View Slideshow

Despite a rain-soaked morning, fashion week got off to an impressive start. While Perry Ellis’ Patrick Robinson proved that his talent crosses all categories, Kenneth Cole tried to get his message out. Doo.Ri did pretty, and so did Tocca, as per usual. Costello Tagliapietra, meanwhile, made a simple, beautiful first impression.

Perry Ellis: Let’s hope that, between them, the folks at Public Clothing Company and Perry Ellis International have the good sense to keep this thing going, because with Patrick Robinson directing women’s wear for the label — whether destined for better, contemporary or both — it has the building blocks for a major success story.

Robinson jumped out of the gate a year ago with an ultragirly better collection, its frivolity and vintage-y eccentricity tempered by a clever utilitarianism. So clever, in fact, that one might miss it, which was apparently an issue for the various suits involved, who feared too much fashion and too little of the same-old, same-old that typically sells in better departments. The argument goes that better is no place for even the minimal trappings of frou. But then, those ladies can’t buy what’s not there, so why not give them the chance to doll up a bit?

That said, this collection definitely has a contemporary look, which suits Robinson just fine — and he maintains he’s got the retail ammunition to fuel his upscale ambitions. “Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys [New York], Harvey Nichols — have all been interested,” he said during a walk-through of his presentation on Tuesday. “I see this next to Marc by Marc [Jacobs].”

Surely this effort could facilitate such an elevation. Robinson continued the collection’s feminine identity while moving deftly from the overt vintage attitude of the last two seasons. All pasteled, ruffled, brocaded and, yes, chinoed, the tight lineup of just 18 looks offered a do-it-your-way bounty in mixed colors, textures and even a few boyish touches. A very Perry sweater and ruffled shorts looked “Pretty Baby,” and the pink velvet-sashed white silk dress, ultraingenue. But the appeal here shouldn’t be limited to the underage set, since many of the skirts, pants and small jackets could easily swing toward chic, albeit young, matron types. Either way, it worked beautifully.

This story first appeared in the September 9, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Robinson said that he had halted negotiations to focus on his day job, but that he wants to “start talking again tomorrow.” Discussions had focused on his employment switching from Public Clothing to P.E.I., which has not produced its own women’s collection since Jacobs’ infamous grunge collection in 1993. That company would produce a Robinson-designed contemporary collection, Perry Ellis Signature, which would look essentially like the one shown on Wednesday. Public Clothing would produce a better line under Robinson’s direction that would, he promised, reflect the same sensibility. “I’ve worked in a pyramid,” Robinson said. “The top would definitely trickle down. Everybody says that, but what usually happens is that all of the fashion gets stripped away. I won’t do that.”

Kenneth Cole: Hey, Kenneth, kudos for this season’s amusing conscience-raiser film short. Who could disagree with some charmingly delivered let’s-get-out-and-vote propaganda? But even as some of your delegate-on-the-street participants debated whether their campy red, white and blue convention garb made for a fashion statement or political statement, their musings pointed to a different quandary, one more pertinent to this week than last: You’re a guy who never shies away from a point of view, at least when it comes to politics. So why keep your fashion raison d’être under wraps?

The collection Cole presented on Wednesday morning to open the season offered its share of serviceable clothes — some, such as the trench, approaching chic; the rest perfectly reasonable, with the unfortunate caveats of hyper-tailored parachute gear and the always relevant men’s trench-over-swim briefs, the weighty girth of the family jewels on proud display. What the show didn’t offer was anything resembling the strength of purpose that a serious designer collection demands. True, over the past several seasons, Cole has hinted at staking a claim for classics with a racy bent, and one could argue he continued that here with his lineup of lean, sexy shapes spliced and seamed ad infinitum. But racy classicism is hardly unchartered turf — hello, Calvin Klein. If Cole wants to be viewed as an apparel designer of weight, he needs to develop a clear vision rooted in something more compelling than mere clothes, and translate that into the concrete stuff of fashion.

Costello Tagliapietra: It was a superb beginning for Jeffrey Costello, formerly of VPL, and Robert Tagliapietra. They showed their first full-scale collection for Costello Tagliapietra, and one could actually swoon for the simplicity and cut of these Grecian- and Madame Grès-inspired dresses in rayon matte jersey. The fit was perfect (no easy feat in that fabric), and the dresses and few skirts swung gracefully at mid- and below-calf lengths. The drama stayed on top in subtle draping, bare backs and a bevy of beautiful necklines. The best of these: the flared tank dresses with cross-strapped backs or a steel-toned V-neck version. For the last three seasons, the duo has pulled together a few pieces, currently sold at Barneys New York Japan. Safe to say, the designers should pick up a few American accounts this season.

Project Alabama: Project Alabama’s success is truly a marvel. In the company’s third year, designer-founder Natalie Chanin and her business partner, Enrico Marone-Cinzano, have seen sales grow and P.A. clothes become staples at the best department stores. Who could have predicted that such a charming idea — handmade T-shirts — would have such long and profitable legs?

On Wednesday, Chanin, up from her studio in Lovelace Crossing, Ala., showed her two lines: Project Alabama Hand, the original collection made entirely by hand, and Project Alabama Machine, the line produced with Italian manufacturer Gibò SpA and now in its second season.

While the prices of the two lines are quite different — $150 to $2,000 for Hand and $60 to $700 for Machine — there is a definite coherence between them in the shared color palette of washed-out blue gray, khaki and burnt orange. Hand continues to develop beyond its original T-shirt lineup, and the reverse appliqué, embroidery and printing translated well on everything from hoodies to backless halter dresses. These pieces meshed with Machine’s tailored sporty looks, cut mostly in denim, twill and techno nylons. And Chanin managed to create distinctive touches for her manufactured line, too, such as a Japanese-inspired hand-blocked print, designed in-house, that was appliquéd with rice paper for a subtle textured effect. P.A.’s future is clearly bright.

Doo.Ri: Continuing with the draping and fluidity that she’s favored in past seasons, Doori Chung sent her girls on an easy, breezy trip down the runway for spring. Her palette featured luscious hues, such as corals, pinks and sky blues, and she offered an essay in color as she layered tank tops that ranged from light pink to deep coral. Inspired by the idea of suspension, Chung (a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist) sent out a leather-trimmed, high-waisted skirt that appeared to float from its halter straps while still wrapping seductively around the body. And her silk charmeuse and jersey shorts, slit-sleeve cardigans with ruffled backs and slim capri pants all felt just right for spring. The ballet-influenced dresses and handkerchief hemlines could have been edited out. But overall, it was a pretty show indeed.

Tocca: Hop on your motorino, and slide into your sandals this season. At Tocca, it was off to Italy for la dolce vita as designer Ellis Kreuger served up an entire collection of what he does best — irresistible looks for the gal with a sweet tooth for feminine charm. The summery strapless dresses in bold pink or cool blues, for example, looked as if they were designed to be worn while watching Mediterranean sunsets, and the printed cotton dresses and little sparkly numbers were just breezy enough to turn any Italian ragazzo’s head. Building on the idea of a Capri getaway, Kreuger showed plenty of great colorful knits, some trimmed with tulle, which were perfect for layering, while the colorful cropped pants paired with floral jackets brought out the lighter side of the collection. There were also plenty of sexy little embroidered bikinis for lying out on the beach.