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.Bottega Veneta: Has Tomas Maier gone girly? The first look out at Bottega Veneta suggested as much, a fanciful blue silk-and-wool coat all done up with decorative fabric strips looped into curlicues. But with the very next exit, he took a little off the top, literally, with a variation on the theme, a purple coat that had a lot less of the loopy stuff going on.

The message proved savvy, and resulted in a chic, beautifully balanced collection. Maier has made visual discretion a cornerstone of Bottega Veneta’s identity, but here he sent the message that he won’t become its victim. He believes in grown-up, functional clothes for real women who go to real jobs and real social functions and want to dress appropriately for both. Yet while his accessories have been consistently stellar, his ease with clothes has often appeared wanting from the runway, in part because any embellishment at all often felt forced. In recent seasons, he has been steadily working through that apparent discomfort and, for fall, seems to have resolved it terrifically well. He set up a dichotomy between structure and fluidity and made both sides work: Fluid jerseys moved languidly over the body in alluring dresses; neat men’s suitings were nipped, peplumed and otherwise tailored to perfection, often, but not always, in decidedly feminine silhouettes. A sporty exception: a fabulous black cashmere jacket over dark gray wool trousers.

Though Maier showed a sensible proclivity toward black and gray, his palette also featured gorgeous colors of the who-wouldn’t-wear-that variety, deep blues and purples taken, he said, from the night sky. A point worth noting, because these kept the collection interesting. So, too, did numerous details, even if once in awhile he went overboard with excessive flaps, folds and a wayward epaulet or two. Luckily, more often he delivered these sparely, either via cut — the sharply angled sleeves on a gray wool dress, for example — or in well-placed extras, such as a small nosegay at the waist, tied with a velvet ribbon.


Classical Moves

Fay: When Diego Della Valle tapped Giles Deacon to create a new capsule collection for the outerwear firm Fay, the idea was to add a feminine flourish to the house’s offerings — and, undoubtedly, give Moncler a little competition. “It’s a collection of items that are beautifully made, great fabrics, but not too fashiony,” says Deacon. Thus, he worked a “tweak-and-update” strategy, playing with proportion by adding volume to a trench and decorating peacoats and puffers to varying degrees with floral embroideries, ruffles and detachable quilted flowers, an effect also used on handbags. The result is a collection of classics — all done in nylon satin, velvet and cashmere — that’s a little sexier, but still sensible and sporty.PHOTOS BY GIOVANNI GIANNONI AND DAVIDE MAESTRI

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