ANN DEMEULEMEESTER: Great expectations hover around Ann Demeulemeester. Among the most innovative and influential designers working today, she deserves major credit for the development of at least two big recent directions in fashion — last year’s asymmetrical craze and the current move toward a loosened silhouette. While the prevailing mood of Demeulemeester’s work is one of studied ease and dishevelment, it hasn’t always been accomplished with easy clothes. Often, she draws heavily on intellectual, artistic references. In addition, she’s no minimalist, having become increasingly interested in new ways of cutting, draping and wearing clothes. At best, these two forces come together with spectacular effect. But the flip side is that sometimes the clothes can look tricky.
In the collection Demeulemeester showed on Wednesday night, both happened. The show opened with the next wave of Demeulemeester’s brilliant slouchiness — the low-slung pants, the big shirts and nonchalant jackets. All of it was worn with white cotton tanks inscribed with the word “holy” written in script. In back, the jackets and shirts fell away into folds of nothingness, exposing bare flesh or those holy T-shirts. Other tops had a great new asymmetric neckline, which Demeulemeester mirrored on the waist of a long leather skirt. And, save for a few too-complicated exceptions, it was fabulous.
As for the holiness, it was taken from “Peace and Noise,” the just-released album of Patti Smith, a long-time source of inspiration for Demeulemeester. In it, Smith proclaims all things holy — the world, the soul, the skin, the tongue and other less mentionable body parts, as well as the typewriter, jazz bands, cafeterias filled with millions, marijuana, magnanimity and, yes, holy Paris. Demeulemeester opened and closed her show with the song.
The connection is one of attitude. “There is a very positive message in the show about respect,” Demeulemeester said last week. “I’m on a positive trip.” Part of that trip is through the art world. “It’s a little surreal, voila, but in a very simple way. It’s not obvious,” Ann said. “I love things that aren’t obvious — it adds mystery, a question mark, and that’s what we all want.”
In addition to the fall-away clothes, artsy touches included Dada-inspired stockings on arms and legs printed with the revealing words,”right arm” or “left leg,” and, for evening, printed tulle layered over colored silk. Although inspired by Magritte’s cloud paintings, these had a Seventh Avenue feel, and couldn’t hold a candle to last season’s spectacular silver Lurex and black beaded net.
But the biggest problem was not of an artistic concern, but a very corporeal one — the fit of those low-slung jersey skirts. As the models walked, they started to slip down the hips, and one of Shalom’s fell all the way to her knees. Holy it wasn’t. But it did provide the show’s cheekiest moment.
GUY LAROCHE: With all the grand gestures and the body-contorting looks around, it’s refreshing to see a collection filled with pretty, feminine, approachable clothes. And that’s exactly what Alber Elbaz showed in his second collection for Guy Laroche. The winds of Tokyo aren’t blowing through this house, and that should be great news for retailers, who are already excited about the direction Elbaz has taken at Laroche. He dresses a woman for all occasions — spunky striped knit dresses for weekends at the beach, brightly colored leathers for city shopping, well-tailored suits for the working woman and, for the downtown girl, sleeveless jackets over clam-diggers with a shot of hip. And for evenings out, those embroidered tulle cocktail dresses are just the ticket.
CLAUDE MONTANA: The Claude Montana invitation featured a bold industrial zipper, so one was anticipating a return to the tough chic shapes — and yes, those zippers — that skyrocketed Montana to the top in the Eighties. Well, guess again. Aggressive, razor-sharp clothes just don’t belong in Montana’s fashion vocabulary these days. Save for a few black leather numbers, Montana has clearly moved into a gentler mode. He’s tuned into this season’s fascination with looser shapes, cutting jackets that swing full at the back or just give a hint of shape. There are tunics that just glide over the body, worn with fluid wide pants. Even Montana’s palette has softened, as exemplified by a series of pastel wool pantsuits and coats. And for evening, his woman wears long jersey columns and simple black sheer knits.
SONIA RYKIEL: This fiery redhead sticks to her guns — as well as her knitting needles — and, over the years, has carved out a special niche with sexy knits, trim pantsuits and those fashion messages spelled out in rhinestones on belts and sweaters. It’s a formula that has worked like a charm for Rykiel, so for spring, she is delivering more of her trademark looks. This season, Rykiel envisions her woman in hip-riding micro skirts and dresses, often slit sky-high up one side; skintight toreadors paired with body-caressing tops, plus a slew of pantsuits with cropped pants. How her customers will react to those baggy, hip-slung sports pants with zippers going every which way is questionable, but they’re sure to snap up those good-looking snug jackets she paired them with.
There’s lots more news from the house of Rykiel — a newly launched fragrance called Sonia Rykiel, which comes in a sweater-shaped bottle; an exposition of things she likes and hates, currently at the Paris department store Bon Marche Rive Gauche; publication of a book of her fashion memories, and a part in Bunny Schpoliansky’s film “Riches, Belles, etc.,” to be released next month.
ISSEY MIYAKE: Droopy, drapey, pleated and turning on the body — these are the clothes that so many designers are tinkering with this season. They’re also the kind of clothes Issey Miyake has always done. For spring, the first dresses he showed swathed and bandaged the models, mummifying their arms, and the rest were an evolution of the same look. And even unbound, the girls and the clothes looked as if they’d been tossed around in the washing machine a little too long.
MARTINE SITBON: With Martine Sitbon, it’s never just a parade of clothes. To her, it’s a journey. And, in the past, that trip has been from the far reaches of a dark forest to the beaches of Hawaii. Unfortunately, this season, it was a journey we’ve traveled too many times before. Her opening, in dark, muted tones, expressed her vision of “rain and wind.” That theme was most evident in her signature branch-and-tree devores, showing up in the form of pencil skirts, cap-sleeve tops and slinky dresses.
But for Martine, this is nothing new. In fact, her “forest” devores were so knocked-off last season, they’ve become almost as synonymous with cheaper, junior designers as with Sitbon. And where was the great tailoring we’ve come to expect? In its place were some fun zip-front windbreakers, rhinestone-studded and stenciled tunics and, of course, this season’s favorite, clam-diggers. But the designer’s best message came in her finale: bright bursts of color for a strapless prom dress, floaty chiffon shells and skirts and colored-blocked minidresses that were like a ray of sunshine.

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