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Certain designers are traveling far afield for inspiration this season, to St. Petersburg – such as Luca Luca’s Luca Orlandi and Cynthia Steffe — and to London, which informed Jill Stuart’s Eliza Doolittle theme and, naturally, Luella Bartley’s chic geeks for Luella. Meanwhile, Yigal Azrouel’s looks had an international charm.

Luca Luca: It was a little touch and go at the beginning of Luca Orlandi’s Luca Luca show. But that’s only because an entire section of editors was nearly knocked out by the horde of hungry photographers trying to get to the Hilton sisters who arrived, natch, at the last possible moment. Nicky and Paris wedged in near Anne Hathaway, Elisha Cuthbert and sweethearts Rebecca Romjin and Jerry O’Connell, who indulge in too much PDA. Things calmed down, though, with Orlandi’s first exit — a cherry red knit top and rose jacquard skirt — which set the tone for the rest of his luxe collection.

Orlandi’s focus? Courting the Upper East Side ton. So his points of reference were Ottoman princesses, Russian czars and Rajasthani maharajas, which he translated through plenty of gold and blush jaquards and brocades and shimmering silks. It all came together in his outerwear. He worked in subtle military silhouettes, and what girl wouldn’t enlist for those plush cropped peacoats jazzed up with gold belts? In the audience, more than a few heads nodded approval at the fur-trimmed blush brocade coat that was princess minus the precious. Under those beautiful pieces, though, Orlandi relied too much on pouf skirts and overpleated dresses that could be a tricky sell to anyone even remotely hippy. Nevertheless, it’s great to see Orlandi develop the ladylike approach he embraced last season and that could be a building block for the future.

Yigal Azrouël: Designer Yigal Azrouël is really turning on the charm. And why shouldn’t he? All the PYTs are starting to catch on to the fact that not only can Azrouël cut a mean jacket, he also has a deft hand when it comes to evening gowns. Just ask actress Eva Mendes, who was sitting in the front row at his show on Sunday. The designer kept it short and sweet for fall, showing 22 looks, including a slew of satin siren gowns simply cut yet rich in hues of marigold, cornflower blue and bottle green. Azrouël also knows how to take advantage of his tailoring, which he used as a foil to all that frou, topping gowns with a cropped leather swing jacket in stone, or a sharp velvet number in midnight blue. Black jersey and scarf-printed chiffon dresses with swagging valance hems also made for a couple of great entrance makers.

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

Jill Stuart: Eliza Doolittle lives! She’s in a drafty Rivington Street loft with her hot — but good-for-nothing — boyfriend and a closet full of Jill Stuart. Because, you know, that’s what cool girls wear. For fall, Stuart chucked out any remotely girly color and started with a black, deep blue and purple canvas. From there, she infused her signature Victorian template with a tougher, sexier edge via sheer laces and wide embroidered belts. For once, the ever-present sequins, bows and ruffles took a backseat to the silhouettes — mainly structured jackets, collared blouses and pants so skinny they looked painted on. There was a stream of layered skirts done in laces, velvet and a haberdasher’s striped silk, and even these stayed within the overall dark and broody mood. Such studied cool takes practice and Stuart has had plenty — a career’s worth.

Cynthia Steffe: Cynthia Steffe has got a thing for Russia, imperial Russia, that is. She said goodbye to the bohemian lass of last season and chose a more regal muse for fall: enter Tsarina Alexandra. The designer took full advantage of the Slavic inspiration, showing pretty looks worthy of any modern-day Russian princess. The real news here was the coats: drop-waisted and double-breasted in deep red or blue velvet, every one sporting miles of mink trim. Steffe also played with proportion, cutting gray Donegal tweed into high-waisted trousers or little Empire-waisted jackets. Skirts were either pegged or full, the latter made sweet when paired with puff-sleeve blouses or velvet cossack tops. The collection was a tad literal in its styling, but with Russian fever hitting runways all over town, these embellished beauties seemed au courant.

Luella: “The Luella girl’s got a touch of the nerd this season,” Luella Bartley’s line sheet began, before explaining in detail exactly how she planned to transform geek into chic. While Bartley has always been good at subverting English propriety with a dash of cheek, her fall outing made the point particularly well. What else would the coolest girl in school wear when going out to sneak a smoke if not a high-necked Luella blouse with an outsized bow or placket of ruffles? Even with out-of-sight necks and those knees obscured by sensible skirts, these clothes managed to be sexy. Certainly, a high-heeled tasseled loafer in black or red patent doesn’t hurt the cause. For after-school, an oversized washed-out “graffiti” floral was fabulous in skirts and a strapless dress, as were the pleated chiffon dresses. But you can’t win them all, and the garish silk party dresses did not fare as well.