THE INTERNATIONAL SET

NEW YORK — This season’s early start may have left the fashion pack mourning summer’s premature departure, but excitement was high earlier in the week at the ORFI show, where the label’s gang of designers always finds new ways to thrill. This time it was by giving classics a twist. Pintucked seams tricked out shirts, dresses and skirts, a white secretary shirt was cut in sheer chiffon and tuxedo pants sported bright side stripes in a nod to both the New Wave neon of the Eighties and Saint Laurent circa 1970.
The growing sophistication of ORFI’s young designers — especially since Staff USA has taken over sales for the collection — has made their show one of the best in town.
It’s the kind of success that young designers like Matthew Nowomlynski dream about. Nowomlynski, who graduated from FIT this past spring, put together an interesting debut show that proved he may have the guts to do what it takes to stay in business. He sank all of his savings into the show’s production. “I knew that it would be a good experience for me, even if things didn’t work out,” he said. Thus far, buyers from Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Takashimaya have all dropped by to look at his cool leather jackets and pants and horsehair skirts.
Astro Boy, designed by 28-year-old Oh Ya, who lives in Tokyo and worked for Issey Miyake for four years, was also shown here for the first time this week. Ya, a self-proclaimed “wizard of jeans,” has been developing and selling his line of denim pants, skirts and dresses — this time around folded up and packaged to look like books — in Japan for the past three years. Ya’s wizardry was made manifest in a pair of robot-print jeans that are sure to be a hit.
Lotta Stensson approached the cultural divide with a spring collection for Lotta that evoked Morocco, India and the Sahara with its rich colors and textures. While taking a collection down that well-traveled road without going overboard or getting lost along the way is no easy task, Stensson’s supreme attention to detail infused each piece — from the T-shirts with floral appliques and intricately embroidered skirts to the perfectly matched little handbags — with an elegant distillation of wanderlust.
Mark Kroeker, known for his own forays into the exotic, returned to the runway in a tropical mood after taking last season off to regroup. “It’s really hard sitting out,” he said. “You feel that you’ve lost everything that you worked for, but in reality people are just waiting to see what you’ll do next.” What the audience at Kroeker’s show saw was a strong collection that included a great scarf-print dress in red, another dress in nude with diamond-patterned glitter and a beautiful skirt in gold and ivory patchwork leather.
Antilika, designed by GenArt alum Lika Volkov, also made a comeback this week. The designer spent last season costuming a friend’s sci-fi film in Italy. This time, Volkov’s art school background showed again — as did her movie experience — in a sheer dress printed with skeletal structures that used rubber tubing for its straps, and in others that, while interesting, may not be particularly flattering.
Jussara Lee, who was born and bred in sunny Sao Paulo, drew inspiration from her own background this season, but to much better effect. She sent out khakis trimmed in red and tan leather for the minimalist set, then maxed out with ruffled skirts and cool cellophane pieces in baby floral prints. Lee also says that she couldn’t be less interested in becoming the label of the moment. “I don’t want to be a trendy brand,” she said. “I’m not in business for the money. I’m in it for longevity.”
Custo and David Dalmau, the designing brothers behind Custo Barcelona, brought their colorful, distinctive T-shirts to the U.S. two years ago and have sold their wares to over 500 stores here since — including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Fred Segal in Santa Monica and Henri Bendel, where Custo reportedly delivers a brisk 1,000 units a month. The business Custo, which began as a men’s swimwear and T-shirt line, does in France and Germany is even more impressive.
Elsewhere, Chompol Serimont used a bongo drummer and violinist to liven things up at his runway show, and it added a certain party vibe. Sexy little bikini tops worn with denim skirts, pants and shorts were some of the collection’s best looks, perfect for a poolside soiree. But the denim didn’t stop there. Out came the dresses and jackets, more skirts, shirts and tops along with a score of other non-denim looks. But, it all could have been edited down a bit. The best hosts always know when to call it quits.
Peter Som opted for a more cozy presentation, showing his crisp spring collection in the showroom. Som mixed whites and brights in coats, shorts and skirts that were both clean and simple.
But the most surprising location was chosen by downtown favorite Kitty Boots, who has made her name showing cool clothes in hard-to-find, grungy and out-of-the-way places. This season, she showed in the tents instead. “It gave me more time to focus on the clothes,” she explained. “Last season, I nearly had a heart attack dealing with the sound and lights.” What the show’s location lacked in ambience, Boots more than made up for with her denim pants, back-slashed T-shirts, miniskirts and blouses shot through with metallics in homage to the last days of disco. She certainly knows how to work an era.
Susan Cianciolo’s crafty Run collection has always straddled the line between art and fashion. Her collections are shown each season in a hip Manhattan gallery, then the clothes turn up later at Barneys. For spring, she did an animal theme, but not one featuring tiger stripes and leopard spots. Instead, she says, “My cats Cica and Gumbos modeled for me.” In the back of her husband’s downtown gallery, a perfume room where essential oils in handblown-glass bottles could be sampled was set up, and she continues to show her do-it-yourself denim skirt kit, complete with scissors and safety pins.
It all seemed very Cianciolo-as-usual, but lovely as that may be, the show did prove that the designer has learned one of fashion’s most valuable tricks: A representative from Staff USA, her sales force, stood by, making sure that everyone knew that their showroom is full of salable looks.

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