Monday, September 19, 2005

Ralph Lauren
: We all know about Ralph Lauren's perfect world. But would that it were just a little less that way, because perfection can be dull — knit cap tilted just so, bandanna in a meticulous knot at the neck, wide and skinny stripes paired with Garanimal exactness. In the collection Lauren showed on Friday, a whole lot of spit, polish and precision-distressed denim worked against his claim of "chic contradictions with rich individual style" and "rustic joie de vivre."

Or so it seemed in the sea of perfection that washed across Lauren's runway. Few cool girls — or for that matter, few grown-up women — would wear most of these outfits as presented. Yet break it all up, de-match it and subtract the labored calculation, and you've got another story altogether. Item by item, the clothes were stunning in a manner that validated once again Lauren's intrinsic sense of decorum while hinting at its range.

The designer spun several moods around a core of refinement. He went beachy in Deauville-ish knits, as well as rustic, as he called it, and dressed-up, sometimes combining unlike elements. His patchwork denims, a pastiche of Italian indigos pieced together and distressed in Kentucky, were amazing, and if the chi-chi suit was perhaps overkill, the jacket alone — a work of art. Ditto the cozy yin-yang shawl-collared cardigan with its fluffy tiered peplum: too precious with the flimsy flounced skirt, but fabulous still. As for Lauren's gorgeous ruffled blouses, isn't spring's "Deadwood" theme just a variation on his Southwestern classics?

What worked beautifully just as shown was the eveningwear. Happily, Lauren left the usual red-carpet suspects in the showroom, preferring to focus on the news, which, in a word, was cotton. It came in a short tulle party frock with gold embroidery, and more surprisingly, in curvaceous blue-and-white shirting stripes that will infuse spring glamour with a delightful waft of fresh air.

Donna Karan: Donna Karan has always been crazy for counterpoint — feminine-masculine, softness-structure, industrial-artisinal. For spring, her dichotomy of the moment felt like two separate entities sharing runway space, its range less a natural flow from, as her program notes claimed, "the spontaneity of street graffiti to the foreverness of MoMA and Dia," than a turf war between serene refinement and forced overstatement. Guess which one won?Karan's new dresses are drop-dead gorgeous, quintessential Donna at her height of elegance. Their languid pour of fabric over the body created a provocative aura of elegant sensuality; these girls looked sultry with a pedigree. It's a mood that should appeal to women of all ages, right down to the girls who walked the show. (Karan took her bow looking great in a black-trimmed brown version under a jacket.) The key shape, cut characteristically in supple jersey, is belted high with a half-hidden sash for an Empire line with a "free fall" of fabric in back. Donna showed it mostly in rich darks banded with black, sometimes under small, intricately crafted jackets or the weightless geometry of enormous, pencil-stroke thin chain necklaces. She maintained the Empire line through some more structured shapes and a sleek coat or two, and into evening, where it dazzled in bright, pure red.

But some arguments need no "on the other hand." Having made so brilliant a case for discreet sensuality, Karan need not have switched to the jolting abstract prints she commissioned from Elora Hardy, the daughter of jewelry designer John Hardy. Donna, it's wonderful to support young artists, but that's what walls are for, and you've got a big apartment. On your canvas of choice, the female body, those sensational jerseys trump splatter art any day.

L.A.M.B.: "I'm not in a rush. I'm here and I want to do this for the rest of my life," Gwen Stefani said the day before presenting her L.A.M.B. collection on the runway for the first time. To that end, she showed a considerable amount of savvy, starting with the preshow calm — no paparazzi horde fighting over the likes of Diddy and the Duchess of York. As for the seating, William Lauder and John Demsey sat conspicuously in the front row (in front of Alexis Bledel of "Gilmore Girls"), and Stefani's hubby, Gavin Rossdale, was perched next to Anna Wintour. Clearly, Stefani, never coy about wanting to spin her rock-star name into a fashion brand, was making a point about her commitment to the industry and, let's take a shot in the dark here, a possible beauty deal.But fashion is about more than business acumen, and even about more than a terrific work ethic wrapped up in charm — all of which Stefani has in abundance. It's a hard gig, one in which that elusive little element called vision cannot be given short shrift. If Stefani's goal is to parlay an everygirl-adaptation of her personal style into a business, she's got a lot more work to do to distinguish it clearly from all of the other merch out there. Here, she, head designer Zaldy and stylist Andrea Lieberman (who surprisingly had never styled a runway before) fell short, all while toying with too many bells and whistles.

As clouds of dry-ice smoke billowed up and four lowriders with hyper hydraulics jump-started the presentation, four models stomped out wrapped in attitude, rasta colors, tracksuits and snakeskin fleece. From there, the fussy chola-meets-rasta production overshadowed the 60-plus exits, which bore elements of Gwen's style without her superstar sparkle (and with what seems to be that essential celebrity designer nod to John Galliano).

Nevertheless, beneath the tricky cornrows, hats and overdone makeup, there was significant promise, with interesting ideas rendered in good pieces: pretty dresses printed with wisteria, Stefani's favorite flower; coed cardigans toughened with a chain motif or glammed up with beaded fringe; appealing outerwear, including knee-length military coats and others with demonstrative scalloped edges. Stefani said she was inspired, too, by "The Great Gatsby," but Daisy and her East Egg cohorts made only cryptic appearances.

With her infectious personality, Stefani spent much of the week before the show charming the fashion press, stressing that she's in this for the long haul. "Fashion is about problem-solving," she said. "It's the process I enjoy. It's humbling, but my ego can take it." And in fashion as in music, you can always follow a so-so effort with a come-back smash hit.

Zac Posen: A giant leap forward. We've all been waiting for Zac Posen to move past youthful, campy icon idolatry and into the more grounded type of mind-set on which long design careers flourish. With the collection he showed on Thursday evening, he finally made the leap, taking "spontaneity" as his preshow buzzword.Apparently, Posen was referring to the clothes' newly relaxed attitude, because there was nothing spontaneous about the process that got them there. Rather, these clothes resulted from careful consideration of how to evolve his overtly glamorous point of view, beginning with a distinct effort to turn down the volume on his usual exuberance. Posen loves his details — usually tricky and plentiful — but here they came in a happy combination of give and take away. Thus, intricate cutwork and embroidery decorated simple silhouettes, which were often worked in a neutral tone-on-tone palette. When he strayed from either, as in a fussy lavender trench, it didn't work, but luckily he did so infrequently.

While 9-to-5 is hardly Posen's favorite time block, he offered plenty of pretty looks befitting a Sunday afternoon — an adorable plaid bubble dress; a button-down blouse tucked into a pleated lemony yellow silk skirt. One could even imagine wearing a sweet, plaid button-down shirt and wide khaki pants to work on Monday morning. (And a lovely white jacket with cutwork lapels over a cotton blouse and dark jeans, depending upon where you work.) But those huge hobo bags were perhaps the most obvious indicator that daylight — and a serious business savvy — is dawning chez Posen.

Of course, one can change only so much within a season. When it came to high evening, Posen couldn't resist letting it fly just a little, ending the show with two enormous gowns in silk plisse, one trussed up with puffy bows and another evoking Scarlett at Twelve Oaks, its skirt wider than the runway. Yet while these set the already-raucous crowd applauding and hooting, it was the calmer gray chiffon stunner on Gemma Ward and a pintucked red silk number that might actually make it to the best-dressed list.

Chado Ralph Rucci: Chado Ralph Rucci's legion of fans and customers seems to be growing, even picking up a younger contingent. Most fashion insiders know the Chado drill: exquisitely made clothes; architectural shapes; seaming and details that are intelligently conceived and imaginative, gorgeous materials, though this depends on how you feel about wearing leather or alligator clothes. Still, with all its virtues, Rucci's approach has never been everyone's proverbial cup of tea. Fashion as art — even good art — rarely is. The cut, seaming and detailing in the collection are at once complex yet quiet, so subtle, in fact, that the designer's seasonal changes are almost indistinguishable. But there are always some breathtakers. Among those for spring: the cut-to-perfection, short white wool crepe dress, accented with printed organza or the black jersey version with copper insets; the bronze silk rainsuit, and an exquisite alabaster silk crepe bias-cut gown. And the stone-printed flippy chiffon sleeveless dress looked gorgeous. One wonders, however, how that body-hugging golden alligator torso felt.Rucci also presented his fall 2005 couture collection, that was not shown in Paris this year. Why, one might ask, must the already complex intricacies of Rucci's designs become even more so for couture? Rucci really lost his Zen with that busy beige cashmere suit — a jigsaw of pieces further complicated by its ombréd shading. The luxury element, up a notch in extravagance, was more successful when he chucked the complexity. Consider his sable jacket over a double-faced knitted cashmere sweater and embroidered suede jeans; a black double-faced cashmere coat with its boullion-embroidered Buddha. But the real beauty of this segment was more restrained and nonetheless dramatic — a simple, strapless gown in hues of blues and greens with a huge 17th-century Japanese falcon motif. Now, that's enlightenment.

Derek Lam: "A lot of people are surprised that I worked at Michael Kors," said Derek Lam, backstage after his Friday show. It's true that Lam's romantic leanings are a far cry from his former boss' clean and sporty vision. However, as the designer further explained, he considers good old American sportswear to be his roots. This season, he set out to explore them and, hopefully, give them a new voice.

As is often the case, a designer's personal inspiration is right on trend; Lam's limited color palette and subtle frills fit quite well with those of other designers' spring showings. From across the street, you might not notice tonal details — the cream embroidery on a white skirt or the white handkerchief-inspired pockets on a white linen dress with a script passementerie "D" and "L" on either. But such subtleties are sure to be a hit with the girl who is feeling the need to tone down the bohemia and finally lose her Sienna Miller fixation. A couple of looks, such as a boxy white coat and a white cotton shift, were downright minimal. But more often, there was a successful and well-balanced diet of the romantic and the sportif. One exception, the colored silk blouses with trompe l'oeil Peter Pan collars, ventured a little too close to classic Marc Jacobs and didn't quite fit.

Libertine: "We don't need to show every season," said Libertine's Johnson Hartig after Friday's show, the first after a two-season absence. "Our things don't change that much. But there was kind of a big evolution this time, I think." He thinks correctly. Hartig and design partner Cindy Greene shifted away from their usual dark-days-at-an-English-countryside-public-school look to create a much girlier collection, populated with scads of punked-up party dresses that came full-skirted and floral. They added sponsor Swarovski's crystals to their usual tweaking technique of silk-screening, which they showed in subtle, sparkly cobwebs over dresses or as fully realized images of skulls and roses. Still present, however, was their undying Anglophilia in felted cameos of Queen Victoria that dotted dresses and coats and in silk-screened prints of Keats and poet Rupert Brooke. The designers moved on from their characteristic Olde English font to bold block-letter prints for the phrase, "Drink Old England Dry," reminiscent of Katharine Hamnett's slogan Ts from the Eighties. More basic fare of hoodies and trenches, some painted by Damien Hirst in a charity collaboration, rounded out the offerings. However, with the club-kid presentation of campy updos and cross-generational sister acts out of sync with their usual chic positioning (and hefty price tag), their message rang a bit unclear.Still, Libertine's ascent has been quite the phenomenon. With fans and friends in the loftiest echelons of art and fashion, they're continuing to mine a medium — reworked vintage clothes — that has challenged others after the initial excitement wears off. Certainly that arena offers limited growth, which is why Hartig and Greene are introducing a line of shirts, their first foray into mass production. Their future should be an interesting one to watch.

Michon Schur: Connections are all well and good, but talent is what keeps people interested in a young designer. Stephanie Schur has both in spades. While her husband, Jordan Schur, president of Geffen Records, might have plenty of strings to pull, it was the charm of her first small Michon Schur collection — Michon is her middle name — three seasons ago that opened up fashion doors with stylists like Christina Ehrlich, who subsequently pulled looks for client Penélope Cruz. At Schur's first presentation Friday, Kirsten Dunst spent considerable time studying the 20-piece tableau vivant. Inspired by the Twenties, the designer said she wanted to focus on the details. So she trimmed pale, loose-waisted silk dresses, vintage-looking blouses and a pretty steel satin tunic with gauzy black lace, a small touch that reaped chic results. Rich silks and laces from Europe — while there, she signed on with the same manufacturer as Chanel and Rochas — dressed up the line, but not so much that one couldn't just throw on the great droopy trench every morning and head out the door.

Heatherette: It's not just for "Look at me!" girls and drag queens anymore! Amid the raucous party scene Friday night, Richie Rich and Traver Rains proved their six-year-old label, Heatherette, is indeed — for everyone. Beneath the over-the-top hair and accessories, the clothes weren't only wearable, but fun. Who wouldn't want to sport a black-and-white polkadot piqué coat with sleek Bermuda shorts come spring? Or a pretty floral chiffon dress with a dainty embellished cardigan in candy colors? There were even samplings of peg-leg pants and capris from the jeans line and some cutesy gingham swimwear to round out any girl's wardrobe. So with the sense of humor we've come to expect, the long, hot week of shows was given an all-around welcome reprieve.VPL by Victoria Bartlett: You can always count on Victoria Bartlett to present her quirky undergarments in an interesting way, and this season was no different. The presentation was held at the Audi showroom on Park Avenue, where some VPL models stood around a rotating red Audi sedan, drinking canned beer and playing a silly don't-take-your-hand-off-the-car game. As this action ensued, other models walked around dressed in oversized hoodie sweatshirts, big white cotton shorts, camis and sock boots. While there were some great looks — a boxer-style hooded robe, an oversized tank with a train to the floor and a great silk bolero in beige — nothing in the spring lineup seemed new.

Boudicca: Even the most hard-core Goth can have a sweet side, and British design duo Brian Kirkby and Zowie Broach showed theirs to beautiful effect. For their second New York showing, Kirkby and Broach favored a mostly black lineup of sharply tailored and aggressively detailed pieces that nonetheless had a softer side, such as a swingy pleated skirt; an Empire-sashed top layered over a peak-sleeved yellow silk blouse, and an arc-seamed shirtdress. From there, the duo went really girly, in fabric if not in cut: Baby blue eyelet was chevroned into a puff-sleeve blouse topping a high-waisted, floral-print skirt, and red silk was pleated and pouffed into a party frock for the boldest of girls. Those who might have been put off by the macabre antics of past collections will likely prefer the paler colors and cheeky florals the designers incorporated this time around.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Calvin Klein: Anna Wintour and Patrick McCarthy walked out. Which is a shame, because this was Francisco Costa's best show yet for Calvin Klein, and clearly one of the highlights of the New York season. But it was staged in a manner that offered a microcosm of all that's out of control about the fashion show system.

We all know that the rules, the focus, the entire reason for fashion shows had shifted dramatically from an insider focus to an outsider focus. Once upon a time, fashion shows were really about unveiling new collections to retailers and editors so that they could plan their upcoming seasons. Now, it's all about the Lindsays, Ashleys, Mary-Kates, Parises and, should one be so lucky, the Umas, Catherine Zetas and Nicoles. And it's about letting in the legions of media, print and television, who cover those people as their primary role, pushing, shoving, stomping over anyone (especially unfortunate, given the editorial set's current impending baby boom) who might come between their lenses and Clay Aiken. (One show regular suggested that steel-toed safety shoes should replace the stiletto sandal as the front-row shoe of choice.)"It's over, this overwrought fashion show, it's over," said André Leon Talley after the show. "I'm sorry, we cannot have celebs in the front row. I love celebrities, but it's over. It's for people doing their job. Retailers and editors are being treated like they're second class. This is unfortunate for Francisco. It marred and diluted his message. Press people need to address the situation and invite fewer people."

While the celebrity-obsessed design houses are primarily responsible for the change, we have all played into it gleefully at one time or another. But those whose job execution is hindered by the situation have long since cried "Uncle," while the designers expect us to continue on like the old days, business as usual. And like Pavlov's dogs, we do it. Add into the mix, fashion's traditional idiosyncrasies. In the theater, an 8:00 curtain means 8:00. In football, a 1:00 kickoff means 1:00. One can even guess with a fair degree of accuracy what time Alanis Morissette would finish last night at Giants Stadium, and the Rolling Stones would take the stage. Only in fashion does a 5:00 start mean, at best 5:20, at worst, somewhere near 6 p.m., but never, ever does it mean 5:00. And in what other industry do major players routinely throw events at which they expect people to get all dressed up in their au courant best and then push and shove their way into a venue — perhaps in an old, creeky, dangerous elevator, where they will sit in sweltering heat and sweat like pigs on overcrowded benches until the main attraction gets under way? On the flip-side, where else do people throw open-air bashes in January and February, leaving their guests to freeze while they're backstage with the heating units?

The world has many problems, and in the big picture, disgruntled fashion folk are not a sympathetic constituency. In our small world, however, we all know that the show system has spun into chaos; did you happen to catch those poor goats on Sixth Avenue on Thursday? What's needed is for cool-headed industry leaders to convene for some serious, constructive reevaluation.

The process should start with the Calvin Klein show at Milk Studios, the worst venue in New York, and among the worst anywhere. The elevators have long been a nightmare, and this time out, the busted air-conditioning contributed to the foul smell that ebbed and flowed through Section C. Still, after the show, Tom Murry, president and chief operating officer of Calvin Klein Inc., said it was too soon to comment on whether the firm would finally change locations. As for the frightening paparazzi commotion, Murry said: "The frenzy is part of the show, and the heat…I don't know what went wrong." Murry was unaware that Wintour and McCarthy had departed, but when told, said only, "I am sorry they left. They missed a great show."Costa, meanwhile, seemed open to a move. "Maybe the space should change," he said. "I know that the elevator situation has always been an issue. But it's such a Calvin space, and being here, there is such a connection with Calvin."

Perhaps so, but while he was channeling Calvin, Calvin himself was in Rio. And in truth, Costa has moved on from the folly of trying to get into Klein's head, finally proving himself a designer of considerable weight. Thursday night should have been his time to celebrate, because he showed a fabulous collection. All about lightness and air, it featured two ongoing themes — circles and cables — which he integrated in both construction and decoration while focusing on shirt shapes and a white-based palette. In working those elements so precisely, Costa achieved something quite difficult: maintaining a minimalist integrity in quite complicated clothes.

Yet, when it rains, it pours, as they say, and a sour audience may not be Calvin Klein's only problem this season. Pre-show rumors suggested that this collection may not be produced. As part of a licensing arrangement, Vestimenta started producing the Calvin Klein Collection lines for fall 2003, and some sources speculate that the deal could end prematurely at the end of this year. The family that controls Vestimenta is said to be looking to exit the apparel business, leaving Calvin Klein Inc. with the task of finding a new manufacturer. Yet Murry downplayed the notion that the spring collection is vulnerable. "It will either be Vestimenta or, if we agree to transfer the license to another entity, it will be with them," he said, adding that Vestimenta has a long-term agreement that it is expected to fulfill until a new partner is found. "We are talking to several companies," he said.

— Bridget Foley

Vera Wang: Although no one has ever accused Vera Wang of being a shy type, her collections have veered toward the discreet, if not the demure. That is, until she discovered some Wild West soul mates in the salty women of "Deadwood." Whether Vera could match those women cussword for cussword is questionable, but they would certainly get a giddy case of the vapors over her beautifully gutsy collection.Gutsy because inherent in all that American Victoriana is the distinct possibility of costumery. But Wang didn't stop there, pushing forward with the artsy flourishes she started using freely for fall. This came not only from a palette and lovely swirl print cribbed from Matisse at the Met, but from daring shapes — voluminous skirts, twisted and bunched and gathered; corsetry worn over shirts; moody, carefully placed embroideries. "I wanted to create a tension between pioneer and artistic elements, big and small, rich and poor," Wang said.

Along the way, she advanced fresh perspectives on moody-broody dressing, making it mostly chic and at times out there. In the former camp, intricate cuts made lean dresses provocative, while daring textural and color mixes delivered romance of a toughed-up sort. In the latter, the big, shiny purple fluff of a frock would be just right for a black-tie hootenanny at Tombstone Town Hall.

Peculiar — you bet, and brashly so. But this collection's strength lay in its gall. And practically speaking, in its gorgeous, round-the-clock clothes. Perhaps the biggest news came in her dressed-up sportswear; small, constricting jackets over decorative blouses, and slim cropped pants or big skirts. Wang's gowns dazzled as well — gorgeous hybrids of high glamour and artistic eccentricity.

J. Mendel: The ladies love Gilles — Tinsley, Olivia, Tiffany, Helen. And why not? J. Mendel's Gilles Mendel delivers a specific point of view. This designer's square root of fashion is pretty, as in pretty crinkle chiffon gowns and beaded fur confections, all of which are sure to be destined for showtime on the gala and party circuit. He paired tulle with satin face chiffon and sent them skimming across the body in accordion pleated skirts and dresses; broadtail vests brimmed with airy blushed organza, and a tender deconstructive motif ran throughout the show with exposed seams, raw edges and whipstitching. And, oh, let's not forget his furs. Mendel has always been skilled at working a sense of fluid ease into them, but this time he took a step further, working them to the same wistful, romantic effect as his chiffons and silk tulles. To wit: His reversible, plum-colored coat came complete with a gossamer floral print chiffon on one side and long-haired mink lining on the other. This collection turned wintry trappings into delicate, spring-worthy fare alongside silk faille trenches, corset tops and pintucked gowns. It all proved a reminder that the man once known just for standard furs is also capable of plenty more.Badgley Mischka: They're back. After two seasons without showing, Mark Badgley and James Mischka presented their collection amidst a huge, elaborate garden of sorts, on what appeared to be an endless catwalk at The Waterfront space in Chelsea. Later, the designers hosted a champagne reception in honor of their return to the runway. And these clothes are reason to celebrate, though the scale of the venue and the 9 p.m. showtime sent the message that this was more about the production than the collection.

That said, no one does those beaded looks better than these boys. This season's embroidery seemed significantly newer, mainly because there was less of it. What did surface on their gowns was executed with a more body-emphasizing precision. Two of the best that made this point: a satin-belted, beige chiffon tank gown under a metallic tweed jacket and the Empire look in beige lace with a gray satin structured bra. But it is the way they played with fabrics that telegraphed the big news. Beaded gray linen hopsack, for example, was used for a short A-line dress and sexy suit; the snug little cashmere sweater was teamed with a gray tulle ballerina skirt. The designers also checked in on the season's shorts trend, but they did it their way by mixing a mist chiffon top with a black cotton jacket and skinny Bermudas, or putting a terrific beaded golden cardigan over hopsack shorts. This was a collection rich with wonderful clothes and ideas — some belonging to their signature looks, others a completely new take.

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.

Malandrino: After sitting out last season, Catherine Malandrino is back in the fashion game, forsaking a traditional show in favor of a stunning presentation at the Pace Wildenstein gallery. Malandrino's models stood atop a grid of concrete pedestals of varying heights, and though the overall effect was remarkably similar to McQueen's chessboard finale from last year, the beautiful clothes were enough to forgive any indiscretion. Inspired by Amish handcraft and the colors of West Africa, Malandrino fashioned some exquisite coats, as in an ivory silk number done up in alternating panels of pintucking and trapunto stitching. A-line sheaths in rustic prints or patchwork were suspended from necklaces or cinched under the bust with belts, both sporting large wooden paillettes. And to complete the look of all that handcraft chic: a new shoe collection featuring such natural materials as wood, leather and macramé.Wunderkind: Third time's a charm for Wolfgang Joop. After his first two forays into the New York tents were met with mixed results, Joop delivered a strong collection Thursday that was theatrical, but still structured. An oversized shirtdress could have looked downright messy, but instead worked beautifully with its layers of raw-edged tuxedo pleats down the front. Razor-sharp suit jackets with horizontal pleats at their bottoms (indeed, pleats were a central theme) were softened with voluminous cotton voile wrap blouses, slouchy trousers or double-hemmed skirts. The designer didn't give much attention to prints, but the subtle plaids and oversized florals he did use looked great in the mishmash of textures and shapes. The same goes for eveningwear, where pleats again showed up, this time in nude silk and peeking out from under a black Chantilly lace halter gown.

Thakoon: Three-and-a-half seasons into his fledgling career, Thakoon Panichgul upgraded from his past tableaux vivant presentations to a full-fledged runway show. This change is a rite of passage for a young designer, but too bad for those who enjoy lingering over his unusual, pretty details and visual wit. In fact, he opened his show with a flourish of said wit — two organza dresses with a ghostly, graded-scallop pattern accomplished by layering the material. Most of Panichgul's detail, in fact, came via fabric manipulation. Fluttering petals of cloth trimmed dresses and knits and even formed a lovely necklace. Seaming based on diamond facets added a sort of trompe l'oeil dimension to satin dresses. His silhouettes were more girlish than womanly, as seen in slightly poufed skirts and dresses that ended north of the knee. Overall, it was a fresh, lovely collection, but some looks pushed the cute factor to the limit.

Jenni Kayne: In the three years since launching her Los Angeles-based line, Jenni Kayne has experienced all the typical growing pains of a young designer. But her New York debut here on Wednesday showed that Kayne has lived and learned, and is ready to shine. Her clothes brought to mind Slim Aarons' “A Place in the Sun,” but with a decidedly modern twist. Think lace-trimmed dusters, grass-skimming gowns and lean knits, all mixed and matched to perfection. Her hometown girls likely will go for the sunny yellow crepe de chine cross-gathered dress for day, or the gold-sequined apron dress for red-carpet nights. New Yorkers will cozy up to the muted cashmere knits, or tropical wool blazer and sashed shorts.In any case, Kayne proved she's got the skills to charm both coasts.

Vivienne Tam: The challenge for Vivienne Tam is maintaining her signature chinoiserie without, well, overdoing it. After last season's Garbo-inspired fest, the designer settled on Edie Sedgwick this time around, moving Tam's traditional motifs into a new Sixties Mod direction. There were polkadot chiffon shifts and rompers and floral baby-doll numbers, accompanied by her usual Sino chic, such as peony eyelet and embroidered accents. And despite one decidedly out of place organza paillette pouf dress and a few overly macraméd numbers, it all made for a refreshingly simple and charming lineup.

Phi: For the past few seasons, Susan Dell and her design director, Andreas Melbostad, have run counter to the fashion hegemony. As embellishment and nonintellectual clothes made up the prevailing scene, they went for minimal, sober colors, a light touch of the avant-garde and a decidedly ungirlish brand of chic. Well, once again, they are zigging as others zag. There were few pants in Dell's spring collection. Instead, she sent out mostly full skirts and dresses that often poufed with tiered layers and were decorated with a graphic floral appliqué and lace. Busts were tightly constructed to counter below-the-waist volume. As the show progressed, the color quotient leaped to bright fuchsias and reds, in intarsia knits and a geometric-and-floral print. As usual, every piece was constructed with the sort of perfectionism luxury clothes should always have. But along with excellent production quality, wearability has been a Phi hallmark. And one had to question just how viable these very girlish, above-the-knee silhouettes might be.

Christopher Deane: Christopher Crawford and Angela Deane know that in the summer, a girl likes looks that are easy, yet polished. The duo accomplished just that with a fabulous array of dresses, some done in a gorgeous, jewel-toned geometric color block, others in a large-scale feather print. There were also gowns for the fanciest of affairs, but the designers still kept the utmost comfort in mind, such as a breezy black cotton gauze number with satin insets at the bustline. Many looks were cinched with amusing wide belts made of denim in different colors. Separates were strong, as well, especially the fitted shrunken blazers and loose shorts.Zero Maria Cornejo: Maria Cornejo's sculptural chic trappings make for better bedfellows with fall's woolen coats and heavier fabrics. But silk charmeuse dresses and knotted jersey tops aside, her spring showing of bamboo wrap dresses and curved-seamed jackets lived up to her architectural simplicity without being too plain. And she launched accessories to boot: handbags folded and fastened from a single piece of leather, as well as a collaboration with Keds featuring skimmers with grosgrain-ribbon wraparounds.

Milly: Lilly Pulitzer has a bit of competition among the preppy Palm Beach set. Michelle Smith's Milly collection offered PYTs plenty of her signature feminine print dresses in patterns like paisley, Moroccan motifs, chevron and lanterns, all with a Sixties flair. The designer also injected more sportswear looks this spring, with great eyelet jackets, tulip skirts and trenchcoats. Indeed, Smith turned out a charming, though somewhat safe, lineup that only occasionally veered toward the overly stiff.

Mary Ping: Mary Ping continues to cement her reputation for designing simple, lovely and wearable clothes. Her spring lineup was inspired by men's wear but it still maintained a certain femininity and grace. The designer sent out fantastically soft cottons cut into T-shirt dresses; turned a men's-looking, striped button-down into a sexy dress, and intermixed plenty of Bermuda shorts and a great black trench. Her colors were just right, too, with pale blue and cobalt silks and a complementary infusion of navy and rust.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Michael Kors: While divining the mood of his spring collection, Michael Kors established a strict set of guidelines: Deliver au courant severity. Retain charm. Banish the ho.

A tall order, certainly, but Kors achieved all of the above and more, wrapping his self-imposed requirements in a mood he called "romantic optimism," coloring it with a soupçon of Louise Dahl-Wolfe and a substantial "Giant" moment. And if it's a short stride from Elizabeth Taylor's city girl displaced deep in the heart of Texas to the women of "Deadwood," so be it; either way, Kors never lets even the best fantasy hide his ultrarealistic core.The designer's big mission was to tone down the flash without becoming a bore. To that end, he mixed austere tailoring with softer pieces, working in black, white and sober neutrals but touched with just the right amount of sparkle. Thus, a delicately embroidered chantilly lace shirt dolled up a sensible khaki skirt; a tiered, golden "Out of Africa" (or the prairie) skirt twinkled under a linen trench and white tank. The whole thing was a feast of pragmatic chic, look after look of terrific pieces rooted in the common sense premise that clothes should be first, last and always, wearable. The exception to the core principle came in discordant camouflage sightings. Whether Kors' sophisticated customer is up for playing soldier at all is questionable; if so, she might love the little miniskirt under a big, cozy sweater, but chances are good she won't shell out for the mink-lined camo coat.

As for Kors' new nemesis, the fashion ho — gone, goodbye, outta here. Even at the beach, courtesy of adorable Grable-worthy eyelet two-piecers and at night, in glamorous gowns worn with a polished casual attitude.

Narciso Rodriguez: In a chat several days before his show, Narciso Rodriguez pointed to a printout of a bold, curved graphic tacked to the wall of his design studio and noted that the motif would appear in his collection. "All of the straight lines," he said, "are much more curved."

To a connoisseur of cut such as Rodriguez, that shift might seem akin to the earth moving. But to the clothes-buying public — and at least some editors — the change played as something less than seismic. There's no question that Rodriguez's clothes are beautiful and constructed to feel like a dream on the body. Yet most women laying down designer prices — even tried-and-true minimalists — expect obvious new-fangled visual oomph along with more personal subtleties, and many of Rodriguez's clothes just looked too familiar.

That said, his dresses were ultrachic in structured, washed linens and springy lilac silks. A sportif touch showed up in cotton T-shirts and a new loosened-up silhouette that paired sleeveless tops with fluttering skirts while skinny pants and razor-sharp jackets lent a rare masculine edge. The designer continued his exploration of volume in a swinging gold silk coat, dresses that ballooned out from small, high bodices and a charming layered lavender gown that flowed tent-like from the bust but looked light as air. Yet this, too, had an aura of familiarity. Given fashion's new austerity — and the void left by Jil Sander and Helmut Lang — this could be a golden moment for Rodriguez. But first he needs to mine a little deeper for new ways to express his so-chic aesthetic.Roland Mouret: When a designer's show notes mention deconstruction and distortion, you automatically assume things may wind up on the messy side. Not true in the capable hands of Roland Mouret, whose talent for artistic tailoring and sexy draping is winning him many fans — civilian and celebrity alike. Mouret's distortion had a sculptural approach: molding, folding and pinch-pleating crisp linen and stretch wool into some dramatically chic pieces. Whereas last season's lineup was of the supertight femme fatale variety, Mouret loosened up and was right on track with the resurgence of volume this season. Tailored pieces were done up in tiny gray houndstooth linen that hugged the body. And a peplumed suit and full-skirted dress were both cut with square necklines, exposing light-as-air organza collars. Mouret then indulged his softer side in wide fluid trousers topped with a flowing cutaway kimono. He closed the show with a dazzling rainbow of Thirties-inspired wool crepe and gauze dresses, the standouts being slinky raspberry and fitted yellow numbers, both belted in grosgrain.

Peter Som: "There's nothing like waking up and flopping down on the beach," Peter Som said after his Tuesday morning show. "It's what I do all summer. I just wanted to impart that same feeling to the clothes." Beachy ease, however, is nothing new for Som, whose collections often marry the freedom of sandy shores with the gilded world of his social customer. Who's to say just how much actual flopping this lady does, but she will certainly appreciate Som's intention of luxury sans ostentation, as in a look that paired a Deauville-inspired long cardigan over white sailor pants and a floral tank. In fact, the designer worked all parts of a sailor uniform — the double-buttoning of the classic pants also made it onto skirts and shorts and were infinitely wearable and chic. Not so the sailor collar, which, though well-intentioned, played it overly cute. But along with the nautical and sportif came a touch of romance in the form of high necklines and lace. Prints, a Som hallmark, were mixed. A graphic, oversized floral far outshone a tiny butterfly pattern. And for those who might sport his many linen pieces including two particular beauties — a gown spray-painted with stenciled flowers and an ivory linen dress — the designer offered some advice: "You have to embrace the wrinkles."Rebecca Taylor: In a season of sober colors and subtle embellishments, how does a contemporary designer strike the proper balance between her expressive, girly roots and the latest turns in fashion? For spring, Rebecca Taylor found the perfect answer by infusing her sweet dots and charming eyelets with her own take on tomboy style. Going with a lighter touch, she whipped up a crisp, canvas jacket, for example, with light, gold-stitch embroideries. There were also dotted minidresses, easy hopsack coats and a playful oxford blouson shirtdress that featured yellow piping and a heart-shaped pocket to boot. Taylor also left behind the soft pastels, infusing plenty of cream, khaki and olive into the lineup, with just a dash of lilac, orange and yellow to keep things bright.

Richard Chai: After a couple of seasons of Space-Age elegance, Richard Chai has returned to terra firma with a quirky, yet feminine, collection. His usual attention to cut and form was manifested in architectural seams on sharp jackets and camp shirts, the latter made more chic than geek when cut from pink silk taffeta printed with tiny rosebuds. In fact, the juxtaposition of artisan details — origami-like pleating and patchwork dresses and tops — with more typical girly trappings — oversized silk sashes tied into huge bows — is what gave this collection its charm. Those few collars decorated with oversized crystals, however, were a little too Prada for comfort. That said, it was Chai’s nonchalant freshness that stood out in this collection, especially in crinkled silk trenches and a white dress with overlapping tulle panels in vibrant purple.

Zang Toi: Known for his opulence and what some might describe as over-the-top ornamentation, Zang Toi refined his collection this season, offering some exquisite pieces without diverging too far from his signature look. The designer took us to Africa for safari, marking the occasion with fantastic tribal music and several true African beauties. Day looks showed up mostly in khaki silk tweeds, jackets and pants, microminis and tailored suits. Evening, of course, turned more dramatic, with elaborate gowns fit for the Queen of Sheba. Case in point: the gorgeous black ombré silk chiffon gown, paired with an African beaded necklace. Toi’s only divergence was his butterfly embroidery, which felt unsophisticated compared with his other pieces; some floral embroidery, too, looked cumbersome on the delicate silk.Carmen Marc Valvo: Carmen Marc Valvo’s spring collection was meant to take us to the Mod days of the early Sixties in the glitzy city, of all places, Las Vegas. While his dresses and separates certainly had sparkle, provided mostly by metallic linen and embroidery, they lacked a sense of freshness and vivacity that marked the era. Perhaps Valvo overthought the theme. He can usually be counted on for pretty dresses in varying styles, but this time, he underwhelmed with an array of dull prints, such as kaleidoscope silk chiffons and polkadots. The designer did, however, have a few high points with his swimwear, which included bikinis, banded suits and a great black-and-pearl, polkadot halter number that was well suited to the era Valvo was channeling.

Nanette Lepore: Nanette Lepore sent out a collection that often looked like snapshots of Route 66 road trips she took with her mom. There was, in the figurative sense, the Painted Desert: blanket-striped camis and dresses in earthy tones. That broken-down hippies’ Volkswagen in New Mexico: white-stitched patchwork jackets and skirt. Lepore, who often lets a motif get the best of her, should have left the bright yellow cactus print by the side of the road, but she continued on with an odd transition to a tropical locale circa 1946 that actually worked. This is where the fun was, where she allowed her knack for translating innocent charm to take over. She spun bright floral prints into Andrews Sisters-style dresses, plenty of sweet eyelet tops and a set of adorable high-waisted shorts.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Marc Jacobs: Fashion should try a little harder. Marc Jacobs advanced that platform the day before his show. He put the thought into practice with a presentation that featured a marching band, a timely start and a slew of bona fide celebrities. (When was the last time you saw Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg at a fashion show, or, for that matter, the cutest little future jailbird on the planet?) It also featured genuinely provocative fashion.

Those of us who think about such things considered what encore Jacobs could possibly produce as a follow-up to fall's watershed event. He came up with a powerful cocktail of stimuli, one that resonated with the seldom-articulated sense of wonder so essential to the fashion system, as well as with the more concrete, pragmatic concerns of doing business. This was a case study, masterfully executed, in how fashion should move at a sea-change moment, last season's shocker becoming not necessarily this season's proletarian cup of tea, but a genuine possibility for uberfashion types.So how did Jacobs try harder? Clothes aside, the shift to 8 p.m. from 9 and the 8:30-ish start were not happenstance, but a decision made in response to years of criticism — a smart, if overdue, move, especially with the traditional show audience feeling increasingly put out by the encroachment of celebrity press. But fashion doesn't happen on the merits of good manners. Jacobs said he's sick of the beachification of city style, that real fashion demands "a little more work." He also noted that he set out to make this collection utterly American — hence the Penn State Nittany Lions marching band — yet with a couture sensibility to the cut and details.

If that sounds like an homage to the latter-day Babe Paley set — absolutely not, or at least not obviously so; Jacobs' Americana always boasts a bit of the bad girl. Here, he gave fall's Violet Parr of "The Incredibles" a school uniform, a spot on the cheerleading squad and something every teen needs now and then — structure. All of which made for an entertaining way to push fall's major points — pretty sobriety and volume — more into the mainstream. This time out, some shapes, mostly pants, expanded, while others were trimmed a bit. And throughout, he stripped away girliness wherever possible ("I wanted to avoid frills, bows and disgustingly sweet things — the things I used to love"). Thus, fall's tulle dirndls stiffened into A-line skirts over knife-pleated petticoats, huge smocks deflated into tentish coats and lace-veiled cardigans defrocked into cashmere sweatshirts.

But that no-frills statute did not extend into evening, when a bevy of tiered, beribboned gems indicated the designer's acknowledgement, finally, that it would be nice to have some of those celebrity clients chirping his name on the red carpet.

Throughout, Jacobs cribbed from girls-gone-wrong chick-flicks "Carrie," "Heathers" ("I love Winona") and "The Virgin Suicides" ("that's my girl, Sofia"). But for all his presentation bravado, part of his talent lies in a sly versatility. With a little change of shoe and attitude, Jacobs' clothes can transfer seamlessly from a girl with an attitude to a woman of high chic.On Tuesday, at Marc by Marc Jacobs, the designer showed a collection that had bits and pieces of Olivia Newton-John, Norma Kamali and "The Night Porter," as well as piles of those terrific, do-it-your-way clothes that both girls and boys love.

Bill Blass: Every season, designer Michael Vollbracht wrestles with trying to fit his vision into the Bill Blass legacy. And the effort always shows. But for spring, he finally injected a bit of Vollbracht into the mix, exercising his love of classic film gamines through silhouettes from bygone days — think Bardot, Deneuve and Fonda romping around the South of France in the Sixties. That meant embroidered sundresses with rounded skirts, structured swing coats à la "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and a winning combo of a pink gingham shirt, a petal embroidered skirt and a checked wool Eisenhower jacket. Vollbracht lightened his touch, too, with a swingy chiffon blouse and skirt in multicolored stripes and simple shirtdresses. Even the evening looks, which normally get lost in kitsch and camp, this season swirled in layers of embellished chiffon and muted colors. The designer seems to be moving in the right direction — perhaps the next step is recognizing that there's life beyond Old Hollywood.

Monique Lhuillier: Monique Lhuillier did volume and swing her way. And she did it best with lots of Sabrina-style ballerina dresses in white, smoky-toned pastels or ombréd tulle, sometimes delicately sequined. Lhuillier is now firmly ensconced in creating romantic evening looks, a logical direction she took after years of designing bridal collections. And whether she swung her latest silhouettes away from the body or kept them close, they all had the designer's signature grace. She stayed on the lean side with a jade Chantilly lace sleeveless sheath; went more fluid with a lavender chiffon starburst-seamed gown, and, in between, showed a beauty in black chiffon: the crystal-belted, drop-waist slip with a sheer overlay and flowing ties. Still, for all the lovely gowns, the short looks were the freshest, such as the lean halter tuxedo dress that opened the show and a little back-buttoned tuxedo shell in white eyelet tucked into a black embroidered tulle and chiffon flared skirt.

DKNY: Compared with last season's eclectic overload, there was far more physical and visual breathing room at Donna Karan's Monday presentation of her DKNY collection. "You know when you just want to feng shui and clean house?" asked Karan, moving nimbly between the mannequins set up in the airy, glassed-in lobby of the Lever House. Why yes, in fact, and judging from the crowd murmurings, others agreed with the designer.Karan's house-cleaning appears, by early indications, to be the order of the day all around. Finally swinging away from embellishment to the nth degree, there was nary a jewel or bead to be seen. Still, as she was quick to point out, Karan hasn't scrubbed away the sensuality or detail, though the latter was restricted to flat pleats on chiffon dresses and belts tied into bows that were more stark than sweet. Instead, those elements showed up in a form so stripped down that even dresses in a silver-touched eyelet, and collarless coats and fullish skirts in a graphic floral print, shed their romantic connotations. Of course, few know better than Karan that sometimes a girl just needs a good basic, so those same floral coats are reversible to a solid hue. And another staple — dark blue and white denim — was barely recognizable in two sleekly tailored baby-doll dresses. Leave it to Karan to once again deliver clothes that don't make modernity and femininity mutually exclusive qualities.

Ellen Tracy: Designer George Collins Sharp decided to take Ellen Tracy in a new direction for spring, preferring a clean and simple aesthetic over the rich and baroque direction of last season. Sharp favored a nautical look, and he started the show with stark, navy-and-white pieces, including free-flowing pants, a sharp peacoat and cute, striped sailor knits shot with Lurex. Sharp's best moments were when he played graphic against print, as in the aforementioned sailor knit, this time in beige and white topping an ombréd full floral skirt. A flirty aqua paisley halter dress was a noteworthy choice for the girl who wants to surrender all that boating gear for a fun frock. Sharp should show some styling restraint, however, when combining colors such as aubergine and lavender into monochromatic looks that didn't ring modern or fresh.

Behnaz Sarafpour: There are times when Behnaz Sarafpour seems to understand so clearly exactly what her customer wants to wear, especially for the evening hours when benefits and parties beckon. With a fabulous resort collection as the proverbial wind at her back, Sarafpour showed a spring lineup that continued, at least partly, in that vein. The best looks worked a lovely combination of creamy ivory and black that had a welcome formality the designer balanced with a chic, playful edge: shorts paired with an admiral's jacket; trompe l'oeil bow ties on a dress. One stunner frock with a ruffled U-neckline came in a pure white silk cloque. And Sarafpour's use of raw-edged raffia — for a skirt paired with a tortoise-patterned sequin tank and a dress with jet beads — felt fresh.However, a few missteps were glaring: dresses in safety orange defied explanation, and lace collars, often over white cotton tanks, looked straight off the Mayflower. In terms of styling, the Van Cleef & Arpels chokers distracted rather than dazzled. As this collection shows, Sarafpour should let her designs be the center of attention.

BCBG Max Azria: Calling all aspiring Lindsays, Nicoles and Jessicas. Max Azria's spring muse was the California girl, but she's no "O.C." cutie or surfing Betty. This girl is all Robertson ranger, that is, the sort of girl who shops that glitzy Los Angeles boulevard in deceptively effortless yet studied slouchy layers — oversized sunglasses optional. To wit, the big news here: volume. Billowy cotton voile topped slouchy little shorts, while tops and dresses were given a fresh spin on boho when sporting nubby pastel-hued macramé detailing and insets. The volume bug has bitten many a designer, but Azria was able to make the look fresh most of the time, as in low-slung, striped pajama pants that played to the cozy side of cool. But those sack-like strapless dresses looked, well, kinda like sacks.

Charles Nolan: Charles Nolan's show was all about pretty clothes — to wear, not just applaud. This collection was mostly a study in style, one that evokes a range of romantic references, such as Merchant Ivory, for starters. Nolan noted that he likes the concepts of "dressing" and "ceremony." Accordingly, even a ribbed cotton tank got all dressed up. He showed it in white, under an ivory silk-taffeta ruffled duster, and with a black cotton taffeta suit. A glazed silver version was tucked under a terrific navy linen coat and white, gauze pleated skirt.

Nolan's shirttails took the refined route, too, especially via the striped, jacquard belted dress, or the pintucked frock in handkerchief linen. And there were some gracefully controlled versions of that ubiquitous pouf look, making it incidental to — rather than the point of — soft skirts and dresses. His rich palette, as well as those huge-brimmed hats and oversized papier-mâché pearls, gave this collection an elegant Gatsby-meets-Babe Paley kind of spirit.

Temperly London: Girly girls have reason to rejoice. Alice Temperly, a favorite of London's social set, has jumped the pond with her saccharin concoctions in tow. The designer has a unique sense when it comes to dressmaking, often showing crocheted and bold intarsia. For spring, those intarsia numbers were done up in a color-blocked Mayan motif, comprising black, rose and aubergine, while crocheted inserts sweetened up some pale Empire-waisted gowns and dresses. A couple of rainbow-striped pieces were attention-getting, if not for the faint of heart. As pretty as some of these dresses were, however, Temperly could benefit from a little editing, simply to cut down on the repetition.Chaiken: Simple and pretty — two very important words in creative director Jeff Mahshie and founder and president Julie Chaiken's vocabulary. There was not one print on Chaiken's spring runway, and they certainly weren't missed. Not when they sent out clean silhouettes in pale pink, cream, black and gray with the tiniest of details — a soft ruche here, a curved collar there and subtle rope belts throughout. That's not to say everything was completely muted. Sponsored by Benjamin Moore, which also backed the duo's collection last season, Chaiken tossed in a few bright reds. And for the first time, more covetable than the label's well-cut pants were the trim skirts and party dresses, especially a slightly pouffed and crinkled, silk strapless number. The only tricky part of the show was the names of the colors — clay, string and conch — which translated, are orange, khaki and cream.

Rag & Bone: Add one more premium denim label to next season's must-have list. Designers Nathan Bogle, Marcus Wainwright and David Neville treated weary editors to some top-shelf champers along with some great clothes for their debut women's collection. Their men's line has been a hit since its inception in 2003, but with plenty of girls-about-town to test-drive samples, including Sienna Miller and Drew Barrymore, the trio showed lean separates, including suede bomber jackets, cotton blazers and fitted, short-sleeve blouses paired with dark, Japanese denim miniskirts, trousers and side-slit wool pencil skirts. There were no bells and whistles and there didn't need to be. Just like the Kentucky hills where the denim is manufactured, these guys are on a roll.

Diesel: A curious inspirational pairing, Diesel's girls evoked postwar Forties femme fatales with touches of Japanese prints. That meant lots of sharp-shouldered military jackets and cropped pants, dark denim pencil skirts and embroidered silk tops and dresses. And while there were plenty of street-savvy, wearable clothes this time — as opposed to last season's over-the-top Russia-meets-Wild West fete — there was little to write home about.

Alexandre Herchcovitch: If the formula works, then stick with it. That's the motto chez Herchcovitch. Few designers are able to layer with the sort of abandon that comes so naturally to this quirky Brazilian. For spring, Herchcovitch seems to have imagined Marcia Brady ditching her suburban sprawl to tour the Alps with the Grateful Dead. Sounds trippy, but once your eyes got accustomed to the mix it wasn't hard to find some super clothes. Herchcovitch worked wavy gravy prints of multicolored florals into chiffon sundresses and tops in a way that resembled tie-dye. Tyrolean jackets and sharp little shorts also were trimmed and inset with those poppy florals, or another of the designer's favorites: gingham. Oh, and this season's, "I can't believe that's made of rubber" moment: a full white skirt with floral appliqué.Matthew Williamson: It's inevitable that, when the fashion tides turn, every designer goes through growing pains. To Matthew Williamson's credit, however, his bohemian leanings preceded the trend, which is now winding its way down. The designer successfully addressed this issue last season with a great collection full of chic, tailored looks. But that wasn't the case for spring. Williamson alternated plainer pieces — creamy knits and tailored shorts trimmed charmingly with fat pearls — with more colorful fare, such as printed dresses, shirts and some inexplicable long skirts. But the graphic and geometric prints, which had not a whiff of Goa, were simply busy and unflattering. Better were the silk tops and dresses with trompe l'oeil necklaces done up in beads that fell straight and flapperish on the body.

Costello Tagliapietra: There is certainly something to be said for consistency, but at some point, every designer must grow and evolve. So it went that Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, who love jersey more than Bruce Springsteen, worked in some woven fabrics and expanded their all-dress policy to include tailored jackets and pants. To the pair's credit, the venture into new territory didn't feel forced. The slim pants worn with bloused and belted jackets went with the proverbial, and literal, flow, cut in heavy georgette that behaved much in the same way as the designers' favored fabric. But the dress still formed the meat of their collection. Only this time, the usual slew of intricately cut and mysteriously flattering jersey dresses was joined by a few breezy numbers in a light, crinkly crepe.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Diane von Furstenberg: All that was missing from Diane von Furstenberg's show was the Trevi Fountain. Inspired by Sixties-era Rome, von Furstenberg called her collection "La Dolce Diva." And what dolce there was. She's well acquainted with the glories of diva-dom, but more importantly, she also understands the realities of daily life. Yes, there was plenty of glamour here, but these clothes were the real stuff. Her signature wrap dresses — for which enthusiasm never wanes — had a throw-on-and-go quality, combining sex appeal and comfort. Von Furstenberg also added a slew of new, accessible lady-to-the-max looks: little flared jackets, the best in dark denim, tossed over every silhouette; an ivory crochet suit; Empire cotton baby dolls, and a knockout beige trench. But back to that glamour, which had an element of surprise to it. Alek Wek's strapless leopard gown was pretty enough, but all the more so in sequined navy-and-red silk and worn casually with a cotton cardigan. The diva's gone the distance.Betsey Johnson: Ooh la la! That was the echo heard down the line of petite tables at Betsey Johnson's latest fashion week frolic — this time inspired by Parisian cafes. And who's more fun to have a spot of chocolat with than Johnson, or perhaps her guests, Kelly Osbourne and the Hilton sisters, who sat down front? There were ruffles galore; a girlish color palette of pink, blue and white, and the traditional bit of Betsey camp, such as pretty Swiss dot blouses and tulip skirts, fruit- or floral-print silk dresses that ranged from mini to maxi and some great denim shorts. It remains to be seen if ladies not of the model variety will actually wear the gingham mini bloomers and bubble suits, but they sure did look sweet.

Cynthia Steffe: Buh-bye, boho. For spring, Cynthia Steffe did minimal. But Cynthia being Cynthia, her presentation wasn't exactly a study in spare. She chucked the bright colors and embellishments of past collections in favor of more architectural details in a clean palette of black, white, red, gray and one Mondrian-inspired print, which she used sparingly. She focused her energy on intricate pintucks and seams, such as the tight pleats of a white canvas skirt — paired with a fresh red seersucker jacket — or the corset effect on light cotton tanks and dresses. Steffe only broke her appealing new minimal stride with a few looks — a pair of party frocks in bright yellow flounces and jade eyelet, and some black lacquered coats that were a tad too retro.

Jill Stuart
: Jill Stuart definitely hypnotized her audience this season. But not for the reasons you might think. After almost an hour's wait in the daze-inducing heat of the New York Public Library's foyer, the designer treated editors and fans to a 40-exit lineup of lacy, frilly bits and pieces that, after a while, looked dangerously similar. Hipper-than-thou girls will surely love the cream-and-white slips with vintage-looking appliqués for layering or wearing alone on hot summer nights — but one will do just fine. Among all these virginal nighties were some much-welcomed colorful flashes: a blue-and-teal satin Fifties number and tiered, ruffled dresses in pink and orange florals. A tighter edit and a more expedient start next time would greatly improve attendees' after-show mood.

Luca Luca
: There was much paparazzi ado over Luca Orlandi's front row. This time, Luca Luca staple Paris Hilton was joined by Damon Dash and Rachel Roy, the Williams sisters, Mary J. Blige and, curiously, Kelly Osborne in full punk getup. But a flashy new crowd isn't everything in fashion. Since Orlandi left behind his days of designing for sexpots and sirens, he's been toying with more ladylike themes with varying degrees of success. He hasn't quite found his voice, though, this time singing an island song and a debutante tune, sometimes at the same time. But there were definitely pretty clothes here: a sweet mint-on-white floral done on a frothy strapless dress and cami; an airy white voile frock embroidered with strawberries. And the loose, cotton cardigans were great, too — a sporty idea to build on for next time when, perhaps, Orlandi will be more focused on pulling together his vision on the runway and less on who's lining it.

Reem Acra: One can't miss the beauty of a long, fluid Reem Acra dress. It's the essence of her collections. For spring, she sent out a steady stream of beauties — from gold embroidered lace dresses to a knockout steel chiffon gown with elaborately embroidered front and back detail. And for a sportier, but nonetheless lavish, evening look, Acra offered white pleated tuxedo pants with a gold embroidered top. In fact, while those pants were some of the newer things in the lineup — plus the peasant tops worn over the long or short skirts in taffeta or georgette — it is sometimes difficult to discern what differs from season to season. Certainly, there were the usual subtle shifts in embroidery, prints, laces and tulle, and in the colors. But reinventing the proverbial wheel is not this designer's main concern. Groundbreaking or not, there was not a loser in the lot.

Luella Bartley: Luella Bartley has been a member of the country-club set for years now, but she's the sort of cardholder who's always on the verge of getting kicked out for breaking the dress code. In her spring collection, for instance, she jazzed up a prepster watermelon-and-green uniform by tucking a pink oxford into a sequined emerald pencil skirt. And lest a plaid blazer and khaki shorts look too stuffy, she added a studded black leather biker jacket to the look. Bartley also tipped her hat to the New York Yacht Club locale, showing a sailor's banquet of navy-and-red-striped Ts paired with white jeans and skirts. The chunky rope details, however, lacing up charming eyelet dresses and minis, read too literal for the girl who wants the nautical look without actually having to step on deck. But start to finish, the clothes were dolled up with cheeky sky-high spectator pumps, men's-style golf shoes and great big-buckled leather bags. It looks like Bartley's signature punked-up sense of propriety will keep her country-club girls the coolest ones around.Dana Buchman: For the last few seasons, Dana Buchman has set out to prove she hasn't set her sights only on the career girl. For spring, that premise is starting to ring true. Printed chiffon dresses and separates were more youthful than ever, a standout being a Neopolitan striped number with a shirred waist. And Buchman, of course, can cut a sharp jacket, which she did this time with three-quarter sleeves in robin's egg blue brocade, made cool when paired with a pleated tennis- or balloon-hemmed skirt. The styling, indeed, further aided the collection, adding a certain hip factor, and there were some surprisingly fresh looks in a few unexpected pairings, such as a floral, Empire-waist tunic with sharp blue-on-gray pinstriped trousers.

Gary Graham: Gary Graham's story begins with a girl who gets pulled from Catholic school — but don't think plaid jumpers and crisp button-downs styled to naughty Britney effect. It's still all about the three Ps, pretty, prim and proper, but here, Graham reworked parochial charm into a slightly tussled and undone look that still had a whiff of Victorian appeal. There were ruffled oxford blouses, twill army skirts and jackets, crocheted cardis, some hook-and-eye closures in lieu of zippers and plenty of corset-inspired looks, all of which came complete with a handcrafted appeal, raw edges and a washed-out palette to further set the collection in that faded, bygone era. And executed the way they were, with fastenings left unhinged and garments worn slightly off-kilter, the collection also made for a chic study in demure sex appeal.

James Coviello: It's hard not to get swept up in James Coviello's fantasy worlds, which this season referenced a mix of historical French periods, from rococo to neoclassical. Held at the St. Regis Hotel, the heavy crystal chandeliers and gilt moldings properly set the tone for what was to come: delicate, crochet boleros and camis; chinoiserie print chiffon gowns, and a number of puffed-sleeved, Josephine-waisted tops and frocks. The fringed paisley pieces might have been better left to the guillotines, but Coviello made up for them with the seersucker numbers and the pretty grosgrain ribbons — done up in bows, rosettes or beaded and sequined — that circled high around the waist to create an Empire effect.Joanna Mastroianni: Joanna Mastroianni was like "The Little Engine That Could." For years, she chugged along, picking up speed and expanding her core looks with those ladylike evening dresses and cocktail suits, tweaked with a touch of glitz. But until recent seasons, the aesthetic was aimed at a more sophisticated clientele. Now, she's loosened the mood of her collection with Grecian-inspired evening looks, romantic and pretty short dresses and gowns in layers of bright or bold floral silk chiffon with plunging necklines and backs, draped bodices and elaborately beaded belts. But the best example of the designer's approach to attracting a younger, edgier crowd was the white ribbed cotton tank with its beaded neckline and embroidered skirt and the sheer embroidered vest over a long skirt in white silk. Still, some of this newfound fashion freedom needed to be reined in a bit, such as the fringes and ostrich feathers, which were overdone.

Ruffian: Brian Wolk and Claude Morais sent out a mostly march-to-their-own-drummer collection for Ruffian. While that's often a good thing, this season, it was more jarring and out of sync than interesting, with huge dolman and lantern sleeves and some lackluster shapes in too-shiny ribbon-knit sweaters and dresses. But those boys sure knew what to do when they got hold of a bevy of silks in charred navy. Here, almost everything was beautifully cut and chic. A soft charmeuse shirt was shown with a terrific crystal-belted, pleated yoke skirt in tussah; the slender jumper and a crystal-appliquéd butterfly dress in georgette were also winners, which proves that a little restraint can go a long way.

Y & Kei: It looks like Hanii Y and Gene Kei of Y & Kei finally have found the golden ticket for a perfectly polished wardrobe. In the past, the designers have struggled to find the right balance for their romantic-with-an-edge collection, but the duo's spring lineup was bursting with just the right mix, from feminine, white eyelet blouses, to chic, front-pleat skirts belted with bows, to a slew of ethereal gowns in sand and black. By mixing textures, such as linen and jacquard — many accented with delicate metallic beading or embroidery — each look was a delicious surprise.

Atil Kutoglu
: It was the spirit of Turkey's coastal resorts that seemed to be the most inspiring for Atil Kutoglu. Terrific caftans, both short and long, sailed down the runway in breezy cotton voile or airy silk chiffon and organza. And a bevy of beach looks in bright printed cotton — shorts and hooded tops over white bikinis — stayed the course. But he wandered too far from that appealing seaside mood with silver silk brocade coats, dresses and jackets that looked stiff and bulky.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Tracy Reese: As ever, Tracy Reese designs for the girl with the most party invites and the fullest dance card. And come spring, she'll make her grand entrance in Southern eyelash-batting, tea-sipping, parasol-twirling style. Reese's collection was a lacy affair to be sure, with plenty of frills, overlays and underskirts in a parade of lime green, pink, blue and cream slipdresses and gowns. All the lace was relieved by a few brocade vests and jackets, as well as a sprinkling of floral-printed silk frocks — the prettiest a swingy brown-on-tan look. Reese also introduced a new idea in a few military jackets, but these read a bit random — unless, that is, some gallant Army cadet lent this sweet debutante his jacket on a chilly night.

Stephen Burrows: Why should Stephen Burrows fiddle with the very thing that's charmed his girls for decades? Because, as this collection made clear, he wants to add a whole new audience. While managing to retain the spirit of his label — the lettuce edging, color-blocking and contrast stitching — the designer moved in new directions with sexier shapes and paler colors. There were black-and-white printed shirtdresses, for example, and pretty little wraps, slips and sundresses — all fitted close to the torso — in mint, yellow and white. From all indications, Burrows is on track to gather those younger fans — a possibility mirrored by the sight of former top model Pat Cleveland sitting in the front row, proudly filming her daughter, Anna, as she camped it up on the runway just like Mom used to.

: The classic alligator is getting more fun and fabulous every season. Certainly, these days, the label represents more about fashion than sports, with looks that are far more suited to playing — and sometimes flirting — than competing. On the girly side, there were charming, fun dresses, strapless jersey frocks and low-slung minis. But creative director Christophe Lemaire mixed in skater and tennis references as well, putting it all together with amusing kneesocks, helmet caps and knee pads for a look he called "preppy pop." And in a nod to another master of the prep genre, Ralph Lauren — who recently enlarged his polo player — Lemaire magnified the alligator to huge proportions and plastered it on an oh-so-cozy robe.Sari Gueron: In an increasingly crowded scene of young New York designers, finding your voice isn't an easy task. But Sari Gueron seems to have honed in on hers: pretty, feminine dresses with subtle, but beautifully rendered details. It's the perfect gear for the coolest girl in the room — the one who doesn't need to hit you over the head with a flashy ensemble.

Gueron's spring lineup veered away from her usual silk-heavy evening look. Instead, she worked in a subdued palette of cottons — the wonderfully chic combination of black and navy — as well an alluring range of neutrals — dove grey, a smoky rose and a pristine eggshell. And what would said cool girl be wearing to, say, an early summer gala? Easy, a slim black cotton gown with a delightful sprinkle of navy polkadots. It's a look that's less Jessica Simpson and more Sofia Coppola, who incidentally was sitting front row — and one that for all of its simplicity, is often difficult to pull off. Kudos to Gueron.

Rodarte: By their own admission, sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy have OCD. And it certainly served them well with their sophomore Rodarte effort, a presentation of just 16 looks, tight enough to allow the designers to obsess over the tiniest details, such as covering any snap closures — hidden inside the dresses — with chiffon and hand-sewing the folds on pleated looks, such as a dress that had pleats all around.

Before the show, Laura said they envisioned "a woman standing in a rock garden full of Brancusi sculptures." If the StyleLounge show locale in Times Square didn't exactly fit the Mulleavys' intended picture, the elegant, polished clothes did. They manipulated fabric by weaving, pleating and twisting it into flowy gowns and cocktail dresses. Often, they pulled out the pinking shears to finish hems and fly-away bits of chiffon, and worked the zigzag effect most beautifully on myriad dove gray silk strips they wove into a one-shouldered number. But as intricate as everything was, it all had a pretty swing to it. Here's hoping the Mulleavys will have something entirely new to obsess over soon — filling a stream of orders.Tommy Hilfiger: A spit-and-polish window display for potential bidders, maybe. A clear statement of his company's direction — definitely. After 20 years and major digressions through rock, rap and the U. S. Attorney's office, Tommy Hilfiger went resolutely back to his roots: squeaky clean prep with just a soupçon of cool. It's a message Hilfiger sent loud and clear on Friday night with every one of his hundred looks, all presented on fresh-faced girls and boys who walked the runway in dressed-down khaki, madras and gingham — Bermudas pulled down just so over the bands of colorful boxers.

Hilfiger found himself in a peculiar position this season, with a yen to celebrate a big anniversary but with his company still in the throes of challenging times. Yet celebrate he did, even if his front row was far from the boldface fest many had expected. (Sightings included TV stars Katherine Heigl of "Grey's Anatomy," Josh Duhamel of "Las Vegas" and Sophia Bush of "One Tree Hill.") He opened with a video montage, its snippets including baby Tommy, a map of Elmira, N.Y., the Murjani years, advertising and a host of celebrities with strong or scant ties to Hilfiger — Jagger, Iman, Diddy, Kate Hudson, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. Then came the prep parade, radiating the same wide-eyed wonder as the video. It was all dressed-down beachiness, its nautical motifs worked in a pleasant mix of low-key tailoring and play clothes, although one did wonder if all those bare feet made a statement about ease, or just that Hilfiger couldn't decide on a shoe.

At times the quest for casual turned corny, and it certainly went on too long. There should be a reason for hiring 100 models other than that a designer can afford to; Hilfiger could have made his point with half the cast. But there's a lot to be said for his happy, wholesome, unironic approach — not to mention a runway populated by pretty girls wearing pretty smiles.

Project Alabama: Whoever thought that city mice and country mice don't mix well would sing a different tune if they sat through Natalie Chanin's first runway show. In fact, the down-hominess of Chanin's hand-quilted pieces played quite nicely with the polished look of tailored jackets, full skirts and belted coats — many of which sparkled lightly courtesy of just a touch of beading. Backstage, Chanin chalked up the progress to her participation in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. "It made us think about who we are," said the Alabama native. "And we are really a company that is made in America." Following that vein, Chanin chose Marilyn Monroe, an American icon, as her source of inspiration. Still, the designer didn't belabor the reference, which showed its face subtly in the nipped-waist silhouettes and the messy, but glamorous, updos. Instead, she showed a look very much her own with motifs of sunburst florals, twinkling stars and a diamond pattern. You've heard of clothes that take you from day to evening. Well, Chanin has given us a look that takes you from Fifth Avenue to Florence, Ala., and back, looking just right all the way.Doo.Ri: Doori Chung, one of last year's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund participants, is a talented designer whose interesting ideas are executed with a lofty level of workmanship. For spring, Chung explored the play between structure and softness by quilting chiffon into a lovely little bolero, trimming a tailored cotton blazer with tulle and pairing a pale cotton khaki with decidedly more flou fabrics — jersey and satin. There was even a touch of that fashion yin-yang in a great belted trench with a collar that bloomed into layers of ruffles. And the combination worked well in a jersey trapeze dress with a constructed satin halter. But at times, the designer complicated the issue just a touch too much, resulting in a collection that wasn't quite as strong as those that have made her a critical darling.

Baby Phat: Fashion is an aspirational sport. And Kimora Lee Simmons makes no bones about knowing that the Baby Phat customer is one who wants to live a Kimora lifestyle — with a closetful of flashy designer clothes and shelves of to-die-for handbags. For spring, Simmons sent out streams of pampered glamazons, the kind of women who exist, theoretically at least, on Rodeo Drive, in Jackie Susann novels and the imagination of Donatella Versace, to whom Simmons seemed to be flattering in her show, or copying, depending on your view of imitation. Not surprisingly, the big-haired beauties were accessorized to the hilt. And why not? The oversized visors might be meant solely for the runway, but not so those aviator sunglasses, chunky crystal bangles and "It"-bag-inspired handbags, which, along with the skinny jeans, denim minis and sexy jersey tops, will surely keep Simmons in her glamazon gear.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Yigal Azrouël: Mr. Azrouël is so lucky he pulled together a pretty collection. Due to a production glitch, a gaggle of editors had to wait outside his West 14th Street store, site of his spring show. For those stylish loiterers of the Pollyanna persuasion, the extra hour did offer a chance to pass time trawling the latest deliveries at Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney across the cobblestones.Happily, when the crowd settled, Azrouël sent out a brief 20-piece lineup that reached a new level of savvy sophistication. And for once, his gowns, so long a favorite of socialites and actresses, took a backseat, making way for smart skirts, bermudas and shirts. He kept the mood easy and breezy — lots of crisp whites; fuss-free cotton skirts; a cool blue seersucker jacket that touched subtly on a Napoleonic theme. Couldn't you just see some lithe, young Hollywood thing in the cropped khaki gauchos and belted coat that was a chic meeting of a navy blazer and swingy cape?

But there are those ladies — Natalie Portman, Evangeline Lilly and most notably Maggie Gyllenhaal — who love their Yigal Azrouël party dresses. While the few long gowns lacked a little oomph, the shorter frocks, especially a pale purple jersey jacquard, more than made up for it. And here's a little heads-up for those who keep tabs on the red-carpet credits: Gyllenhaal, currently making the rounds at the Toronto International Film Fest, just had the delicate brown chantilly lace dress, cinched with an ice blue sash, shipped to her.

Brian Reyes: It's not news that hype can be both friend and foe, but it's a lesson that Brian Reyes may be learning this season. Early excitement about the 24-year-old designer's debut collection certainly got a crowd into his chairs, and while Reyes certainly had a fine first showing, there was perhaps more of a buildup than was necessary.

Of his former bosses — Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta — Reyes seems to relate most to the last. His collection appeared to make a bid for the same client — the skirt suit-wearing socialite, perhaps of a certain age. But Reyes was actually at his best when he steered toward ease and youth and away from the prim and ladylike — as in a simple and sportif cotton khaki hacking dress or a blousy chiffon tank paired with a full skirt. Evening, too, was a slightly spotty affair. A lace gown looked like a student's work, while another hacking dress, this time in chocolate chiffon, was lovely with a lace hem.

Tocca: Newly appointed creative director Edoardo Mantelli and new design director Samantha Sung, formerly of Cerruti and Ralph Lauren, showed a new Tocca girl for spring, much less twee and prim than in past seasons and more relaxed and easygoing. Sung's debut collection for the line played with volume and raw, earthy materials such as shells, wood, coconut and rope detailing. Gauguin-inspired prints made for lovely day dresses and tunics, while more structured pieces such as navy jackets in cotton and linen rounded out the lineup.Form: For his first collection under his label, Form, Jerry Tam kept his looks feminine with a modern edge, and he worked a silver theme, adding metallic tones to normally muted shades such as lavender, taupe and peach, which resulted in a shimmering, liquid effect. Tam emphasized draping, curves and princess cuts without making any of the pieces look too tricky — perhaps a trick he picked up while working with Zac Posen and Patrick Robinson at Perry Ellis. The inside-out pockets on his shrunken jackets and the double lapels, for example, while playful, were still smart, and his fluid tops easily could be worn in a variety of ways, valuing a sense of utility throughout. His trenchcoat summed up his entire collection — modern and intricate, yet easy and effortless, a look sure to be a hit among the cool, hip girls about town.

Kenneth Cole: Does Kenneth Cole feel just a little bit guilty about having amassed wealth through fashion? His current tag line has the ring of internal struggle: "To be aware is more important than what you wear." Similarly, this season's show-opening public awareness spot, titled "FVU," an amusing riff on "Law & Order: SVU," stars Whoopie Goldberg as the unapologetic perp who tells two cops that fashion doesn't matter a hoot in a world devastated by AIDS, homelessness and Katrina. But the detectives still throw the book at her (the book being the mammoth September issue of Vogue), since, "being socially aware is no excuse for bad fashion."

There was not an FV atrocity in sight on Cole's runway (at least not on the feminine side; thankfully, this publication need not address HotPants pour homme). Instead, the designer sent out a lineup of appealing sportswear that bore a certain savvy understatement. He worked in muted, often earthy colors — browns, navies, greens of the olive and moss ilk — while emphasizing tailoring that looked soft but still spiffy. Some strong looks played with boy-meets-girl, a generously ruffled wrap shirt with Bermudas, for example. When he countered the overt sportif, it was with all-girl dresses in vibrant crinkled chiffons. Still, Cole's own look might turn out to be the season's best — and most profitable. He took his bow in a Red Cross T-shirt with the number "1 (800) HELP NOW" on the back.Nicole Miller: In New York, there's no bigger Celtics fan than Nicole Miller. After fall's romp with the Valkyries, for spring she refocused her attention on her first love — Celtic knots and symbols in a rainbow of jewel tones. That motif made for a few appealing pieces. But too often, Miller muddied the waters with a second strong concept — glam bohemia. It resulted in a battery of metallic crochets, architectural panels and some seriously unforgiving silhouettes. Girls might find all those balloon shapes a tad difficult to pull off — even on their skinny days.

Miller's best moments were when she boiled her ideas down to their square roots: lean white crochet dresses; a sweet cream Empire-waisted linen coat. And rather than tricky cuts and seams she should play to her strength, color. Miller's unafraid to use it with Pucci-like boldness — which she exercised on the oversized Celtic prints — or find fresh ways to pair it, as seen in copper trims on a mint skirt and a cerulean dress.

Gottex: A sexy Caribbean breeze swept through the tents Friday afternoon as Gottex's Gideon Oberson, inspired by the exotic isles, sent out his latest swimwear collection to a group that included celebrity guests as off-kilter as Dr. Ruth Westheimer and pop music's latest heir apparent, Ryan Cabrera, who both sat in the front row.

Oberson focused heavily on overlays and daring cuts. In his playful tropical print group, there were lots of ruffles and pretty chiffon après-beachwear, including slit-front skirts and shawls. And the twist played a key role in many of the 63 styles he sent out, most notably a lime one-piece with multiple twisted bandeaux on its front side. It was one of his seemingly simple maillot styles, though, that really wowed the crowd when the model turned around to reveal a beaded spiderweb across the back. But nothing upstaged the last look: a bikini festooned with more than 5,000 hand-carved, 18-karat gold mini banana leaves that swished as the model breezed by.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Ports 1961
: Affordable luxury is the company motto for Canadian brand Ports 1961, and designer Tia Cibani knows how to deliver. For her spring collection — her second showing in the U.S. after the brand was relaunched — Cibani took her girl on a journey through Morocco, but rather than the glamour-laden Talitha Getty version, the designer opted for a simple and easy take on the fabled North African locale. Cibani played with texture and volume, emphasizing clean lines and subtle details as in her chic, loose-fitting pants and matte sequined tops. The collection, altogether light and playful, made smart use of sober colors and tonal embellishments, and though some looks perhaps referenced Miuccia Prada a tad too literally, Cibani offered a unique lineup sure to appeal to any modern woman.Verrier: The crowd sipping champagne and sparkling water while studying Ashleigh Verrier's tableaux vivant of 12 models was comfortably sparse. Nevertheless, it included some retail and editorial heavy hitters — an unofficial signal that a designer is being noticed. And the former Parsons Designer of the Year proved that she was worthy of the attention.

Verrier is wont to take a bit of vintage inspiration. This is, after all, a girl whose dog is named Schiaparelli. However, she didn't belabor her inspirations of Matisse textiles and Twenties beach culture à la Lartigue. Other than a white-and-silver jacquard shift, which immediately made you think of John-John and the glory days of Camelot, the collection had just the sort of fresh sophistication that seems to be the goal of many young American designers. Verrier's strength lies in the pieces that easily mix and match into a cool girl's wardrobe: a classic trench cut in burlap; baggy, high-waisted shorts, or a white tuxedo shirt with rickrack-trimmed bib and navy collars and cuffs. The list could continue, and with any luck, so will this designer's upward arc.

Reyes: In his second collection and first show, designer Jose Ramon Reyes called on all the preppy young sprites who pass their summers out on sailing boats. Greeting guests as they made their way through the tableau-style presentation, Reyes described his muse: "She's the girl who steals her brother's navy blazer and wears it out with a really mini skirt." Said boarding school jacket showed up shrunken with a red seersucker-lined collar, topping wide-cuffed khaki shorts. Reyes, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, covered all manner of staples for the boating set — navy peacoats; cotton bermudas; seersucker dresses and skirts, and airy tunic tops. The literal sailor's motif could have appealed to a strictly Nantucket crowd, but Reyes gave the sophisticated city girls a reason to buy the clothes, too, by adding sexy cutouts, Empire waists and quirky touches like thin, rough-hewn rope belts.

Naum: The beauty of Waleed Khairzada's and Julia Jentzsch's second collection, inspired by desert wanderlust, was in how the garments came alive on the body. There were no frills and no over-the-top fancies, the sort of elements that might make a collection stand out on the rack. But here, it took a figure to notice the precision of cut, silhouette and, most of all, movement at the heart of the label. The lack of straight side seams, for example, let the heavy linens hang with fluidity around the body, whether in a roomy mesh sweater, a relaxed lacquered jacket or a gauze coat — what Khairzada calls, "working completely in 3D." There were activewear overtures — not to mention notes of Jil Sander (where Jentzsch once worked as an assistant designer) — in some of the looks that fused sharp tailoring with modern, architectural bents and techno materials, such as protective and antibacterial textiles and performancewear.

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