DISCREET CHARM, ARTSY ELEMENTS AND THE LEFT BANK LOOK
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF SIMPLICITY OR SUBTLETY…VERONIQUE BRANQUINHO DIDN’T, USING BOTH TO FULL EFFECT IN HER JANE EYRE-THEMED COLLECTION…NEITHER DID SONIA RYKIEL, WHO PROVIDED HER SWEATER-LOVING FANS WITH WHAT THEY FANCY…WHILE MARTIN MARGIELA MARCHED, AS EVER, TO HIS OWN BEAT — A SERIOUS, INTELLECTUAL RHYTHM.

Veronique Branquinho: Though her invitation was printed with a long, heart-rending, swooning quote from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre,” Veronique Branquinho’s girl is still a practical one. For fall, the designer’s collection came infused with fin de siecle romance. Sweaters in pink and cream were knit with swirly patterns a la William Morris, soft corduroy Victorian shirts were cut long into minidresses and the covered buttons of a smocked rose satin blouse marched primly toward its high neckline.
Mawkishness can strike when even the most accomplished designers think frou-frou, but Veronique never let the girly stuff sweep her off her feet. Her clothes are full of charm, yet they demand to be taken seriously. Subtle spliced wool skirts, a thick wool coat done with delicately unraveling epaulettes and terrifically tailored men’s pants, some flecked with little dots, gave Branquinho’s look a sophisticated air.
At its most wearable best, the collection also brought to mind, not Bronte, but that heroine of easy sportswear, Coco Chanel. Sportif elegance informed Branquinho’s gray tennis sweater and her array of variously pleated skirts, some slung with wrapping belts and others that buckled at the hip. Then came Branquinho’s spliced satin and wool sheath, like the little black dresses Chanel championed at the beginning of her career, and a comfortably demure suit in cream nubby wool like the ones she did so famously and so well. If Jane Eyre had lived in the Twenties, she might have gone to Coco. Today, she’d probably be a Veronique girl.

Martin Margiela: Oh, cheer up. His skirts and dresses are almost as much fun as rain at a picnic. His sad jackets have had the inside edges of their lapels hacked off. And he can even make a delicately polkadotted dress look dour. He’s the one, the only, Martin Margiela. As fashion’s constant contrarian, Margiela aims to please no one, save maybe the white-coated employees who serve at his house and the women for whom dressing artsy is a way of life, not just a passing fancy.
His peers are imagining a world of romance and glamour. But Margiela’s only nod toward the good life was foot-wide satin aprons tied like a single panel over some of his Eastern bloc sack dresses and baggy skirts. Then there were his two-for-one fur coats, spliced together to make four-sleeved monstrosities. These were all shown on “real” women in cloven-toe boots, of course. If the show sounds painful, it was, except for a rare lighthearted moment when one of Margiela’s white-coated minions stepped out carrying a glass exhibit case with a white cotton-wrapped handbag inside.
Times may change, but not our man Martin. When fashion moves away from the glamorous stuff and returns to his gloomy neck of the woods, Margiela will be there, waiting — if not with open arms — then perhaps in a four-armed white lab coat.

Sonia Rykiel: Paris’s quintessential Left Bank designer, Sonia Rykiel, does insouciant sportswear with the assurance of a seasoned pro. And her clients will find plenty to love — and wear — in her familiar, but fun, fall collection. Who else would they turn to for comfortable and baggy jersey trousers to pair with Rykiel’s cute knits? As is her wont, she spiced up the latter with bows or rhinestones. But, in this mostly black collection, one missed the energetic colors associated with this designer. Even her trademark striped knits were limited to black and gray. There’s no denying that Rykiel designs for an intelligent woman who spurns the complicated. It remains her strong suit. Even when she gets a little crazy, as in the fuzzy knitted fur coats — the kind the designer wears herself — she keeps them practical. Meanwhile, for evening, Rykiel opted for crushed velvet jackets or frilly wraparound silk georgette dresses with a Twenties flair.

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