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Precisely So

'Tis the season for exactness, from the austere sophistication of Marc Jacobs to the chic little black dress at Bill Blass.

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Marc Jacobs: Arrivederci, frivolity, girliness, piles and piles of fluff stuff! Ciao, bella, molto chic!

Such was the seismic shift from Marc Jacobs, who for the moment at least is fed up with what he calls “craziness and fashion hijinks.” The beautiful collection he showed on Monday night stunned with its bourgeois grandeur, a mood that could not have leapt further from that of last season when he proclaimed “too conventional feels old-fashioned.”

This collection was all about convention — it was inspired by a movie about a fascist, for heaven’s sake, Bertolucci’s “The Conformist.” If that rings as a late-Thirties-by-way-of-Seventies motif — bingo! (A more current inspiration: Stephanie Seymour, who at a recent dinner captivated Jacobs with the alluring simplicity of her black turtleneck and pencil skirt.)

Once again, Jacobs showed against a spectacular Stefan Beckman set. To open the show, a huge theatrical curtain parted, revealing four enormous doorways with all of Jacobs’ 56 models posing in front. The scene made for high drama of the understandable sort, with lots of chic tailoring, subdued autumnal colors and Stephen Jones’ dramatic-brimmed diva-by-day hats. As the models took to the runway — itself an ode to clinical perfection with its cold gray geometric pattern — the exacting cuts came into clear focus, as did the influence of one of Jacobs’ favorite references, Yves Saint Laurent.

This was as austere as Jacobs gets, his models’ hair slicked back, their clothes ultra-precise — perfect belted coats, a military reference or two, a spectacular array of shirtdresses from dark icy lamé to schoolmarm gray pleats. Boning intensified the shape of simple sweaters worn over pleated skirts, while a quietly subversive gender play emerged in reed-thin pantsuits with spencer jackets and some seriously severe sequins.

But perhaps the clearest expression of his about-face came via his handbags, last season’s huge, chaotic crystals replaced by precise geometric medallion closures crafted from various semiprecious stones.

Overall, the contrast was captivating. “The complete turnaround from layers to structured simple pieces was a shock, but I always expect to be shocked,” said Saks Fifth Avenue’s Michael Fink after the show. “It was so beautiful.”

This story first appeared in the February 7, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Bergdorf Goodman’s Roopal Patel added that the show provided a reminder that Jacobs “doesn’t need bells and whistles to be the genius designer he is.” Which is not to say the bells, whistles, grunge, girliness and counterculture eccentricity are gone forever. Perusing an accessories tray on a table in his showroom the day before his show, Jacobs picked up a bracelet made from several enormous, perfectly carved quartz pyramids set in gold. “This,” he said, referring to the metal-stud-and-leather standard from which it was spawned, “is still a punk bracelet.”

Bill Blass: Like several other designers this season, Bill Blass’ Michael Vollbracht sensed that it was time to simplify things on the runway. To that end, his fall collection recalled a cleaner, unfussy time in American fashion when the big guns of design — Norman Norell, Halston and, of course, Blass himself — concentrated on precision cuts and bold color plays. Vollbracht’s parade of coats, day dresses and suits mixed strong hues — green over plum, blue over pink and so on — and while they were refreshing in their unfettered lines, the silhouettes could have used a little updating. But all was forgiven with that fun, old-school finale, when a gaggle of models crowded the catwalk in an array of swingy, sequined and oh-so-chic little black dresses.

Monique Lhuillier: Monique Lhuillier rendered beautiful, commercially viable looks in her collection on Monday, but what she sometimes lacked was a distinct voice of her own — as seen in several numbers that hinted at other designers. Lhuillier took cues from Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall with a series of metallic cocktail dresses and wispy gowns, all executed with the utmost attention to detail: pintucked, ruched, ruffled and seamed to a T, though sometimes those points were overworked. Nevertheless, starlets still shopping for an Oscar-worthy dress will likely find lots of good options here.

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