Helmut Lang: “Dragonfly” read the teaser title on the credit list at Helmut Lang’s show on Thursday. But what could it mean? Certainly it pertained little to the show’s opening, which, for all its jumble of layers, slings, flapping sleeves and appendages, strolled the soothing side of an athletic motif. This pleasant reserve, fleeting as it was, made the perfect foil for what was to come.

That’s because, after deliberately lulling his audience into a pleasing calm, Lang startled it back to sharp attention with a frenetic explosion of color and shine as beguiling as it was bizarre. Layering is a Lang standard, as are the complicated, often out-there extras that his sure hand makes seem the essence of normalcy. But even by Lang’s standards, here those embellishments turned wondrously strange. He let straps fall loose off the shoulders and attached upside-down jackets, their empty sleeves flapping away, to the waists of pants and skirts, so that it looked like the models were stripping out of their clothes as they walked.

The crazed effect was only intensified by the shifts of color that started with the pale neutrals and went momentarily dark. Then came a bright flash in what appeared to be a belt with a red metallic blob attached to one hip. Thus began the flight of the dragonflies, in a dazzling swarm of metallics and iridescents. This injected unexpected flamboyance into Lang’s signature street chic, and, more importantly, proved that his recent reemergence as a force of daring provocation was more than a fling. That said, what’s wrong with the occasional fling? Lang took one here, playing to spring’s flirty mood with undone party frocks in gossamer fluff — green, purple, berry — under stretched-out tanks, just right for the coolest girl in school, from one of the coolest designers anywhere.



Emanuel Ungaro: Score! Giambattista Valli may have had his ups and downs since taking the helm at Emanuel Ungaro, but you can count the rock-solid spring collection he showed on Thursday in the former category. It was pretty — unabashedly feminine, in fact — without resorting to sugary tactics and going weak in the knees. Many designers think that feminine means little-girl clothes. Not Valli. His collection was built for women, and it was bowl-’em-over sexy. Just what the clients ordered.In a sweltering bouquet of pink, lavender and orange, he spun a spring fantasy, working a slash-and-drape technique that sent necklines plummeting. Make that a slash, drape and tape technique. Because the deeper those beautiful jersey and silk chiffon dresses and tops plunged, the more likely they were to cause an embarrassing oops-there-it-is moment. No matter, a little tape job never stopped the gung ho from going glam. Valli’s fans, especially those in the Hollywood camp, are used to high-drama dressing, and they’re flush in the double-stick department.

But while he didn’t do girly, Valli certainly didn’t skimp on the trimmings, either. His dresses fluttered with flyaway streamers, glittered in swirling whirls and bloomed with embroidered flora. In a Grecian moment, one dress came braided up the front, then twisted itself around into a halter. Swimsuits done in the same wrap-and-tie manner looked fantastic. What didn’t work, however, were Valli’s skin-tight metallic brocade pants with bejeweled buttons marching up the legs and garish blazers that attempted the wrap-and-tie method. But, thankfully, these aberrations all but disappeared within the steam rising from Valli’s fabulous best.



Rochas: Young lady with a hint of Goth? You bet, and it played beautifully in the Rochas collection Olivier Theyskens showed on Wednesday night. Theyskens brings something wonderful to the youthful, ladylike mood currently sweeping fashion: an aura of intrigue, one that combines his agility on the edge — remember Madonna’s Oscars corset? — with a finely honed delicacy. His spring collection was unabashedly pretty, yet with a sense of eccentric mystery that warded off any intrusion of the banal.

Rejecting the grand volumes of his last collection, Theyskens opened with short, spare shapes in silvery metallics, sometimes veiled in lace, that nodded at the haute Sixties. Tunics or loose jackets slid over short shirts, but then out came a delicate black dress edged in lace and decorated with bows that heralded a major theme to come — corsetry. Theyskens loves it, and while he occasionally showed a bustier dress on its own, more often, he exposed bras and bustiers under daringly scooped necklines. Her mother may have dreamed of walking the runway in her Maidenform bra, but this girl really did, wreaking chic havoc with a look that might otherwise be deemed prim. The designer’s other big theme: romantic lace portholes inset into bodices, skirts and the backs of jackets, all framed with tulle and bows. Lovely? To be sure, although he lingered too long with the motif, as he also did with his peekaboo bodices, indicating he still has a thing or two to learn about restraint.Theyskens has, however, already caught onto the lure of the red carpet. While some of his gowns had the awkward cuts of a novice, others, such as the pale silk veiled in a web of black lace, wafted charmed sophistication.

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