girl — just like the clothes.  

James Coviello: When James Coviello hits the drawing board, it is invariably with a scrap of inspiration that harkens back to an era of pristine dollhouses, petticoat frills, flowery teacups and the necessity of oil lamps. And no doubt a Coviello girl thinks fondly of those times. The tricky part, of course, comes in dusting it all off and polishing it up for modern life. Aside from a few matronly jackets and satin dresses, the designer did so beautifully. There seemed no end to the politely flirtatious dresses and skirts, some in a washed wallpaper print and others in razored chiffon. And since no girl wants to be all sugar, Coviello added the spice of a black sequined chiffon dress. As for those renown knits, Coviello delighted again with fanciful Fair Isles and chunky ivory cardigans, just perfect to toss on over those pretty dresses when the autumn sets in.

Catherine Malandrino: Remember the heyday of Paris’ La Coupole and its habitués — Colette, June and Henry Miller, Anais Nin? Catherine Malandrino attempted to re-create that mood in her collection with what she called “eclectic American/French style.” Her view of those freewheeling personalities, however, didn’t always successfully translate to the runway. With so many wonderful pieces in that Bohemian spirit it should have. But Malandrino was overzealous in her use of jodhpurs and high-heeled boots, which she paired with just about everything. Some of those pants in porcelain rip cord or velvet looked terrific, especially shown with a pearl knit sweater and astrakhan-collared wool coat. But when dozens of jodhpurs in taffeta and assorted jacquards flooded the runway, it was overkill. Still, Malandrino’s charm wasn’t totally obscured; it was still clear in her porcelain suede basket-weave jacket worn over a cotton voile pintuck dress; delicate tulle or embroidered Guipure lace blouses and peasant-inspired dresses, and the long bulky black wool cardigan boldly belted over a tiered chiffon dress. While this collection and its styling had its playful moments, the overall effect was a bit forced. It’s doubtful that her Paris muses tried as hard to affect their look.Alexandre Herchcovitch: Alexandre Herchcovitch loves to play the provocateur. With his second New York show, the Brazilian designer eschewed the typical recorded soundtrack in favor of live musicians — and not of the conventional orchestra pit type. Rather, each model was escorted down the runway by a variety of musicians. The effect was as poetic and chaotic as Herchcovitch’s clothes. The designer layered and styled his collection to an editorial fare-thee-well, but to any graduate of Galliano 101, it was easy to pick out the pieces that combined both art and commerce. Herchcovitch loves ruffles, for example, and he worked them to seem almost punk, never too girly or precious, as in a hot pink chiffon top when layered over a long sleeve T over skinny gray trousers. And what about a muted floral tiered trench finished with pie-crust trim? The idea on paper may be a tad too sweet, but not chez Herchcovitch, where it played perfectly to the quirky side of chic.

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