Double Act

Sophistication and schoolgirl chic shared the stage this season when edgy elegance met glammed-up grunge.

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Sophistication and schoolgirl chic shared the stage this season when edgy elegance met glammed-up grunge.

Hervé Léger by Max Azria: With a new generation of Hollywood starlets pouring their Pilates-toned bods into Hervé Léger’s signature bandage dresses, Max Azria decided to present his first Léger runway show since acquiring the company. Yet instead of resting on Léger’s laurels, Azria worked to make the bandage look his own with some variations in knits and a palette of pretty dégradés. He decorated many with a variety of feathers and silk organza appliqués, but at times got carried away. This is a look that’s best left unadorned, as exemplified in a parade of 15 full-on bandage dresses, all of them cut up to here and plunging to there.

This story first appeared in the February 4, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Gap: Fashion edge. The quest for it has led more than a few companies down the wrong path. Case in point: the Gap. So in discussing his debut collection for the retailer, Patrick Robinson stressed that he wants to take the company into the future by going back to where it all began. Just don’t use the word “basics.” “We have a great opportunity to take some classics and make them relevant again,” Robinson said. “There are no tricks, just beautiful, elevated classics.”

And indeed, in his savvy presentation he offered plenty: jackets, pants, sweaters, puffer vests, denim galore, all great building blocks for real-world wardrobes. Piece by piece, it looked terrific, and Robinson manipulated the various items into a kind of breezy, understandable fashion that felt friendly, and just right for the Gap. Working in a palette of grays, blacks, browns and dusty pinks and plums, he spun it variously from prairie-grunge to Oliver Twist to Carnaby Street, with a few sharply tailored grown-up career looks thrown in along the way. The message was that just about anyone can shop the Gap and make it her own. Robinson said the point of this collection is to “start a conversation with the [Gap] customer.” Expect the discussion to continue way into next spring.

Verrier: Ashleigh Verrier raised the bar for young designers who think they’re ready to show formally like the big guns. After six seasons, there’s not a trace of rookie in her collection, which was a perfect balancing act between exuberance and restraint. Bold crystal details, for instance, were tempered by the simple shape of cashmere coats, while a blush-colored bow dress or the crystal-detailed pink chiffon blouse and magenta cocoon skirt looked charming, not sugary-sweet. While bubble skirts have been exhausted elsewhere, they looked fresh in Verrier’s hands, especially on lean torso dresses. “I think we’re embracing a more sophisticated, ladylike return to elegance,” the designer said. Indeed, it looks as if the Verrier girl has grown up this season.

Réyes: Finding inspiration in the “uptown girl living the downtown life,” José Ramón Reyes strayed from the preppy aesthetic that made his previous collections so strong in favor of more sophisticated evening pieces. The satin cocktail dresses with short metallic skirts felt fussy, while asymmetric tiers and a one-shoulder ruffle complicated an otherwise simple jersey dress. It was when Reyes channeled a streamlined, military silhouette that his sportswear roots really showed through, as in a sharp navy wool peacoat with gold hardware, and a gray mohair double-breasted minicoat, which was just right for the first chilly days of fall.

Ohne Titel: It was only a year ago that Alexa Adams and Flora Gill debuted their collection in a tiny art gallery, sans models and with a rack of clothes. Since then, they’ve blossomed into a twosome worth watching, and their recent runway outing, though not without its hiccups, underscored that fact. Inspired by Nordic lands, the designers sent out a strong serving of cozy knits, including some outstanding chunky numbers made of multitextured wool with dreadlock-like fringe. Other highlights: the Thirties-style layered looks, which channeled early Donna Karan, and a precision-perfect cocoon coat. But it’s their suits — especially the chic, elongated shapes — that warrant the most attention.

Charles Nolan: Charles Nolan’s been busy designing costumes for “Cake,” a recital based on the life of Marie Antoinette that the American Ballet Theatre’s junior company is prepping for late spring. Inspired by the project, Nolan put together a collection that showed his flair for wedding the 18th century to today, starting with the opening look. It came prettily panniered at the hips and paired with a ruffle-front blouse and corduroy jeans. The rest of the styles, some worn by model-dancers from the upcoming performance, similarly followed suit, while still reflecting Nolan’s usual uptown elegance — double-face felt capes, satin-back cashmere cardigans and taffeta poet tunics.

Preen: Brit duo Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thornton of Preen turned out a cool and alluring line, though it was reminiscent of Marc Jacobs’ notorious grunge collection, what with its plaid shirts glammed up with translucent silk. The Preen designers took utilitarian wear — bomber coats, trenches, shearling jackets — and made it sexy. To wit: an oversize plaid lumberjack coat with a feminine feel, thanks to a longer back, fuller sleeves and a gathered yoke. There were also silk parachute dresses, overalls and jumpsuits that were twisted, turned and draped every which way.

Ruffian: Talk about schoolhouse rock. Brian Wolk and Claude Morais put prep-school plaids, rock-star silhouettes and an interesting mix of textiles into a blender, pouring out an edgy collection with a luxury bent. A far cry from last season’s saccharine confections, their dark cropped blazers and second-skin stovepipes, shown in satin or a glamorous shimmering wool bouclé, will appeal to a downtown sensibility. Meanwhile, white cotton oxfords and wool tweed jackets should certainly please the uptown set.

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