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Down Home or Done Up – Tommy Hilfiger, Project Alabama, Doo.Ri, Baby Phat

Whether understated or with a dash of flash, the New York runways offered plenty of options for spring that kept things easy and chic.

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Whether understated or with a dash of flash, the New York runways offered plenty of options for spring that kept things easy and chic.

Tommy Hilfiger: A spit-and-polish window display for potential bidders, maybe. A clear statement of his company’s direction — definitely. After 20 years and major digressions through rock, rap and the U. S. Attorney’s office, Tommy Hilfiger went resolutely back to his roots: squeaky clean prep with just a soupçon of cool. It’s a message Hilfiger sent loud and clear on Friday night with every one of his hundred looks, all presented on fresh-faced girls and boys who walked the runway in dressed-down khaki, madras and gingham — Bermudas pulled down just so over the bands of colorful boxers.

Hilfiger found himself in a peculiar position this season, with a yen to celebrate a big anniversary but with his company still in the throes of challenging times. Yet celebrate he did, even if his front row was far from the boldface fest many had expected. (Sightings included TV stars Katherine Heigl of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Josh Duhamel of “Las Vegas” and Sophia Bush of “One Tree Hill.”) He opened with a video montage, its snippets including baby Tommy, a map of Elmira, N.Y., the Murjani years, advertising and a host of celebrities with strong or scant ties to Hilfiger — Jagger, Iman, Diddy, Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. Then came the prep parade, radiating the same wide-eyed wonder as the video. It was all dressed-down beachiness, its nautical motifs worked in a pleasant mix of low-key tailoring and play clothes, although one did wonder if all those bare feet made a statement about ease, or just that Hilfiger couldn’t decide on a shoe.

At times the quest for casual turned corny, and it certainly went on too long. There should be a reason for hiring 100 models other than that a designer can afford to; Hilfiger could have made his point with half the cast. But there’s a lot to be said for his happy, wholesome, unironic approach — not to mention a runway populated by pretty girls wearing pretty smiles.

Project Alabama: Whoever thought that city mice and country mice don’t mix well would sing a different tune if they sat through Natalie Chanin’s first runway show. In fact, the down-hominess of Chanin’s hand-quilted pieces played quite nicely with the polished look of tailored jackets, full skirts and belted coats — many of which sparkled lightly courtesy of just a touch of beading. Backstage, Chanin chalked up the progress to her participation in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. “It made us think about who we are,” said the Alabama native. “And we are really a company that is made in America.” Following that vein, Chanin chose Marilyn Monroe, an American icon, as her source of inspiration. Still, the designer didn’t belabor the reference, which showed its face subtly in the nipped-waist silhouettes and the messy, but glamorous, updos. Instead, she showed a look very much her own with motifs of sunburst florals, twinkling stars and a diamond pattern. You’ve heard of clothes that take you from day to evening. Well, Chanin has given us a look that takes you from Fifth Avenue to Florence, Ala., and back, looking just right all the way.

Doo.Ri: Doori Chung, one of last year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund participants, is a talented designer whose interesting ideas are executed with a lofty level of workmanship. For spring, Chung explored the play between structure and softness by quilting chiffon into a lovely little bolero, trimming a tailored cotton blazer with tulle and pairing a pale cotton khaki with decidedly more flou fabrics — jersey and satin. There was even a touch of that fashion yin-yang in a great belted trench with a collar that bloomed into layers of ruffles. And the combination worked well in a jersey trapeze dress with a constructed satin halter. But at times, the designer complicated the issue just a touch too much, resulting in a collection that wasn’t quite as strong as those that have made her a critical darling.

Baby Phat: Fashion is an aspirational sport. And Kimora Lee Simmons makes no bones about knowing that the Baby Phat customer is one who wants to live a Kimora lifestyle — with a closetful of flashy designer clothes and shelves of to-die-for handbags. For spring, Simmons sent out streams of pampered glamazons, the kind of women who exist, theoretically at least, on Rodeo Drive, in Jackie Susann novels and the imagination of Donatella Versace, to whom Simmons seemed to be flattering in her show, or copying, depending on your view of imitation. Not surprisingly, the big-haired beauties were accessorized to the hilt. And why not? The oversized visors might be meant solely for the runway, but not so those aviator sunglasses, chunky crystal bangles and “It”-bag-inspired handbags, which, along with the skinny jeans, denim minis and sexy jersey tops, will surely keep Simmons in her glamazon gear.

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