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Tanya Sarne celebrated Ghost’s 20th anniversary…Alex Grant was experimental…and Shelley Steffee was inspired by a Symbolist.

Ghost: There are simple clothes, and then there are beautifully simple clothes. Tanya Sarne always has leaned toward the latter in her collections for Ghost, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. For spring, however, simple sometimes became, well, too plain, since, at the beginning of the show, she sent out button-down shirts, oversized halters, little tea dresses and rolled-up trousers — everyday trappings for everyday people. But Sarne’s customers like to combine comfort with a refined elegance, so the designer eventually switched gears and the delicate, pretty clothes that made her name came down the runway. She fused Indian, African and Thai inspirations for a “castaway beach” look that included some appealing dress versions of the sarong and sari. These fluid, soft silhouettes, accented with eyelet cutouts and gentle twisting, knotting and braiding, were sylph-cum-goddess affairs.

Alex Grant: There is no shortage of young designers these days, but Alex Grant is different from many of them. A RISD graduate in architecture who has worked at Vera Wang and in costume design, she has a specific point of view that doesn’t involve sexpot thrills or look-at-me theatrics. Grant’s debut collection was a sweet, subdued affair, inspired by her childhood in the British West Indies. Her clothes border on the experimental, with finely tailored pants and jackets that play with form à la Rei Kawakubo. The looks included sculptured piqué jackets, jersey tops in color-blocked patterns and high-waisted skirts, some of them with balloon bottoms. Knit halters, damask boleros, and draped one-shoulder tops rounded out the collection. Grant may still be a bit green — the Chantilly lace pieces and crescent moon appliqués didn’t work — but the designer is nevertheless off to an applause-worthy start.

Shelley Steffee: Inspired by the portraits of the 19th-century Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff, Shelley Steffee turned her boutique on Gansevoort Street into her version of a artist’s studio. Models wearing her romantic looks for spring were arranged around two ivory sofas as if they were sitting for their portraits. The collection was based on simple dresses and pants in white, muted bronze, nude and sea green. But when details such as sequined chest plates or delicate beading resembling seams — all inspired by armor — were added, these pieces took on an almost mystical quality. For example, a poetic tulle duster added some romance to a simple peach camisole and a pair of loose green pants, while a long, vintage-style sequined tulle duster dressed up an understated green glazed cotton dress. Lovely as many of these pieces were, some seemed more suited for showing than wearing, but any girl hoping to add some enchantment to her wardrobe should look no further.

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

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