The runways were a study in contrasts for spring, from beachy chic to "Deadwood" rustic to MoMA refinement.

Ralph Lauren: We all know about Ralph Lauren's perfect world. But would that it were just a little less that way, because perfection can be dull — knit cap tilted just so, bandanna in a meticulous knot at the neck, wide and skinny stripes paired with Garanimal exactness. In the collection Lauren showed on Friday, a whole lot of spit, polish and precision-distressed denim worked against his claim of "chic contradictions with rich individual style" and "rustic joie de vivre."

Or so it seemed in the sea of perfection that washed across Lauren's runway. Few cool girls — or for that matter, few grown-up women — would wear most of these outfits as presented. Yet break it all up, de-match it and subtract the labored calculation, and you've got another story altogether. Item by item, the clothes were stunning in a manner that validated once again Lauren's intrinsic sense of decorum while hinting at its range.

The designer spun several moods around a core of refinement. He went beachy in Deauville-ish knits, as well as rustic, as he called it, and dressed-up, sometimes combining unlike elements. His patchwork denims, a pastiche of Italian indigos pieced together and distressed in Kentucky, were amazing, and if the chi-chi suit was perhaps overkill, the jacket alone — a work of art. Ditto the cozy yin-yang shawl-collared cardigan with its fluffy tiered peplum: too precious with the flimsy flounced skirt, but fabulous still. As for Lauren's gorgeous ruffled blouses, isn't spring's "Deadwood" theme just a variation on his Southwestern classics?

What worked beautifully just as shown was the eveningwear. Happily, Lauren left the usual red-carpet suspects in the showroom, preferring to focus on the news, which, in a word, was cotton. It came in a short tulle party frock with gold embroidery, and more surprisingly, in curvaceous blue-and-white shirting stripes that will infuse spring glamour with a delightful waft of fresh air.

Donna Karan: Donna Karan has always been crazy for counterpoint — feminine-masculine, softness-structure, industrial-artisinal. For spring, her dichotomy of the moment felt like two separate entities sharing runway space, its range less a natural flow from, as her program notes claimed, "the spontaneity of street graffiti to the foreverness of MoMA and Dia," than a turf war between serene refinement and forced overstatement. Guess which one won?

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