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Sophisticated Ideas – Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Lanvin, John Galliano

<STRONG>Yves Saint Laurent:</STRONG> Talk about pressure. After his whirlwind ascent, the critical trashing of his first collection and its subsequent embrace by the Hollywood set, Stefano Pilati must have felt the weight of the world going into the...

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Yves Saint Laurent: Talk about pressure. After his whirlwind ascent, the critical trashing of his first collection and its subsequent embrace by the Hollywood set, Stefano Pilati must have felt the weight of the world going into the fall season. He no doubt still glimpses the imposing shadows cast by Yves Saint Laurent and Tom Ford, and knows that, in fashion, one’s window for making an impact is limited. Yet unlike at Gucci, Ford’s grip on the Saint Laurent legacy is hardly ironclad and in just one season has loosened considerably, leaving Pilati freer to find his way through the founder’s heritage.

The collection Pilati showed on Sunday night to close the fall season showed vast improvement over his dotty debut. Though still working within the same house mandate — specifically an emphasis on day clothes — he proceeded confidently, with a better grasp of the subtleties of cut and flourish that make clothes realistic. So basta the dots, and welcome to a more subdued, sophisticated lineup. He opened with a nod to the season’s sobriety — a black suit with the sleeve of the moment, cut short over filmy sleeves. But this was merely an introduction to a group of newly spun classics, such as a sleek tweed suit finished with a bow or a gray pullover belted over slim black pants. The looks were waist-conscious and often lean as he confined volume mostly to deep flounces banding slim skirts.

Unfortunately, however, Pilati just couldn’t leave well enough alone — literally. Then, complications set in as he got bogged down in tricky cuts, countless ball buttons and the unfortunate evolution of those sorry spring skirts — no longer Proustian, but still too much pouf.  Nevertheless, Pilati performed gamely in a tough spot, though whether he is ultimately up to managing the Saint Laurent legacy remains to be seen.

Valentino: “I want my clothes to walk the streets,” read Valentino’s show notes. Those are interesting words from the man who dresses the world’s most pampered set. Just how many of Val’s sexy, glamour-loving gals might actually be pounding the pavement remains to be seen. But when it comes to fashion, it’s really the thought that counts.

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

There’s nothing more practical for stepping out than pants. Or so thought the designer, who sent out an endless stream of long lean versions in corduroy, suede and wool for day and satin for evening. However, this is the world of Valentino, where “jeans” are cut in lipstick-red suede and topped with a black silk blouse and knitted fur vest. Aside from one vulgar aberration — a bolero of beast-like fur sleeves knotted together with see-through lace — capes, riding coats and sharply tailored, nipped jackets were mostly a success.

But for all the luxed-up tomboyish swagger of the show’s pant-fest, the collection didn’t leave its ladylike base — who might not have mile-long legs — completely wanting. He proclaimed the shirtdress a must-have for day and evening. The best was a prim high-necked affair in black chiffon and lace. Evening brought options — running from the classic red strapless to a plain silk jersey embellished only with long lace cuffs. And, in the end, practicality is a relative term. If a girl’s schedule is rife with gala events, a closetful of gowns can be a workaday necessity.

Lanvin: A keen sense of expectation hung in the air before Alber Elbaz’s Lanvin show on Sunday, and with good reason. Over the past few seasons, Elbaz’s massively chic collections have drawn in fans and converts at exponential rates and have received lavish editorial attention. Indie celebrities, including Sofia Coppola, Chloë Sevigny and Natalie Portman, have all endorsed the brand with their cool. And Elbaz has quadrupled ready-to-wear and accessories sales since signing on in 2002, despite the constraints he endures at a house house with financial trouble. It’s all added up to buzz — major buzz — and major expectations.

This season, under the pressure to thrill once again, Elbaz took an interesting — and smart — turn, backing away from some of the artsiness and unfinished hems that he’s become known for in favor of a more polished approach. The look smacked of both undeniable chic and sound salabilty, with Elbaz’s once-pleasing awkwardness glossed up into a sleek affair. Jackets were nipped in at the waist whether paired with full skirts or those that slightly belled. Coats, while more relaxed, were still very clean cut. Meanwhile, serious eveningwear — and there was lots of it — came in a wide range. The most daring was his simplest, a gorgeous draped gown in gym suit-gray jersey done up with a loopy black bow at the bodice. The most va-va-voom were fitted snug and bustling with tiered tulle.

It’s Alber’s moment alright, and he’s trained his whopping talent on making that sweet moment last.

John Galliano: At some point or other, the allure of Hollywood has fascinated nearly every working designer in the field. This season, John Galliano did his own over-the-top send-up of movieland, staging his production in a klieg-light-filled set on the outskirts of town. Against a photomontage backdrop of Cecil B. DeMille types doing their thing, Galliano served up a relatively low-key collection that, while it didn’t have much to do with the silver screen, was packed with clothes built just for Galliano-loving divas. There was a royal blue leather trench with an oversized collar. There were zingy black-and-white striped sweaters or Dietrich-esque baggy blazers worn with wide-legged pants.

Not too surprisingly, Galliano took the opportunity to show some major gowns. He didn’t go in for your basic hourglass gown homage, instead sending out a variety of options to suit every character from ingénue to slightly eccentric sexpot. For the long-lashed innocent was his drop-waisted dress in peach gauze scattered with a flock of colorful butterflies. For the femme fatale, a coat in gold velvet, with a grand dimpled collar and bordered with thick fur trim or a fuchsia gown splashed with graphic flowers.

None of it, however, could live up to Galliano’s own ring-ding of a runway bow, which was accompanied not only by the usual swelling music and flashing lights, but by fireworks, leaping flames, bursts of steam and a gusting fake wind that sent his cowboy hat tumbling back from whence he came. A performance worthy of Cecil B. himself.

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