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Different Drummers – Custo Barcelona, Richard Chai, Atil Kutoglu, Tess Giberson and Charles Alexander

Custo Dalmau marched to his own beat for Custo Barcelona…Tess Giberson showed Summer-of-Love looks…and Richard Chai went ladylike and minimal.

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Custo Dalmau marched to his own beat for Custo Barcelona…Tess Giberson showed Summer-of-Love looks…and Richard Chai went ladylike and minimal.

Custo Barcelona: Since designer Custo Dalmau always shows dozens of combinations of his signature prints, colors and textures, the Custo Barcelona collection can be a little overwhelming on the runway. It’s all just so darn much. But Dalmau, who’s Spanish, is clearly doing something right. His collection does well internationally. He has 22 stores worldwide and plans to open five more in the U.S. by the end of the year, to add the current three in New York, Chicago and Santa Fe.

The collection Dalmau showed on Friday was titled, “Summer as a Journey,” and it had a get-up-and-go feeling perfect for a quick jaunt. There were lots of spring coats, easy T-shirts and pretty printed skirts and shorts, many accessorized with matching caps or umbrellas. The best pieces were the delightful cotton pique trenches in white, lime, aqua and pink, many with Victorian-style raised shoulders or a contrast yoke in back. Nylon or cotton windbreakers with a retro feel looked sweet, too, with tiny ruffles on the pockets or shoulders.

Richard Chai: To fashion insiders, Richard Chai is far from being a new name. They knew him first as a designer at Marc Jacobs and then as one of the creative forces who passed through the revolving doors at Tse. Still, Chai’s Saturday show was his first effort under his own name.

The designer offered up a line of clothes for the the sophisticated, yet individual girl that so many seem to want to dress this season. Although Chai’s tailored, ladylike silhouettes — pencil skirts, skinny pants, belted jackets and ultralight knit — aren’t exactly unfamiliar, the designer worked them in a minimal and not-quite-sweet way that made his collection distinctive. For starters, he picked up a thread from the Space Age story that he started to tell with his last collection at Tse for fall 2003. How does lady go techno? In some cases, it’s done by cutting an old-standby, such as the pencil skirt, in layers of organza for an ethereal effect. And yet in others, the newness comes in the form of slight tweaks on traditional shapes, such as the sharpened shoulder and half-sleeve on a crisp white cotton jacket belted with raw-edged ribbon. The mostly pale, restrained palette and lack of embellishment also contributed to the cause.

This story first appeared in the September 13, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

It’s certainly tough to find a unique voice in increasingly crowded arena, but Chai is well on his way.

Atil Kutoglu: Atil Kutoglu’s collection was much improved this season. The line is more focused now, and the designer also distanced himself from the Turkish motifs he emphasized in earlier collections, which limited their appeal. Fabric and material choices set the tone. There was a terrific striped cotton sheeting, for example, that was cut into a cute pair of shorts, evoking the spirit of chic American sportswear. Crushed silk gave a touch of antiquity to the Grecian-inspired, lace-detailed beige column and the material also worked well in the black high-waisted number with split kimono sleeves. While Kutoglu’s inventive use of leather in dresses, coats and tops was a significant part of the collection, it wasn’t the most impressive. Instead, it was his breezy, effortless looks that had the most impact, such as the swingy, gold-and-blue brocade vest worn over a cotton shirtdress and the brocade blazer paired with an easy, cropped jumpsuit.

Tess Giberson: In a world that’s currently dominated by the eclectic-lady look, designer Tess Giberson’s sweetly ethereal collection was like a light, cool downtown sorbet. In spite of the designer’s artsy-craftsy reputation and the generally bohemian silhouettes, she avoided the associations that usually accompany those terms. Instead, the mostly white and pale gray collection, accessorized by Ninh Wysocan’s beautiful jewelry, felt fresh. In fact, the long and loose dresses — some detailed with trapunto seaming or lines of rickrack — cool, slouchy pants; tops, and skirts would be a perfect wardrobe for the city-dweller whose tastes coincide with the aesthetics of the Summer of Love. And, as retailers know, there’s no shortage of them.

Charles Alexander: When Charles Alexander showed his spring collection, it was easy to picture Alicia Silverstone’s character in “Clueless,” Cher, assembling umpteen possible outfits for the first day of school. That’s because the designer displayed a similar giddy enthusiasm, and it was clear that he had a hard time choosing looks for what the show notes called “a mad dash around the world.” Alexander’s background is in made-to-order — he has been the in-house couture designer at Bergdorf Goodman for two years and, before that, was creative director at Maggie Norris Couture. But, while Alexander clearly has talent and taste, he has not yet grasped the notion of creating a cohesive collection. That said, there were beautiful pieces here, such as neatly tailored silk print blouses; high-waisted printed linen skirts; drop-waisted silk and linen ball skirts, and a striking embossed, black leather jacket. Now he has to refine those lovely elements into a cohesive whole.

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