By  on February 20, 2008

There’s more than one way to create a confident, distinctive collection. Raf Simons did it for Jil Sander with beautifully austere looks, while Tomas Maier made an impact at Bottega Veneta with terrific grown-up clothes.

Jil Sander: Traveling along Milan’s Via Verri, one is struck by the incongruity of a particular shop window, the one featuring a shocking orange jersey minidress beneath the marquee “Jil Sander.” Though last season’s bright colors and cloudlike swirls of tulle captivated from the runway, under the mercenary glare of the storefront one can’t help but wonder how the Jil Sander customer will respond long-term to that just-delivered visual firepower. So it’s probably not surprising that for fall Raf Simons held back, way back, on the pizzazz. The collection he showed on Monday night was filled with beautifully austere, often dramatic, clothes that flaunted high chic and shapely architecture while trampling on the notion that anything resembling the lighthearted could coexist here.

Simons is clearly adept at making clothes that exude confident elegance and that boast the subtleties of cut for which his house has long been known and its core devotees have long craved. For fall, he dazzled on both counts. This collection, worked mostly in blacks, grays and neutrals, was as tony and graceful as it gets, and the clothes impeccably crafted. He sent out a host of distinctively rendered sheaths — for example, one with vertical tucks highlighting the waist, another made from bands of fabric arranged horizontally from neckline to hem, still another with flattened, seemingly random tucks engaging the torso. Gorgeous coats and jackets revealed a considerable collar fixation in grandly proportioned face-framers. And he kept the silhouette strong head-to-toe with thick, dark opaque hose. Throughout, the interest came in the details of cut as well as in ample surface texture — luscious jacquard knits, barely-there tone-on-tone patchworks.

Piece by piece, the clothes were terrific. Together, however, they added up to a surfeit of tranquility, make that monotony, shown as they were at a snail’s pace by girls trying to negotiate difficult shoes while maintaining their stage presence, which is to say oh-so-glum, chum. And, by the end, one longed for a little smile or even a hint of orange.

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