For spring, venerable knitwear companies are looking beyond their bread-and-butter knits in an effort to flex some major lifestyle muscle. Cashmere may be timeless, but a developed ready-to-wear collection makes brands like Ballantyne, Loro Piana, Agnona and Malo that much more current.

Ballantyne's relaunch may have been anchored in its evergreen diamond pattern, but in the past three years, creative director Massimo Alba has built on that solid base. He has offered charming collections that are as sweet as they are contemporary. For spring, Alba cut cotton shift dresses in sun-bleached colors and created featherweight cotton and silk jackets in delicate floral prints.

Loro Piana has an advantage few luxury companies have — it produces its own fabrics, and the result is always a very relaxed but superluxe collection. For spring, the company loosened its hallmark tailoring and showed terrific wrap dresses in linen and cotton and accented white Bermudas with pastel-striped cashmere sweaters. Loro Piana may call the foothills of the Alps home,, but it certainly knows how to create the perfect Portofino look.

In her first season at Agnona, Swedish designer Gunn Johansson injected a needed dose of youthful attitude via lightweight pleated cotton dresses and long, sweeping silk twill skirts that took their color-circle design from Alexander Calder paintings. Like a garden party, the collection was refreshing and relaxed.

While most knitwear companies stuck with romantic feminine details, Malo stumbled down a Seventies retro path and delivered heavy-looking knits in rusts, browns and oranges. There were some pleasing geometric silk skirts and linen dusters, but the collection dubbed Wild Chic needed some taming.

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