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Both Sides Now – Richard Chai, Rodarte, Malo, Diesel, Nanette Lepore, Peter Som

If designers have it their way this fall, girls will look feminine in frills at one moment, and tomboyish in military motifs the next.

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If designers have it their way this fall, girls will look feminine in frills at one moment, and tomboyish in military motifs the next.

Richard Chai: The question that Richard Chai posed to himself this season is: How does one create a new sort of sophistication that is both refined and comfortable? “I wanted the clothes to feel like your favorite scarf,” Chai said after the show. It’s admirable work, and Chai approaches the challenge with gusto, a pocketful of keen ideas and, most indispensably, great technical proficiency. What could be more comfortable than a trenchcoat, a cardigan or cuffed pants meant to be worn with flat shoes? Good question. Perhaps the romantic evening dresses that looked nightgown-comfortable, but with clever seams and lovely knotted fabric rosettes. But there was more than just a sense of ease in the clothes, as the trench combination featured masculine tailoring bordering on the punk, and that evening dress worked a stark, serene romanticism. There was, too, plenty of refinement, which showed up in the details, such as the sharply curved yokes and silver snaps on the coats, rippling lapels on cardigans and subtle texture on pants. Too bad the fashion flock has to wait six months till they hit the stores.

Rodarte: Trekking up to East 79th Street is a haul-and-a-half in the middle of an overstuffed fashion week, especially to see a collection that’s only three seasons old. It speaks volumes, then, that retailers such as Julie Gilhart and Linda Fargo made the journey for Rodarte. And designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy didn’t disappoint. Picking up where they left off last season, they revisited their pinked and frilled cocktail dresses and evening gowns. Loose chiffon strips, running the length of some looks, undulated and fluttered like sea kelp as models walked — an intentional and intriguing visual trick. It was lovely on the waisted sheaths, but read as fussy on the skinny pantsuits, an idea that Stefano Pilati successfully toyed with at YSL last season. Such intense detail — including the twisted and bunched rosettes that beautifully crowded the back of a long white number — takes patience and incredible effort, something the Mulleavys must have in spades.

Malo: Times are a-changing over at the Italian knitwear company Malo. There’s a new designer at the helm, Fabio Piras, and he’s taking the 34-year-old company in a new direction, not to mention city, for the label’s first New York runway show. “Chic ease” read the show notes, and there was certainly plenty of that to go around: cozy, effortless sweater dresses, both chunky and sheer, as well as a bevy of cold-comfort cashmere goods that have proven the brand’s bread and butter thus far. But Piras also sent out some fabulous outerwear, including a brass-buttoned, white sheared mink trench chicly cinched with a skinny rope and leather belt, in addition to a few men’s wear-inspired looks, feminine bow blouses and swingy pleated frocks. While fall’s more fashion-y turn was a welcome change, Piras should caution against straying too far too soon. Case in point: the black silk chiffon and lace slipdress that, while pretty, seemed like a look lost on its way from the boudoir.

Diesel: Inspired by the fabled Chelsea Hotel and the musical fixtures it played home to through the years, Diesel’s creative director, Wilbert Das, delivered an eclectic, if not provocative, mix for fall — including a puzzling nod to an era long gone: a black-caped Grace Jones shaking and howling her way up and down the runway. Disco fans will appreciate the touches of Lurex woven into knit leggings or the Biba-esque silk jumpsuits. Sex Pistols aficionados will grab for the studded denim and leather, of which there was plenty. And don’t forget the wool herringbone suits and ruffled raglan trenchcoat that would certainly delight the androgynous set. Indeed, there was something for everyone — which makes sense, given that 65 percent of Diesel’s annual sales come from the firm’s branded stores — but for the sake of editors and retailers, Das’ wide spectrum of references could benefit from a good edit.

Nanette Lepore: Never one to let a frill pass her by, Nanette Lepore hosted one girly affair. With a nod to the Edwardian gentleman, she mixed natty tweed trousers and pinstriped suiting with feminine silky floral or polkadot blouses finished off with cravat-like ties. Toss in whimsical knit vests and it all had a charming, thrown-together appeal for the fashion-lover with eclectic tendencies. At a few points, though, that quirky thread unraveled when Lepore got bogged down in too many spangled ideas, such as the beaded fringes and disco lamé dresses. And the girlish theme that worked so well with sportswear didn’t translate into evening’s siren gowns.

Peter Som: “It’s about a feeling, not a period,” said Peter Som of his inspiration: the Ascot scene in “My Fair Lady,” in which all the characters are wearing black and white. He says the film has been an obsession since childhood, and, apparently, the young Peter had an eye. The graphic, minimal palette gave a terrific modern look to his cocktail ensembles, particularly a white bloused top dusted with polkadots and paired with a full black skirt, as well as others that combined lean tuxedo pants with crisp, slim-cut white shirts. That elongated silhouette also lent itself well to suits in pewter corduroy and ivory wool, but when the same idea was extended to shorts, the result felt tricky and unwearable. Som’s work is best served straight up, with a dash or two of an offbeat detail to balance the prettiness factor. Occasionally, however, he laid on the offbeat a little too thick. So while a layer of pleated tulle on a cocktail suit was lovely, it dragged on a pair of gowns that were already weighted down with puffy silk tiers.

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