Audacity takes many forms, especially in the world of Paris fashion. Take that most mild-mannered of designers, Nina Ricci’s Theyskens, his work known for its gentility and brooding romance. As Theyskens made crystal clear in his spring show on Sunday, gentle and timid are two very different conditions. His collection played like a lamb that roared, and not only with breathtaking clothes. A major talent, Theyskens is still finding his way at Ricci, and the house, still in the process of revival even as retailers grow increasingly impatient with sell throughs that have reportedly been disappointing to say the least. Given those facts, one might expect that, in this horrible economic climate, prudence would mandate at least a liberal commingling of real-world day clothes with Theyskens’ gorgeous gowns. Instead, he deliberately and boldly went the other way. “It’s also good,” he said before his show, “to let people dream.”


This was indeed the stuff dreams are made of, his lineup filled almost exclusively with exquisitely articulated gowns that shared a singular conceit, descending from very short in front into graceful trains. What was remarkable, apart from the beauty of it all, was the diversity rendered within so specific an idea, and the intricacy of many of the looks. “I wanted each girl to be her own story,” Theyskens said. He opened simply, with a gauzy stretched-out Henley and then worked through various treatments, ruffles, pleating, a tone-on-tone collage, light-as-air textured knits and a bit of wizardry with which he seamlessly connected fly away dress panels to the hose. Some gowns sprung from a Victorian inspiration, one bore a waft of the Twenties, a lavishly embroidered version under a grand orange coat recalled a storybook’s evil queen. Only rarely did he break up the flou with a cutaway frockcoat over riding pants and an interlude of little-nothing tap shorts.


How will it translate? Into lovely clothes that put a romantic spin on sportswear; there’s a showroom full of them and they look terrifi c, though surely not safe. And perhaps that’s the biggest message here. Theyskens is a designer of temerity as well as talent. Whether retailers continue to try to make his particular fusion of those gifts work for their constituencies remains to be seen. Let’s hope there’s a way.

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