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Showing Their Soft Side – Zac Posen, Chado Ralph Rucci, Derek Lam

Less is more. As old as the adage may be, it still rings true. Designers practiced restraint this season, sending out clothes that -- while subtle and subdued -- couldn't be more chic.

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Less is more. As old as the adage may be, it still rings true. Designers practiced restraint this season, sending out clothes that — while subtle and subdued — couldn’t be more chic.

Zac Posen: A giant leap forward. We’ve all been waiting for Zac Posen to move past youthful, campy icon idolatry and into the more grounded type of mind-set on which long design careers flourish. With the collection he showed on Thursday evening, he finally made the leap, taking “spontaneity” as his preshow buzzword.

Apparently, Posen was referring to the clothes’ newly relaxed attitude, because there was nothing spontaneous about the process that got them there. Rather, these clothes resulted from careful consideration of how to evolve his overtly glamorous point of view, beginning with a distinct effort to turn down the volume on his usual exuberance. Posen loves his details — usually tricky and plentiful — but here they came in a happy combination of give and take away. Thus, intricate cutwork and embroidery decorated simple silhouettes, which were often worked in a neutral tone-on-tone palette. When he strayed from either, as in a fussy lavender trench, it didn’t work, but luckily he did so infrequently.

While 9-to-5 is hardly Posen’s favorite time block, he offered plenty of pretty looks befitting a Sunday afternoon — an adorable plaid bubble dress; a button-down blouse tucked into a pleated lemony yellow silk skirt. One could even imagine wearing a sweet, plaid button-down shirt and wide khaki pants to work on Monday morning. (And a lovely white jacket with cutwork lapels over a cotton blouse and dark jeans, depending upon where you work.) But those huge hobo bags were perhaps the most obvious indicator that daylight — and a serious business savvy — is dawning chez Posen.

Of course, one can change only so much within a season. When it came to high evening, Posen couldn’t resist letting it fly just a little, ending the show with two enormous gowns in silk plisse, one trussed up with puffy bows and another evoking Scarlett at Twelve Oaks, its skirt wider than the runway. Yet while these set the already-raucous crowd applauding and hooting, it was the calmer gray chiffon stunner on Gemma Ward and a pintucked red silk number that might actually make it to the best-dressed list.

This story first appeared in the September 19, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Chado Ralph Rucci: Chado Ralph Rucci’s legion of fans and customers seems to be growing, even picking up a younger contingent. Most fashion insiders know the Chado drill: exquisitely made clothes; architectural shapes; seaming and details that are intelligently conceived and imaginative, gorgeous materials, though this depends on how you feel about wearing leather or alligator clothes. Still, with all its virtues, Rucci’s approach has never been everyone’s proverbial cup of tea. Fashion as art — even good art — rarely is. The cut, seaming and detailing in the collection are at once complex yet quiet, so subtle, in fact, that the designer’s seasonal changes are almost indistinguishable. But there are always some breathtakers. Among those for spring: the cut-to-perfection, short white wool crepe dress, accented with printed organza or the black jersey version with copper insets; the bronze silk rainsuit, and an exquisite alabaster silk crepe bias-cut gown. And the stone-printed flippy chiffon sleeveless dress looked gorgeous. One wonders, however, how that body-hugging golden alligator torso felt.

Rucci also presented his fall 2005 couture collection, that was not shown in Paris this year. Why, one might ask, must the already complex intricacies of Rucci’s designs become even more so for couture? Rucci really lost his Zen with that busy beige cashmere suit — a jigsaw of pieces further complicated by its ombréd shading. The luxury element, up a notch in extravagance, was more successful when he chucked the complexity. Consider his sable jacket over a double-faced knitted cashmere sweater and embroidered suede jeans; a black double-faced cashmere coat with its boullion-embroidered Buddha. But the real beauty of this segment was more restrained and nonetheless dramatic — a simple, strapless gown in hues of blues and greens with a huge 17th-century Japanese falcon motif. Now, that’s enlightenment.

Derek Lam: “A lot of people are surprised that I worked at Michael Kors,” said Derek Lam, backstage after his Friday show. It’s true that Lam’s romantic leanings are a far cry from his former boss’ clean and sporty vision. However, as the designer further explained, he considers good old American sportswear to be his roots. This season, he set out to explore them and, hopefully, give them a new voice.

As is often the case, a designer’s personal inspiration is right on trend; Lam’s limited color palette and subtle frills fit quite well with those of other designers’ spring showings. From across the street, you might not notice tonal details — the cream embroidery on a white skirt or the white handkerchief-inspired pockets on a white linen dress with a script passementerie “D” and “L” on either. But such subtleties are sure to be a hit with the girl who is feeling the need to tone down the bohemia and finally lose her Sienna Miller fixation. A couple of looks, such as a boxy white coat and a white cotton shift, were downright minimal. But more often, there was a successful and well-balanced diet of the romantic and the sportif. One exception, the colored silk blouses with trompe l’oeil Peter Pan collars, ventured a little too close to classic Marc Jacobs and didn’t quite fit.

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