PARIS: ARTISTIC LICENSE
THIS SEASON, SOME HAUTE-MINDED DESIGNERS SHOWED THAT THEY WEREN’T AVERSE TO COMMERCE — WHILE ELSEWHERE, AMUSING OR SILLY PRESENTATIONS NEARLY STOLE THE SHOW, ADDING TO OR ALMOST OBSCURING GOOD-LOOKING CLOTHES.

Viktor & Rolf: Oh, say can you see? Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren sure can. And in their debut ready-to-wear collection, what the designing duo saw was the handwriting on the wall. Everyone was wondering how the enfants incredible of the couture would distill their haute high concepts into fare more accessible than, say, a nuclear-explosion cocktail frock or a jute and crystal coat in Amazonian proportions. “We wondered, too,” said Rolf. And Viktor chimed in, “We wondered how to go global and participate, and still do our own thing.”
So what did the Dutch boys come up with? A chic spin on good old Americana. They started with stereotypical symbols — jeans, T-shirts, a red, white and blue palette, including, believe it or not, a patriot-nerd print that was all stars and stripes — and embellished from there. Doing their thing meant adding black “covers” to all kinds of pieces, sometimes with the faintest echo of their dramatic couture effects in padding and fluffy collars. The print came in an array of amusing pieces with Emperor’s New Clothes appeal — they’re hip because they’re supposed to be.
But when stripped of the attention-getters, what was left were smart, chic, beautifully crafted clothes made by the Italian manufacturer Gibo, a subsidiary of Onward Kashiyama. They’re clothes that are, in fact, the discreet side: coats, pants and shirts that a lot of women would love to wear on an everyday basis. As for the perfect tuxedo and gussied-up shirt, it offered a reminder that, in the ruffle race, Horsting and Snoeren were there first.
The designers made their press pitch this week in private showroom presentations, complete with live entertainment — a young Dutch woman named Saskia. Done up in head-to-toe stars and stripes, she strummed a guitar while singing such ditties as “American Pie,” “Country Roads, Take Me Home” and a folksy version of “New York, New York.” When she stopped singing, however, she barely spoke English.
The collection opened for sales last week in Milan, and has already been bought by Barneys New York, Linda Dresner, Jeffrey and Maxfield, among others. And come fall, Viktor and Rolf may not only be seeing lots of stars and stripes, but plenty of another revered American symbol — $$$$$ — as well.

Thierry Mugler: “Cats” is scheduled to close on Broadway next June, and Mugler is already picking up the slack. The smoke machine was cranked up, the models’ hair pulled into little cat ears and their noses pinked. Any song with the word “cat” or “kitty,” or any other feline derivation, made his soundtrack, as did meowing. A model with open-toe shoes even wore false toe claws in support of the effort. But none of it had the slightest connection to Mugler’s clothes. For fall, his devotees will be wearing soft suits with jackets that wrap, belted wrap coats or reversible wrap dresses. Or reversible jackets. Or reversible evening dresses. Yes, Mugler was up to his usual tricks again — but then, that’s what gets his ladies purring.

Olivier Theyskens: Creative artistry can certainly take its toll on young talents, especially when they try to bridge the gap between what’s cool and what’s understandable. Take, for example, the case of Olivier Theyskens, a cultish designer who has acquired quite a following in his short career. In his fall show late Monday night, he tried to make light of such a concept — merging art with commerce — and at times did it brilliantly, at other times with a heavy hand. The shining moments included his sexy leather and suede blouson jackets and skinny pants, miniskirted suits and coats in flecked tweed, reminiscent of old Chanel and two beautiful polkadot Lily Munster dresses.
But unfortunately, there were many stumbles along the way. A case in point: The supermodels’ beautiful faces were blackened with makeup to resemble five o’clock shadows, while what looked like black cotton candy formed dreadlock hairpieces — edgy clothes do not need edgy hair and makeup. But then, Theyskens loves theatrics. He also scored a few clunkers with his ballgowns, a signature item here. He put wispy fabrics over huge metal hoop skirts, making them virtually impossible to walk in — just ask any of his girls tripping on the runway. And in some strange ode to disaster, the end of the runway broke off halfway through the show, complete with smoke and hydraulics. Special effects? Leave those tricks to Spielberg.

Eric Bergere: Bergere, who’s always favored highly stylized editorial shows over the straightforward presentation that would best suit his clothes, showed a collection that had its share of pretty things. Ultimately, however, it veered toward the ridiculous. His perfectly nice, sleek pantsuits and lean coats were hidden among all the rompers, shown in every color and fabric from red nylon to black leather, the buffalo plaid taffeta shirts and pants, the asymmetric dolman-sleeved tops, and such silly accessories as a clownish bow tie or a low-slung pirate belt.

Thimister: Those designers who have been deafening audiences with their noisy clothes and piling the embellishments sky-high — fur, ruffles, Pucci prints and chain belts — may have made it a little harder to hear Josephus Thimister’s message this season. That is, if he had a message to deliver. His fall collection was big on basics of the slightly artsy variety, relying on a wide cowl here and precision draping there to give definition to suede cocktail dresses and full-length skirts. Shirts and cashmere coats got the high-neck treatment, and knits had oversized sequins tangled in. To his credit, these are the looks that Thimister does best. After all, Jacqueline Susann isn’t every designer’s dream customer. But attempts to turn up the volume, with head-to-toe pink lame, for example, are best left to the experts.

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