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Some designers and houses prefer to chart their own courses, regardless of prevailing winds. That was the case at Habitual, where Nicole and Michael Colovos stayed true to their skinny-jeans cool, while, at Tess Giberson, the looks get simpler each season and at Project Alabama, the line featured leaf-shaped appliques and ivy vines.

Habitual: Even from the outset, Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund runners-up Nicole and Michael Colovos had a distinctive aesthetic. It’s a louche strain of cool that doesn’t try too hard to be sexy, tough, chic or smart — but is somehow correct portions of all of those. It’s undeniably theirs, but never obvious. While fall’s silhouette of skinny jeans, layered thin silk and jersey tops wasn’t a revelation, it was all quite happily consistent. Instead of reinventing, the designers refine. They continue to play with subtle details — the velvet piping on a jacket sleeve, the slight ruche of a T-shirt’s neckline or the flash of grommets in the back pleat of a chocolate twill trench. They added fur in the form of body-hugging rabbit bombers and expanded their use of leather with jackets, a flippy skirt and the above-mentioned jeans. Also new were accessories: blessedly simple boots and belts. It seems the pair has achieved the goal at which they have always aimed: to be designers who happen to do denim.

Tess Giberson: With each successive season, Tess Giberson has quietly pared down her aesthetic, opting for simpler and simpler looks. For fall, she didn’t show a single print or two-tone look in her lineup, preferring to stick to solid colors. A modern woman, with little to hide and a willingness to abandon her need to be conventionally feminine, is the perfect subject for Giberson. The largely white, gray and black collection was tastefully accented with nude and blush tones, dark navy and coral. Slouchy cotton trousers with enlarged pockets or exaggerated pleats were paired with solid silk blouses with long, tight cuffs. And when the Giberson girl wants to get a little more feminine, there were simple silk dresses to choose from, particularly one in pewter with enlarged sleeves that could definitely go glam.

This story first appeared in the February 8, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Project Alabama and Project Alabama Machine: Project Alabama is a rarity in today’s fashion world. Now in its fifth year, the Alabama-based firm produces garments completely by hand, with designer Natalie Chanin at the helm, and continues to sell despite a high price tag. The fall collection was inspired by the season itself, with literal takes on fallen leaves in harvest hues of burgundy, olive and brown, to great homespun appeal. To wit: leaf-shaped appliqués on jackets and coats and ivy vines embellished the hems of skirts. Chanin also worked with illustrator Robert Ryan to re-create his trademark whimsical illustrations on sweaters and tops in the form of appliqués and lettering. Also noteworthy was the eveningwear — a first for Chanin — that reworked the collection’s recycled T-shirt aesthetic into cocktail dresses and gowns. Secondary line Project Alabama Machine, which sells at a slightly lower price point, continued the fall-heavy feel, with intricate leaf embroidery on full skirts and dyed denim jackets.

Dana Buchman: Just because a real woman needs realistic clothes doesn’t mean she has to skimp on the fashion flourishes. Just ask Dana Buchman, whose mission, it would seem, is to wardrobe a gal for all the comings and goings of modern life. When her lady wants to sparkle at the office she’s got plenty to choose from, such as a pretty pleated pink chiffon blouse, sharply fitted tweed trousers or a trumpet skirt and shrunken sequined cardies. When she’s feeling a little racy, she can pair Lurex knits with swingy pleated chiffon skirts printed in either cheetah or oversized paisley. Buchman also knows that all work and no play isn’t what her customer is all about, and to that end she delivered evening looks such as a simple tank paired with a floor-sweeping ballskirt in black, ornamented with silk flowers and feathers at the hem.

Imitation and Imitation of Christ: Well, as far as a Tara Subkoff show goes, it was thankfully gimmick-free. There were no rude bouncers, maddening tap dancers or high-handed slide shows of war-torn countries. Instead, there were clothes — lots of them, mostly wearable and producible. Subkoff sent out a chocolate box assortment of the minidresses that she herself favors: belted suede tunics, shirtdresses, velvet cheongsams, off-the-shoulder knits and more. Mixed in with these was a strange but intriguing combination of jumpsuits and tailored men’s wear tweeds. And she continued her collaboration with Easy Spirit with a selection of wedge pumps and knee-high boots. The only portion of the show that was wholly out of step was the showing of Subkoff’s one-of-a-kind Imitation of Christ label — a group of deconstructed suit jackets. Of course, the show wouldn’t be complete without a little performance — this one courtesy of Mother Inc.’s Yvonne Force Villareal and Sandra Hamburg.

Thakoon: Perhaps it’s the most out-of-the-way places that foster unique talents. Think farm country — Omaha, for example, which is home to indie rocker Conor Oberst of the Brighteyes as well as designer Thakoon Panichgul. For his fall collection, which references both “neoclassicism and the New Tokyo,” Panichgul showed refined looks that were both thoroughly modern and retro at the same time. A laminated silk camisole was paired with wool pants and a long plaid wool trench, creating an ensemble that was an even mix of masculine and feminine. While his lace inserts and trims added an oh-so-precious touch to a burgundy satin strapless dress and a mink jacket, he kept the overall look on the right side of cool by pairing them with a boxy plaid wool T-shirt and tailored pants.

Esteban Cortazar: After four seasons of mishaps, Cortazar has finally created a collection that a girl can actually wear. For day, there were suits in a woodsy palette of moss and a multicolored thick tweed, which actually looked better in a three-quarter length coat with loopy fringe than in a full suit. A wrap cardigan in brown with satin gabardine pants would work well on a chilly day, while a burnt red off-the-shoulder blouse softened berry-colored herringbone pants. And for evening, the strongest pieces were silk charmeuse dresses in antique copper and olive green that were gathered into flowers above the waist.