By  on March 1, 2006

PARIS — Asked how he felt working behind the scenes all these years at celebrated houses such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, Peter Dundas demurred, "I'm shy."

But this strapping, energetic Norwegian will take a bow on Thursday as the new designer at Emanuel Ungaro, where he plans to evoke "mid-Eighties Paris" in his debut collection.

"We need to make the house more present, taking the Ungaro legacy and making it relevant to today," Dundas told WWD. "This show is going to be defining the Ungaro woman."

Over the past three years, Dundas has helped define the Roberto Cavalli woman; Dundas he was head designer there right up until last Saturday afternoon, when Cavalli closed Milan Fashion Week. But Dundas has been quietly moonlighting at Ungaro since late last year — and feeling plenty inspired.

"The Ungaro woman really turns me on," he said in an interview on Sunday, resembling a rock star in his tight jeans, boots and a beaten-up black shirt. Asked what defines her, Dundas rattled off a few descriptors: "energetic, alive, dangerous, very sensual, very feminine and very empowered."

For his first collection, Dundas mined one of the house's chief codes — draping, a technique he applies with wool jersey and nude colored chiffon and hints at with trompe l'oeil effects. He also makes reference to leg-of-mutton sleeves, another Ungaro signature

"I'm trying to give it a young twist, while preserving the spirit of the house," he explained. There are mixes of prints, "but not too many," and lots of plays on volume, with trapeze shapes and bulbous blousons, he added.

Dundas arrives at a celebrated house that has had a rocky time on the road to rejuvenation. He succeeds Vincent Darre, whose two collections for Ungaro received lackluster reviews.

Seated on a fuchsia armchair in the company's historic Avenue Montaigne headquarters, Dundas sidestepped any commentary on the work of his predecessors, preferring to talk about the "DNA" of the house, with "the love of women" its central mantra. He stressed it would be a "step-by-step" process to construct a new and stronger image for the house, which he will do in tandem with San Francisco-based high-tech entrepreneur Asim Adbdullah, who last November purchased Ungaro from the Ferragamo Group.

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