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Junya Watanabe: While Junya Watanabe didn’t turn on the fake-rain spigots, as in that fabled show of yore, on Saturday morning he showered his audience with fabulous clothes, cleverly remixing a few of his favorite themes: sportiness, ladylike tweeds — and high-tech waterproofing. Though you could hardly have guessed it, nearly every piece in the collection was rain-repellent, from the first tartan schoolgirl dress to the last of his extravagantly beplumed anoraks, with Gortex delivering the added value all along the way.

But weather-related gimmicks aside, Watanabe’s charming new look also made avant-garde hearts go pitter-pat. Heavy woolen tweeds, checks and plaids were worked up into jackets with grand rippling collars, while sportif drawstrings gathered sleeves and pulled, bunched and flounced skirts just so. A sharp tug of those toggled cords turned a voluminous black trenchcoat into a cool cocoon of a dress, while a double-breasted white shirt scrunched down the front with newfound ruffles.

As things rolled on, a hint of Victoriana infused Watanabe’s look with a certain moodiness, though it never let things devolve beyond the neat and gentle. But even when in a more subdued somber mood, he couldn’t resist a final decadent twist, sending out an anorak with its hood traced in iridescent feathers. Now that’s the ultimate in frivolous utility.

Akris: With two good seasons at his back, Albert Kriemler shows little sign of losing momentum. As he did for his spring show, the designer cited artistic inspirations for fall. This time, it was Viennese artists Dagobert Peche and Gustav Klimt. But Kriemler uses a light hand with his references, which manifested themselves subtly in the printed silk lining of a wool coat and in patches of beading on coats and knits. The real heart of this collection was quietly luxurious daywear.

Kriemler worked in the sort of rich, woodsy fall colors that make you nostalgic for that time of year. He favored a slouchy form of chic with a sumptuous cashmere trench, dolman-sleeved knits and man-tailored trousers. Alternatively, he paired slim knits and neatly tailored jackets with swingy skirts — though it must be said that such full skirts are flattering to few, especially the more sedate Akris client. But on the whole, these are clothes that are perfectly suited for the well-heeled shopper who doesn’t go for gimmicks or trends.

This story first appeared in the March 7, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Eveningwear, however, is a work in progress. After spending the day in such easy-to-wear clothes, it’s difficult to imagine that someone would want  to shimmy into a body-hugging suede and silk dress or one of his diaphanous gowns that tread too close to the lingerie department.

Paco Rabanne: It’s not often than a designer pitches himself with a biblical invocation. But in winning the design post at Paco Rabanne, a house known for being out there in more ways than one, Robinson told Mark Puig and Mario Grauso that it was time to break the chains that bind.

A veteran of attempted reinvention after his contentious split with Perry Ellis in New York, Robinson insisted that the time warp of a company had to beam its way beyond Space-Age chain mail. “What’s the essence of this house, the soul?” he said several days before his show. “There’s more here than metal and plastic discs. There’s the glamour part, the sexy part. So let’s make it sleek, sexy, modern and provocative. That’s how it started.”

The Puig brass liked what they heard, and on Saturday, Robinson presented a smart, controlled collection that ignored Mod-Sixties structure in favor of provocative curves. These came in hourglass dresses made of horizontal fabric strips for a siren’s way with ruffles, and in beautiful blouses with skirts that often combined fabrics, stripes of velvet and stretch lace, for example. When he went for volume, it was with low-belted coats and a blouson jacket. Yet Robinson also heeded the heritage. He opened with a glam silvery swirl of a dress, favored metallic shoes and channeled the expertise of the house’s remarkable metal atelier staff toward high-impact accessories, including a dramatic aged crystal bib worn with a purple dress.

By Paris standards, this was a low-key presentation with an undercurrent of what one might call Yankee practicality. But that was by design.  “I don’t want to make clothes for editors to get excited about,” Robinson said. “I want to make clothes for editors and other women to want to buy. And you’re not going to do that with metal dresses for $15,000.” Touché.

Nina Ricci: Slow and steady wins the race. Not the most rousing of suggestions, but it’s still good advice. At any rate, that seems to be the path of Lars Nilsson at Nina Ricci, where his fall collection continued a pretty thread from spring.

Models emerged from a narrow wall of klieg lights — perhaps a reference to where Nilsson might want to see his dresses. Well, who doesn’t dream of playing the celebrity game, especially when pretty dresses for pretty girls are among their oeuvre? And Nilsson’s fall collection had quite a few of these. The best were sweet affairs that tapped into the ultrafeminine background chez Ricci — with loads of lace peeking over camisole necklines, tacked on as trim or layered over satin.

Tailored looks, however, were a hit-or-miss situation. Nilsson’s hits leaned toward the uncomplicated: a long black wool coat or a flippy taffeta skirt with contrast stitching. Attempts at the dramatic garnered mixed results. Poet-bloused sleeves were cute on a cropped caramel ermine jacket done up with velvet ribbon ties and awkward on a heavy tweed coat. And a perfectly well cut skirt suit was miscast in burgundy lamé. On the whole, though, it was an improved and more refined effort.

Giambattista Valli: Of course, the question on everyone’s minds as they crushed themselves into overbooked rows at the Giambattista Valli show was, “How Ungaro will it be?” It was truth-telling time for Valli, whose contract was not renewed in October after several less-than-stellar seasons at Ungaro. Without missing a beat, the next day, Valli struck out on his own, announcing the launch of a signature collection to be produced by Gilmar. While the flirty French femininity he had developed remained, for the most part, Valli’s debut was surprisingly unfettered, fresher and less costume-y than the collections he’d designed under his former employer’s name.

Sweaters and boxy bouclé jackets were scattered with a smattering of sweet velvet bows. A collarless camel coat was quietly chic, while girly dresses each tied around the bodice with a pretty velvet bow. These were clothes with personality that looked just right for a range of Valli fans, from Dita Von Teese, who walked in the show, to Lee Radziwill and Diane Kruger, both wedged into the front row. It all made one wonder how a designer capable of creating such fine fare could endorse fat little pouf dresses with “balloon” hems. Unfortunately, the helium effect dragged Valli down.

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