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And a whole lot of chic. Carolina Herrera stayed on top of her game…Cynthia Steffe freewheeled through Marrakech…and Heatherette threw one helluva bash.

Carolina Herrera: Swoosh! In wafted a breath of fresh air across Carolina Herrera’s runway on Thursday morning. Herrera has been in dazzling form in recent seasons, a reality celebrated by her 2004 CFDA Award for women’s wear. And through another season at least, the sparkle will continue. For the past year, Herrera has incorporated retro elements into her collection, and this time said she was inspired by the Forties — not its women, but its interiors, sophisticated in tone and finely detailed. Yet while one could certainly discern a backward glance in the collection’s attitude of casual elegance, these clothes were not about doorknobs and floor tiles, even if some did sport lovely mosaic-inspired decorations. Rather, these clothes were all about women who want to look beautiful, youthful and appropriate, no matter what their age.

Hardly sounds like rocket science, no? Yet Herrera has accomplished what some other designers have found excruciatingly difficult: letting in the air — and a new, young clientele — without leaving the core customer out in the cold. To that end, she pays attention to design director Herve Pierre Braillard and designer Patricia Lansing, but, make no mistake, the design buck stops with C.H.

Spring glowed with freshness and light. To that end, Herrera banned black — and pants for that matter, save for some snappy bermudas. She kept colors clean — aqua, red, ivory — and let shapes flow back and forth from crisp to fluid. She worked the jaunty side of chic in snappy sweaters over those shorts and swimsuits, smart sundresses and camp shirts dolled up in silk and wrapped at the waist. Softness emerged in flou with various artsy embroideries, and in a divine dress made from rows of frayed silk in ivory, brown and aqua.

The elegance continued into evening with an array of distinctive high-glam gowns. Romantics will love the frilled jade green silk, and sirens, the white jersey with a jeweled medallion at the hip. But for evening merriment, it’s tough to top the sweeping halter gown in a witty “swimming-ladies” print — a perfect blend of spirit and chic.

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Bill Blass: A major improvement, if still a long way to go. In his third collection for Bill Blass, Michael Vollbracht mercifully loosened his grip on yesteryear, eliminating the embarrassing kitsch factor of his former shows by hiring only models of one generation — the right one. It made a world of difference, allowing his audience to focus solely on the clothes. Here, too, the news was encouraging, as Vollbracht tempered his penchant for major diva statements in favor of clothes grounded in some sort of reality, if not always one that screamed currency. While the pantsuits and some coats seemed suited — and attractively so — to Old Guard Ladies alone, other looks, especially some lovely dresses and gowns, could make inroads beyond the house’s dwindling core customer. What Vollbracht did not do here was to connect wildly disparate looks into something that felt like a single-minded collection. Nevertheless, he finally seems pointed in a viable direction.

Cynthia Steffe: Imagine a troupe of bohemians caravanning through the deserts of Morocco, sprinkle in some of Talitha Getty’s Marrakech chic, and that was the vibe at Cynthia Steffe for spring. The freewheeling music of The Doors helped set the tone. The designer effortlessly captured the essence of desert living with a lineup of sprightly floral halter frocks in breezy cotton or beaded chiffon, along with cool army jackets certain to captivate hippie chicks. The looks came in smart earth tones with splashes of vivid orange, yellow and magenta, while the models wore their hair in little braids, a style which harkened back to the innocence of the Sixties and early Seventies.

The collection overall was a beautiful mix of relaxed and sophisticated looks, as illustrated by the clean-cut jackets and skirts that went well with the Indian-style, crystal-encrusted tops. There were also more formal elements to this charming line, such as a jacquard tweed coat and jacket, a crystal-beaded cardigan worn with a pleated cotton skirt and a bead-detailed, strapless cotton dress.

Heatherette: Few in the industry expected the clubland antics of Heatherette to last. And although Wednesday night’s show was only their seventh, designers Traver Rains and Richie Rich appear to be going strong. Transsexuals and smoking expectant mothers notwithstanding, this may be their most shocking statement yet: Rains and Rich want to build a serious, viable business.

That said, they still know how to have a good time, even at the take-me-seriously venue of Bryant Park. Under the theme of Heatherette High, the designers managed to mix in fun and wearability with their trademark sense of humor and camp. Pretty printed and fringed frocks were interspersed with deconstructed punk rockers and sexy bad girls — one of whom sported a stand-out look of a sequined bolero, a silk button-down and sequined tie worn over a pair of skinny black jeans. And the duo proved that their sense of showmanship remains finely honed, since the show’s mix of bold-faced names on the runway— the season’s muse Lydia Hearst-Shaw; rock princesses Lizzie Jagger and Kimberly Stewart, along with Paris Hilton — was punctuated by a big finale with Naomi Campbell that brought the cheering crowd to its feet.

Lacoste: The alligator is getting fashion-fierce. While Lacoste has already attracted a pack of fashionistas, especially to its shows, the firm’s designer, Christophe Lemaire, just keeps getting better and better. He showed great skill at retaining the essence of a brand while still moving forward. The clothes were fun, relaxed and rarely gimmicky (although Lemaire did cave a bit in the cargo category). Cases in point: the wine-edged, ivory cable-knit pullover with short kimono sleeves and a long, airy white cotton kurta over pants. The iconic alligator also looked right at home on a cool white cotton blazer worn over one of the designer’s striped sundresses and on a brightly trimmed black sweatshirt and bikini bottom.

Jeffrey Chow: Despite having been lauded by the fashion press and scoring some tony retail accounts, Jeffrey Chow’s past three collections have featured almost equal numbers of hits and misses. Even though his flashes of brilliance burned quite brightly, many of his uptown-chic looks had an awkward dowdiness. His spring effort, however, told a different story, since Chow managed to hit the fresh-take-on-luxury nail on the head more often than not.

The first look out of the gate — a bolero of sequins crafted from recycled soda cans worn with a pintucked cotton top and red-and-white, paisley-patterned damask shorts — was a standout, quickly establishing the right balance of nouveau and old-school blue blood. He lightened up some of his signature vintage-inspired shapes with unexpected fabrics, as with a high-waisted coat cut in a delightful pale coral cotton tweed. Elsewhere, his liberal use of loosely woven raw silk in rich shades of coral, turquoise and a creamy ivory, along with the African-inspired embroidery, had the same effect. Despite a few missteps, Chow has clearly hit his stride. This should help him create a niche in a market that has many worthy contenders.

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