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The Play’s the Thing – Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier, Lagerfeld Gallery and Emanuel Ungaro

Helmut Lang, surprisingly, detoured to Nantucket for preppy-style looks … Jean Paul Gaultier celebrated flamenco-dancing gypsies … Karl Lagerfeld played with gender and volume for Lagerfeld Gallery…and Giambattista Valli’s...

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Helmut Lang: It’s been a dramatic week for Helmut Lang, since he sold the remaining stake in his business to Prada, and took on the title of creative director. But if the collection he showed on Wednesday afternoon is any way to judge, then Lang is feeling upbeat about those changes in a big way. Last season he explored his dark side with a vaguely kinky French-maid motif. This time around, he pondered more wholesome fare, and his moody edge bloomed into something sunny and crisp. And the transition was sensational.

In his artsy way, Mr. Urban — the man with his name riding high above New York City’s taxis — took a strangely preppy detour. And it worked. Smart, tailored jackets and pinstriped pants banded in white at the hem were positively jaunty, while cotton sheath dresses decorated with neat knotted rosettes wouldn’t have looked out of place in Nantucket. Who knew that Lang would ever become the go-to guy for pants printed with a field of prairie flowers?

Still, while he tinkered with the stuff of sweetness, he gave it plenty of city grit. He also sent out enough draped jersey tops and sleek pants to remind everyone just how he got to the top in the first place — by tweaking luxe basics until they turned cool.

In the same lean-and-clean vein, Lang showed some of his most beautiful evening gowns to date in a take on the traditional goddess dressing. In white and in black, his ethereal stunners came gently knotted, draped and slung with pearl halters, or worked into thick twists wound round with strands of beads and pearls. Heavenly.

Jean Paul Gaultier: Ooh-la-la! On its surface, Jean Paul Gaultier’s bewitching spring look took inspiration from a caravan of flamenco dancing gypsies, but beneath, it crackled with fierce Parisian style. Shown in his glamorous new atelier, the collection marked one of those quintessential Gaultier moments when he hits his groove and it all comes together — the fun, the flamboyance and that ever-precious freshness.

Layering lean skirts over those in long tiered lace that exploded from underneath, Gaultier created a fit-and-flare flamenco effect all his own. But while the collection was more focused than it has been in seasons, and specifically on those romantic gypsy types, it also delivered a great range of ideas in the form of gloriously wearable clothes. After all, for Gaultier’s woman, chic is not a costume. Jackets gently rippling with ruffles down the front and slim skirts with sporty trimmings will bolster her wardrobe for seasons to come. Meanwhile, Gaultier’s evening look — richly layered with flame-stitched knits, techno-bright pleated dresses and gypsy skirts banded in gingham and stripes — was joyous enough to see a party girl through a week-long carnivale.

Lagerfeld Gallery: A fedora and a petticoat — if that duet doesn’t hum yin and yang, nothing does. In the Lagerfeld Gallery collection he showed on Wednesday, Karl Lagerfeld played the gender game the best way — with ample savvy and a cool hand, and it made for a smart, sassy collection. He opened with suits in pale men’s wear fabrics, worn sleeves scrunched and A-line wrap skirts flapping jauntily over fluffy underskirts. These provided fresh-looking tailoring and, it turns out, a sensible take on the volume that’s amping up all over Paris. Of course, Lagerfeld has always been a man of many moods, fashionably speaking, at least, and what he giveth, he also taketh away — usually before you know what hit. Hence, the counterpoint of leaner, curvier shapes, sometimes revealing similar hem froth. These came in tuxedo mode, a motif Lagerfeld ditched just in time to send his girl on holiday, apparently to the destination du jour, the Aegean, all set with bikinis and casual little dresses in earthen-hued stripes.

For evening, Lagerfeld hopped back on the “Petticoat Junction” train, but heightened the trip’s interest via side trips with a soupçon of provocation, as in the ambiguous addition of a wingtip collar on a chiffon dress. And what true devotee of Parisian style could resist the ultimate Karl signature: wide cuff bracelets adorned with his image in silhouette? All aboard.

Emanuel Ungaro: There’s no doubt that the spring Emanuel Ungaro collection Giambattista Valli showed on Wednesday was inspired by a recent trip to Athens and the Aegean Sea. The only question that remains is whether the show was a Greek comedy or a tragedy. In fact, it was both. After a short, artsy film, in which a man dressed in a traditional Grecian soldier’s skirt is doused with water in slow motion (it actually looked like he was relieving himself), Valli sent out an over-the-top troupe of his own wearing pleated skirts stacked high to massive, printed chiffon blouses cut with floppy sleeves and satin pants tailored tight to bursting. In a garish palette of Vegas brights, Valli was playing with volume here, and it read loud and clear from first row to last. In fact, there was nothing too subtle about the show, which may have included some pretty chiffon dresses and nice swimsuits buried under yards of silk tassles, big bijoux and spangles galore. But these were all but lost in translation.

Just before the show’s finale, a model laden with an enormous stack of bright green ruffles beneath her chiffon slip yanked off the bulky underskirt, tossing it down onto the runway in a heap. Well, one problem solved.

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