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The Delicate Cycle – Anna Sui, Cynthia Rowley, Tory by TRB, Yeohlee, Douglas Hannant

Proper or pretty, superchic or full of whimsy, spring's runways were packed with refined, sober looks that still kept everything cool, lean and sexy.

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Proper or pretty, superchic or full of whimsy, spring’s runways were packed with refined, sober looks that still kept everything cool, lean and sexy.

Anna Sui: Charm and cool are rarely synonymous in fashion, yet a deftly prepared elixir of the two has long fueled Anna Sui’s appeal. The collection she showed for spring was no exception, packed as it was with oh-so-sweet fancy frocks. In a way, it recalled her early pre-kitsch styling years, with dress after dress perfect for attending a Chelsea art opening, underground rock concert or independent flick premiere.

Long a lover of whimsical prints, this season’s were inspired by the Twenties-era’s magazine Gazette de Bon Ton. “Everything was so delicate,” she says of its charming fashion illustrations. “That’s what I was going for in the prints and the clothes themselves.” To that end, a butterfly print was a focus of the collection, but there were also orchids, roses, daisies, shawl and curtain prints rounding out the airy repertoire. And they turned up in just about every floaty dress shape imaginable — long, short, fitted, full, Empire, drop-waisted and on and on. Lest it all become too frilly, Sui accessorized with butter-soft laser-cut boots, metallic espadrille wedges and soft, low-slung hobo bags roomy enough to hold every necessity of a girl-about-town. Delightful as it all was, however, the endless dress brigade grew repetitive.

When Sui did digress, it was with pulled-together sportswear, such as a tan embroidered coat over a sequined halter and cropped pants. Such looks seemed to come out of nowhere, but nevertheless opened a window into Sui’s secret chic.

Cynthia Rowley: Mod fever has infected many a New York designer, and Cynthia Rowley is no exception. Rowley’s show began oddly enough, with a model crashing through a wall of candy glass, clad in a silk shift dress suspended from a Lucite disc. In fact, Rowley went crazy for Lucite accents, either in those discs adorning necklines, in marble-sized balls adorning headbands or in a shoe’s platforms. Unfortunately, such tricky accessories and a runway covered in candy glass shards drew attention away from some cute clothes. The best: a Swiss cotton jacquard dirndl dress with a pouf hem and an ultrasuede skirt topped by an organdy blouse and V-neck sweater. Rowley’s Space-Age shifts were also rendered more wearable when that Lucite was replaced with a silk disc.

Tory by TRB: “We’ll always do the tunic,” said Tory Burch at her spring presentation in her bright Madison Avenue showroom. “It’s something that’s flattering and easy to wear. And for some women, it is their style.” But by the designer’s own admission, the tunic played a lesser role for spring — a cameo, if you will. With an unwavering view on wearability, Burch is one who prefers to refine and build rather than reinvent. Spring and summer are naturally her seasons, and she naturally knows what her customer likes to wear: comfortable, superchic clothes that are a no-brainer to put on and go. Working in some of the softest fabrics — including a buttery washed linen and whisper-thin distressed leather — Burch designed exactly that. Among the great basics of boatneck tops and khaki trenches and pants, both wide and slim, were printed dresses, pretty ruffled shirts — plain and printed — cotton voile tanks and yes, tunics. Some of them were simple with flat bronze paillettes, others a bit more glitzy with bugle beads. Swimwear, new this season, came in her classic Moroccan print and another pattern of tiny lobsters with gold-ring hardware. Also of note is Burch’s burgeoning accessories collection — as covetable as her clothes.

Yeohlee: Even though Yeohlee Teng showed some strong looks, we were still left wondering, “What was she thinking?” Yes, the black velvet coat was beautiful, but for spring? Why did she show that great inside-out pocket coat or Balinese-print top with jeans from another company? And what was Fern Mallis doing modeling in the show? Still, what did make sense were the delicate sheer cotton lace tops, the structured mini sundress in printed cotton and those knockout swimsuits. The latter, in fact, included some of the best this season, at a time when swimsuits are showing up everywhere. Yeohlee’s were Victorian one-piece versions with boyshorts in black matte jersey, worn under a white, felted leather jacket or a waxed cotton coat, and best of all, the wheat cotton knit under a matching cardigan. More of these, as well as her sexy little summer dresses, might have given the collection some point of view.

Douglas Hannant: Douglas Hannant has become the darling of the Young Ladies Who Lunch and Party, and they were all there decorating his front row Thursday morning. So for spring, he dished up more of what they like — a proper and pretty collection of lean, spare suits and dresses, done mostly in white with occasional touches of peach and lime. Only the fabrics — cotton guipure lace, waffle tweeds, embroidered tulle — got elaborate, sometimes to a fault. There is certainly nothing offensive about Hannant’s clothes, but what this collection lacked was personality and youthful verve. Still, his faithful flock, who have plenty of personality and verve of their own, can find some appealing numbers — the cotton waffle tweed sheath, edged in tulle; an A-line slipdress with ribbed knit trim and a cluster of crocheted ruffles, and the enchanting, long cream point d’esprit Empire gown.

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