SIMPLE ELEGANCE AND GRAPHIC IDEAS

Veronique Branquinho: Simply elegant. Breathtakingly beautiful. Absolutely chic. These heartfelt sentiments were echoed throughout the halls of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts late Tuesday night when Veronique Branquinho showed a fall collection that was so wonderful, it even astonished her most devoted fans. Here is a girl whose very existence has been the soul of the Eighties: Remember her New Wave Goth moments with hooded capes and long trailing, heavy skirts or her “Carrie” prom girls in black party dresses and punk boots? That’s what made her a cult star. So this season, when everyone is o.d.-ing on the Eighties, it was only natural to expect more of the same from Branquinho. Wrong. Never underestimate the intelligence and ingenuity of this designer, who for fall didn’t chase the references others are gagging on.
Instead, she delivered an ode to chic — tres chic. Piece after piece, look after look, Branquinho never faltered, from the serene classical soundtrack and delicate ballerina braids to her chunky-heeled boots. She loves the classics and did them with abandon, adding her special touches along the way. She used oversized houndstooths for turtlenecks paired with A-line skirts; blouson jackets tossed over plaid waistcoats with ascots and matching trousers, or her classic cowlneck sweater with extralong cuffs worn with skirts over skinny pants. And even a look as basic as a twinset and librarian skirt was executed with a youthful flair, playing on proportions and cuts that, in other hands, could look dowdy.
As for her coats, they were pure elegance. Picture the classic trench, but done in boucle tweed and lined in glen plaid wool — dynamite. So were Branquinho’s collarless maxicoats with just the slightest nip at the waist, or her roomier shapes that were sleeveless, belted and with pleated fronts.
Impressive? You bet. It was the rush everyone was waiting for in this less-than-thrilling Paris season. Joe Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, called it Branquinho’s best collection ever, and said, “The whole look was so sophisticated and beautifully done.” And Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Barneys New York, called it a “young Hermes.” A very timely metaphor, especially since that luxury house has been trying for seasons to marry the hip with the classic with another cult designer — but this underground girl has done it all on her own.

Christian Lacroix: It’s halfway through the Paris fall collections, and the message has been pounded into everyone’s head: Eighties, Eighties, Eighties. Think excess, over-the-top, more is more — just the sort of fashion that Christian Lacroix has relentlessly embraced. So it’s a bit ironic that Lacroix has been talking of late about updating his style and toning things down a bit; in this designer’s terms, toning down is relative. In his last couture collection, he played with modern graphics instead of his usual fanciful prints. And that graphic sensibility continued for fall in his Tuesday evening show, which mixed his ready-to-wear, Bazar and Lacroix Jeans collections.
He tossed together tough brights, skinny pants, graffiti tops, cropped jackets, knit and fur combos, and a ton of super-tight jeans straight out of “Desperately Seeking Susan.” Beyond the rowdy, however, there were graphic jigsaw knits, simple pin-tucked shirts in a Victorian silhouette and classic plaid coats — a kaleidoscope of ideas, colors and fabrics that indicated he’s certainly trying to appeal to a younger woman. Lacroix is at a crossroads, trying not to abandon his dedicated customers, and yet attempting to change the business-as-usual approach. Clearly, he’s not totally comfortable exploring new territory, but as they say, one step at a time.

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