The latest crop of fashion newcomers seems drawn to one particular style: soft femininity. Yet the looks are far from uniform, from JF & Son's dappled mini to John Saldivar's fit-for-a-princess puff.

JOHN SALDIVAR
Backstory: Buyers may remember John Saldivar as a former press person for Catherine Malandrino or Lucien Pellat-Finet, while others might recall him from an earlier stint at Vogue as André Leon Talley's assistant. But with the launch of his eponymous line for fall, the Mexican native is actually going back to his roots — in design. Before he flirted with the p.r. and editorial worlds, Saldivar started his career by apprenticing in Oscar de la Renta's studio. "I always knew I was going to go back," the 28-year-old says. "Even when I was at Vogue and I'd meet designers, I'd ask questions [about their jobs]. I've been taking notes — on factories, styles, trims — since day one."

Collection: "Punched-up classics" is the way Saldivar describes his collection. So an otherwise ordinary duchesse satin cocktail frock gets a shot of the exotic with peacock feathers sprouting from its hem, while a simple bubble dress is treated with a vibrant tie-dye print. He cites de la Renta and Alexander McQueen as inspirations, along with his grandmother. She owned a small boutique in Monterrey, Mexico, where Saldivar spent much of his youth, and the store's glam Latin style is reflected in the designer's penchant for bold colors and lines.

Stats: Wholesale prices range from $395 for a basic silk satin shift to $3,100 for a printed silk chiffon evening gown. — Venessa Lau


PENCEY
Designers: Christina Minasian and Tora Lopez

Backstory: When the executives at the New York manufacturing company Maklihon Manufacturing Corp., home to Sue Stemp, Elizabeth and James and LaRok, decided to launch an in-house brand, they couldn't have picked two more seasoned players than Christina Minasian and Tora Lopez, both 30. Creative director Minasian, above right, has gone from Ralph Lauren window dresser to Hollywood stylist, dressing the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Victoria Beckham, to head buyer at Los Angeles' ubertrendy Kitson. Lopez, for her part, has a design résumé that ranges from Old Navy, Target and The Gap to Broadway costume design. The Parsons graduate also worked at Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. label as it was getting off the ground.Collection: J.D. Salinger buffs will no doubt spot the label's reference to "The Catcher in the Rye" — Pencey is the name of the boarding school in the book — but don't expect any riffs on prep-school clothes here. Instead, the name was picked to evoke a "classic but still rebellious" spirit. The feminine-but-not-too-girlish collection features corset vests cut from men's suiting, rabbit-lined wool jackets and gauzy silk chiffon blouses done up with frayed hems and chain embellishments. Even the basics are given an edgy, cool twist — languid tank tops are dyed for an ombré effect, while spare sweaters and cashmere jersey Ts come with cozily extra, extra-long sleeves.

Stats: Pencey has been picked up by Los Angeles' H. Lorenzo and Fred Segal Flair as well as Selfridges in London. Wholesale prices range from $38 for a T-shirt to $190 for an embroidered lace dress. Their cashmere jersey long-sleeve Ts round out at $165.
— V.L.


JF & SON
Designers: Robert Cordero and Jesse Finkelstein

Backstory: Cordero and Finkelstein have known each other since they were 18, when they met at a bar in New York City, then starred in a photo shoot after a French photographer approached them at a club. While their modeling careers didn't take off, the two, now 25, remained friends, and when Finkelstein started the line last year, he asked Cordero to join him. Cordero, above left, a graduate of the design and management program at Parsons The New School for Design, still holds his day job as a style editor for the online magazine the JC Report. Finkelstein majored in political science and visual arts at Brown University, and thereafter worked in Washington as a consultant on homeland security.

Collection: The collection, named after a store on the Lower East Side that was in Finkelstein's family for three generations, is in its second season. For fall, the duo was inspired by Finkelstein's interest in military technology and fashion. "[We were] looking at clothing as very much an enclosure," he says. "For spring, the severity's still there...but this collection's more forgiving." To wit, there are fitted frocks with sky-high hems in washed silk and cotton, inspired by the 1992 stalker movie "Single White Female." "We like terrifying ladies," Finkelstein jokes.Stats: The spring collection will be sold to Eva in NoLIta. Wholesale prices were still being finalized at press time.
— Véronique Hyland


WELDON LAYNE
Designers: Torie Greenberg and Claire Smith

Backstory: Greenberg, above left, and Smith have certainly been busy this year. In addition to launching their line for the spring 2008 season, the two have had to deal with a pesky little thing called homework. Yes, Greenberg, 20, and Smith, 22, are still in school and won't be graduating from Parsons until 2009. At least they have plenty of working credits on their résumés — Greenberg has interned at Libertine, Anna Sui, Jill Stuart and Vogue, while Smith has spent time at Brian Reyes as well as two years on the sales floor at Intermix. The moniker Weldon Layne stems from Smith and Greenberg's middle names, respectively.

Collection: There's a element of "mischievous fantasy" to their 16-look debut, according to Greenberg. The inspiration — the fairy-tale adventures of Henrik Ibsen's play "Peer Gynt" — isn't readily apparent, though. They make use of sweeping curved seams "to mimic a journey," she says, and the fabrics they source hail from around the globe. The linens, for example, come from Ireland; the lace, France, and the cotton tulle, England. Even the color scheme, saffron and rust, is meant to evoke a far-off world. But whether one can connect these dots doesn't matter; the charm of Weldon Layne is in its simple, easy city appeal.

Stats: The line wholesales from $165 for a pair of linen shorts to $710 for cotton tulle dress.
— V.L.



VICENTE VILLARIN
Designer: Joanne Cordero Reyes

Backstory: Despite the man's name on the label, there's a woman, Joanne Cordero Reyes, at the helm of Vicente Villarin. The collection is named after an early 20th-century composer from the Philippines, Reyes' grandfather. It's her mother, however, who gave the 26-year-old her first exposure to the fashion industry — she owns a special occasion shop called Francesca Rae Jonte in West Covina, Calif., where Reyes and her four siblings grew up helping with the sewing and embroidering. "I would get in trouble later for taking home fabric," she recalls. Reyes would go on to work for Ji Haye Couture, Reem Acra, J.Mendel and most recently, Monique Lhuillier.Collection: The line, mainly cocktail and eveningwear, is in the same spirit as that of the other houses at which she's worked — romantic, flirty and definitely dressy. Texture is key, and the designer creates it with layering, collaging and ruching.

Stats: Wholesale prices go from $400 for a silk chiffon blouse with draped pleat appliqués to $1,400 for an evening coat and $2,100 for a metallic jacquard gown. The most elaborate eveningwear ranges from $3,500 to $7,500.
— V.L.


SALVADOR TRINIDAD
Backstory: Trinidad started out studying architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, then transferred to Parsons to study fashion. While there, he got a junior-year internship at Calvin Klein, then capped off his studies by winning a Gold Thimble award. After stints at Mary Ann Restivo and the private label Worth, he became senior designer at Bill Blass New York, one of the house's secondary lines, a job he continues to hold as he produces his namesake line.

Collection: "I gravitate toward bold, powerful, almost intimidating features," says Trinidad, 28. Lee Radziwill, his "constant muse," inspired the spring lineup, where he channels a Bouvier-girls-at-the-seashore inspiration with pieces made from canvas or decorated with shell buttons. Cocktail-length day and evening dresses, feminine embroidered blouses and strong-shouldered jackets are included.

Stats: One crepe dress with glass beading will wholesale for $1,400 to $1,600, but the rest of the collection ranges from $700 to $900 for a dress and $400 to $600 for a blouse.
— V.H.


BNX
Designer: Kay Lee

Backstory: BNX is the second collection Korean designer Kay Lee, 39, is introducing to the U.S.; the first, Tankus, was launched here last year in stores like Barneys New York, Takashimaya and Henri Bendel. But in an interesting twist, although BNX is just hitting retailers this fall, it's actually the older of the two brands from Lee. (Both are backed by parent company Avista Inc.) The Seoul, South Korea-based designer, who graduated with a degree in fashion design from Hanyang University in the Nineties, created BNX in 2002. It's already a $70 million business with 200 freestanding boutiques and shop-in-shops within South Korea.Collection: Tankus and BNX skew toward an artsy girl who likes an architectural cut, but where the former takes that to a rock 'n' roll edge, BNX is softer and more feminine. The label's name is similarly romantic — BN stands for "Be Natural," while the X signifies an openness to the new, innovative and unknown.

Stats: The collection, which wholesales from $52 to $210, has been picked up by Atrium and Big Drop in New York and Fred Segal in Los Angeles.
— V.L.


ANDREW LAUREN
Designer:
Jennifer Mazur

Backstory: Mazur, 27, feels for the girl wedged into that narrow seat in coach class, trapped by her fashionable but uncomfortable outfit. So the travel addict ­— who majored in business at USC and is completely self-taught — decided to create comfortable, but still stylish, outfits for frequent fliers. (The company moniker is a melding of her and her brother Jamie's middle names; he's the silent partner.)

Collection: "My inspiration for each collection is based on where we decide to travel," Mazur says. Comfort is key, with an emphasis on "flowy and easy stuff you can always throw on, even if you overate the night before." After a fall lineup inspired by après-ski on the Swiss slopes, Mazur's holiday looks are somewhat more citified. The line, which references Eighties New York, includes an oversize anorak in Modal fleece with a knitted bamboo collar, a cotton piqué jumpsuit and an array of French terry pieces. For spring, expect items inspired by Mazur's recent excursion to Denmark, where, she says, she was "absolutely blown away" by the street style.

Stats: The line can be found at the Los Angeles boutiques Planet Blue, Madison, Market, Aura and Milk and was recently picked up by Debbie Klein in Syosset, N.Y. Wholesale prices range from $90 for a T-shirt or leggings to $600 for anoraks, coats and dresses.
— V.H.

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