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And so the fashion machine rolled to a close…Chado’s Ralph Rucci and Nanette Lepore did their respective things…Carmen Marc Valvo surprised everyone with fabulous swimsuits…Peter Som journeyed to northern California…and, after three years away, Wolfgang Joop returned to the runways with Wunderkind.

Chado Ralph Rucci: No surprises here. And no trends du jour. They simply don’t exist in Ralph Rucci’s rarefied world. But as it is, the standard accolades will have to do. You have to admire a guy like Rucci, who doggedly sticks to his lofty ideals and delivers exquisitely crafted clothes, some of which could hang in a museum. He never runs out of interesting ways to detail, cut out and seam his beautiful fabrics and leathers. This season’s feat was working strips of leather, alligator and patent leather every which way on tulle, and shaping it into little cocktail dresses, or the bodice of an elaborate duchesse satin gown. A simple sleeveless sheath in ecru alligator was the best of these.

But at times, things can get a bit overwrought chez Rucci. Many of the pieces, as the cliche goes, “wear the woman.” But, hey, his diehard fans like it that way, and they underscored their devotion at his show by giving him a standing ovation.

Rucci also played with some down-to-earth sporty looks. After all, the Rucci woman does indulge in some casual downtime. What looked best were the simple sweaters, one in apple green cashmere over white lambskin jeans or the wonderful ivory twinset with a pleated back cardigan over pale aqua lambsuede jeans. For evening, the short winners were the black double-faced wool sheath with finely braided leather trim and another sheath with allover beading inspired by a Japanese basket detail. The most restrained of the longer looks were beauties: a black hammered bias satin gown detailed in braided brown satin and a strip of black wood embroidery, and a jersey gown in black and white, accented brilliantly in chartreuse. All delivered to the beat of a different drummer.

Carmen Marc Valvo: Thank god for swimsuits. In a season in which even some of the best collections showed all manner of romantic, Stevie Nicks-inspired fare that seemed to blur together, swimwear was a refreshing sight. And while bathing beauties were not the point of Carmen Marc Valvo’s collection, they exemplified the best elements of his show — licensees should take note. They were casually glamorous, as in his parrot-and-tulip-printed bikini and tunic, and the long beaded printed chiffon kimono worn over the sleek white bikini was a knockout.

This story first appeared in the September 16, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

As for the the rest of the collection, what stood out were the separates, such as the little coral-beaded cami and red suede shirt and a wide beaded belt worn over a long printed silk chiffon, ruffle-backed skirt. But, lest we forget, Valvo built his reputation with his dresses, and while they didn’t make the biggest impact this time around, there were a few standouts, such as his tea-length slip version of the parrot-printed silk chiffon, sashed boldly at the waist in an olive pleated satin.

Peter Som: All about ease. That seems to be Peter Som’s mantra when he is at his best. But happily, in Som’s world, easy doesn’t mean sloppy, but rather effortless glamour. After fall’s stroll in the nutty blue-blood environs of “Grey Gardens,” the designer traveled cross-country to California. Northern, natch. You’ll find no “Baywatch” babes here.

Instead, Som’s girl is the unpretentious but pretty-loving sort who is equally comfortable in his trousers or slouchy gauchos as she is in a floral lamé halter dress. Knowing that a girl should never look like she’s trying too hard, he balanced the glitz of a pearl-encrusted jacket cuff by cutting the piece in a natural-colored silk burlap — a wonderfully rustic fabric he used often. Som knocked the preciousness out of lovely pale chiffons with an enzyme wash and by finding a tweed that looked sun-bleached. Even the overt femininity of a curve-hugging ruffle skirt was taken down a notch in stonewashed khaki. And what does this gal wear when the night turns cool? Som offered a few lovely suggestions: Throw on a cashmere boyfriend-style cardigan, or better yet, that delicately embroidered filigree jacket, and drive into town.

Nanette Lepore: Nanette Lepore took a walk on the bohemian side for spring, featuring a sassy lineup of the little tops and frocks that she does best. Even her

denim had some spice this season and it looked great when paired with a sweet feather print, ruffled top or the cute cashmere cardigan with a dove-printed silk front. Lepore also injected an organic quality into the collection with wood-beaded belts and long beaded necklaces. She cited the poet lifestyle as her point of reference, thus the handful of sweet poet’s tops with folksy embroideries paired with flutter skirts. And she layered her signature girly dresses with little short-sleeved sweater boleros for a laid-back effect. Sure there were some misses — but every collection has them, right? — and overall, this was good, old Lepore fun.

Wunderkind: Three years after selling his eponymous German-based company and taking time off from fashion, Wolfgang Joop returned to the tents Tuesday night with Wunderkind. It has a more refined and detailed look than his previous work, which he felt ran too mainstream. So comparatively, the new line has more polish and a little more luxe, such as the silver and gold silk brocade that he cut into sharp jackets — the shrunken frock coat and crisp blazer, worn with hip-slung wide-legged jeans. An intricately seamed white jacket and coat and asymmetrically draped skirt were terrifically fresh when cut from delicate yet disheveled paper tweed backed with cotton batiste. Joop made a white silk cocktail frock sparkle with tons of hand-beading, but a gown of the same seemed a tad ill-fitting. The sober styling and the limited lineup left some in the audience wanting more. But you know what they say — there’s more back in the showroom, including some artsy georgette dresses and flirty fur jackets that would appeal to that chic, uptown girl.