Ann Demeulemeester: There’s a whole band of Ann loyalists out there — and not just Patti Smith — who swear by this woman and her expertly tailored cuts and precision details. They love to be smartly dressed, but they’re no slaves to fashion. And, as she proudly declares, neither is Demeulemeester.
“Fashion is one thing; me, I’m something else,” said Demeulemeester before her show. “It’s not that I’m changing every season into what fashion is.” And at her show Wednesday night, she marched forward with that message, but the results left a crowd wondering if and when this talent would ever move on.
Patti Smith wasn’t on the soundtrack this time, but on the runway, Demeulemeester stuck to familiar territory, twisting traditional tailoring ideas into her very specific vision of femininity. She started with the idea of wrapping, but not the simple variety. Skirts, which are key in this collection, wrap only halfway, leaving one side hanging. For tops, she ventured into the same territory, spiraling fabric around the body and holding it with her signature black belt. Demeulemeester sent these ideas out in a whole slew of fabrics — polished leather, parachute nylon, distressed suede and washed denim.
One of the few surprises was her use of color — bright and bold — which she handled beautifully in boiled wool military jackets, asymmetric skirts and relaxed coats. But at a time when the glitzy Eighties are facing off against the new minimalism, this Belgian talent seems out of sync. Fashion cycles come and go with such speed, however, that her time may be back again soon.

Martine Sitbon: There’s always an anticipation surrounding Martine Sitbon’s show, since this designer often sets her own rules. Her strength has always been feminine style, exemplified by those devore dresses and curvy wool skirts her fans rely on each season. But not this time. Sitbon was off in a different direction, abandoning her signature looks in favor of — would you believe it? — punk style. She sent out short wool skirts sprinkled with sequins and chain-clad T-shirts, and was obsessed with chiffon flowers, which embellished chiffon blouses and skirts. It’s hard to imagine her fashion followers in these tough getups, but what probably will appeal to them are the black-and-white checked satin skirts and the leather pieces, including a sleeveless top and slick, fitted belted coat.

Lanvin: With dangling beaded belts, breezy chiffons, tighter-than-tight trousers, and just a hint of the Seventies, Cristina Ortiz has lifted the house of Lanvin onto a new plane — a much sexier one. Her interest in the artsy seems to have finally waned, and her obsession with geometrics has been translated into something considerably more wearable — a shiny coat in a pattern that resembled a fractured mosaic, for instance. The designer also showed cowlnecked chiffon blouses with flared trousers, a knit and leather zippered jacket with a pretty, swingy skirt and simple trenchcoats that were perfectly polished. Some pieces, such as the furs with gold piping and zigzag leathers, didn’t fare as well. But the collection showed that Ortiz and Lanvin have found their way.

Nina Ricci: Nathalie Gervais took over the artistic direction of the house of Nina Ricci three seasons ago and is thinking long-term. Finding an identity and image for a fashion house that’s had its share of designer problems is no easy task, but Gervais is giving it a good shot. Though she took few risks with this collection, she touched on just the right trends. There were sharp, flared leather pants; a fuzzy, coral-colored sweater in a knit that resembled fur; a flower-printed chiffon dress with a pleated skirt; wool skirts with released pleats that provided volume, and a great new shoe — a wedge heel with a diamante stripe for both sandals and boots. Some of the suits, however, were heavy, and the jogging numbers won’t work for the Avenue Montaigne crowd.

Guy Laroche: Monochromatic is the word du jour at the venerable house of Guy Laroche. For fall, this design-by-committee collection believed heavily in head-to-toe colorations — teal blue, eggplant, purple, brown and black — and applied these shades to everything from batwing sweaters, quilted wool A-line skirts, crisscross satin blouses and woven leather dresses and coats to fur bomber jackets. And their ultimate accessory for all these items? A ruched leather belt slung low on the hips. It was a focused message, but there wasn’t a thrill in sight.

Kenzo: For his debut Kenzo collection, Gilles Rossier, longtime design assistant at the house, cast a wide net — very wide, with takes on kimono dressing, Tough Chic and prints inspired by the Pacific Northwest. He sent out troops of models, all at one time, in the stuff. Rossier likes his jackets cut a bit mean, with sharp samurai shoulders, bloused and belted low, and coats served up raw in rough floor-length shearling and tan leather. On the sweeter side, there were pleated skirts, plaids and cherry blossom prints and even 3-D floral appliques. On and off the models marched, first in ruffled pinstripes, then in blanket skirts, or otherwise draped, tied, cinched, layered and spliced. It was a high-voltage barrage that brought on brain freeze.

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