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Long on Charm – Proenza Schouler, Monique Lhuillier, Betsey Johnson and DKNY

Whether they riffed on the Sixties, the Forties or chose to play masculine against feminine, designers handled these themes with assurance as the New York collections continued. The result: plenty of great-looking clothes.

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Whether they riffed on the Sixties, the Forties or chose to play masculine against feminine, designers handled these themes with assurance as the New York collections continued. The result: plenty of great-looking clothes.

Proenza Schouler: Beautiful, commercial clothes and plenty of them. Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are a gifted duo who somehow managed to avoid the typical awkward designer adolescence and leapt right into full-fledged professional adulthood. Their work displays a surety and a level of execution well beyond their years and experience, and an impressive refined aesthetic. Their fall collection swaggered with confidence and a savvy awareness of bottom-line realities. Minus some of the more Madonna-esque corsetry, these clothes should sell up a storm.

The collection swayed nicely between two motifs: a take on the Sixties replete with microminis and bubbled-up jockey caps that stayed remarkably uncostume-y, and a rendering of girl-meets-boy in deft combos of corsetry and mannish tailoring. The biggest news came in the former, oozing girlish charm in delightful color-blocked, crinkly silk dresses, and turning sportier in separates combos, proper pinstripes and tweeds flashed up with loose mesh camis in restrained homage to Paco Rabanne. Though the corsets worn with pleated pants or trouser skirts rang a distinct bell of familiarity, they looked smart, and, in this season of ever-expanding proportions, they should give the volume-wary a happily chic — and safe — alternative.

That said, however, this collection’s strength was in a sense its weakness, as despite the strong clothes, one came away less than engaged. Perhaps McCollough and Hernandez are so focused on delivering polish, they’re giving short shrift to the possibilities inherent in a sense of abandon.

Monique Lhuillier: Monique Lhuillier is a promising designer, playing to two mind-sets. First, there are her red-carpet looks that feed the glamour-driven sensibility of L.A.’s denizens. Then, there is her increased emphasis on dressed-up suits and day looks, which happen to be big trends on the fall runways. Consider her terrific tweeds: the plum metallic polo shirtdress with baby-doll sleeves; a fox-collared coat; the belted jacket over a flip skirt. What Lhuillier did beautifully this season was to take what might be considered sportswear shapes and show them in the dressiest fabrics. She used lace for a crisp safari jacket and a pencil skirt and taffeta for a ruffle-edged classic jacket. In no way, however, has Lhuillier forgotten her lavish beginnings. Her long dresses were more evolved and glamorous than ever, and her evening gowns were exceptionally well made. A brown lace beauty with crisscrossing crystal insets and a plum lace godet halter gown were among the standouts. Like most ascending designers, Lhuillier had some derivative moments such as a few Oscar de la Renta references, but, hopefully, she’ll refine her niche with her own signature.

This story first appeared in the February 9, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Betsey Johnson: There’s nothing like starting the week with a good buzz. And fashion’s die-hard party girl, Betsey Johnson, was more than happy to provide Monday’s show goers with a bacchanalian means to an end: a perfectly chilled bottle of Guinness to knock back preshow. It makes sense, then, that Johnson’s fall setup was a pub — “The Bull and Betsey,” with a tartan runway and four plaid-clad barmaids to start the revelry. And what fun it was. True, Johnson hasn’t been one for thematic consistency within a collection of late, so it’s no surprise that she segued from adorable Fair Isle cardigans to charming cha-cha skirts to liquid satin sirens. The Forties-style fluid dresses in a subtle polkadotted sage and heart-printed emerald were big winners for the lass who wants to be the cutest one at the pub or the party. What held the entire lineup together were the frills — they were bountiful — and the colorful, plucky joie de vivre that is Johnson’s stamp. Betsey may be the last one to leave a party, but she always has the most fun. And it’s tough not to love that.

DKNY: It’s possible that Donna Karan is too karmically balanced to laugh at a Dorothy Parker zinger. (“You can lead a horticulture, but you cannot make her think.”) OK, she might. Whatever the case, Karan channeled the era of Ms. Parker’s famed Round Table with her presentation at the Algonquin Hotel. In good spirits, even while balancing on crutches and trying to keep her black cashmere shawl on her shoulders, the designer played host to a crowded room. “We’ve always done uptown and downtown,” she said. “Now we’re doing midtown.” Well, Donna, we only wish that midtown actually looked like this.

The rich array of fall colors — burgundy, chocolate, navy — played well in the richness of the setting. Karan cited a theme of opposing forces. Masculine tweed and corduroy jackets nipped at the waist were the perfect counterweight to the feminine ruffled chiffon, jacquard and beaded skirts and dresses. But lofty literary references and fashion rhetoric aside, DKNY’s ultimate success happens when the cash register rings. This push and pull made for a wide range of great pieces that will no doubt sound a resounding “Ka-ching.” Romantics will love a rich paisley printed dress with soft ruffles and the navy-and-gold jacquard skirt that made best use of a potentially difficult fabric. And for their harder-edged sisters there are the aforementioned jackets, a chic little shrunken peacoat and natty pinstripe trousers.

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