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Undercover: Jun Takahashi, the Japanese designer behind the Undercover brand, said his collection was an homage to Jan Svankmajer, an obscure enough reference to those not up on their experimental Eastern European film. Google Svankmajer and you find he’s an avant-garde Czech animator with a bizarre, surrealistic aesthetic. In that case, Takahashi offered a fitting tribute: His clothes were confounding, over-the-top and, ultimately, difficult to understand. But they were also poetic, sometimes violent, and intensely imaginative. Chiffon dresses ruffled with lace with a Thirties’ Paris feel had charm, as did a pair of eyeballs playfully embroidered on the back of a jacket. Trenchcoats, ripped open and filled with lace, looked like peeling paint, while conceptual dresses had trousers spilling out of the waists. Silhouettes seemed purposefully heavy, and it may be hard to find many girls who’d want to wear a dress that has intestines exploding out the side. But it’s fashion fodder. To wit: The last look was an intricate skirt sculpted of wood with a scarecrow-like jacket bursting with hay.

Vivienne Westwood: A disheveled boudoir look is familiar territory for Vivienne Westwood, and this season, she termed her show “ultra femininity,” saying that she was inspired by a Boucher exhibit running at the Wallace Collection in London. The result was tousled taffeta gowns with a libertine flair and flowing chiffon dresses in a fetching marble print. They had their charm. But the knitwear was better, such as the sweaters with trompe l’oeil military details and a long black cardigan tied in front. Fashionistas are sure to scramble for Westwood’s towering platform shoes emblazoned with beer logos.

Marithé & François Girbaud: Mixing easy sportswear with ergonomic cuts, the Girbauds showed a confident collection of low-slung trousers and skirts and distressed leather military coats. They waxed feminine with frilly negligee tops and filmy dresses with cute ruffles, and added a vintage touch with worn-in fabrics and embroidery details. There were also plenty of jeans, and the designers worked their signature denim into breezy, street-smart pants with overstitching, paired with little jackets with ruffles in the back. Loose, striped trousers and a trench with an asymmetric hem are sure to resonate with young clientele.

This story first appeared in the October 6, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Azzaro: Decor in the high-glam, mirrored atelier on the Faubourg St. Honoré remains the same, but Vanessa Seward is making some subtle changes at the house of Azzaro. Since taking the reins nearly two years ago, Seward has broadened the base of the collection, offering ready-to-wear instead of solely made-to-measure, and day-to-evening options beyond the full-fledged va-va-voom gowns that made Monsieur Azzaro famous.

Seward has softened those Seventies-era classics that for spring meant eveningwear with a Cher-when-she-was-kinda-chic aura. Simple cocktail dresses were trimmed with luxe golden cords and tassels. Ombréd evening gowns came twisted at the bodice just so, and, while her beautiful plissé goddess number might take the atelier’s skilled team a week to make under France’s 35-hour work week, it’s well worth the wait.

This season, Seward broadened the scope of the collection by offering some great new swimsuits and a handful of sweaters and skirts. Her next challenge will be taking the house’s range even further, bringing in still more daywear and still more of her own charming sensibilities.

AF Vandevorst: Against a backdrop of colorful blinking bulbs, Antwerp duo An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx mixed masculine tailoring and feminine frills in an effective collection. Sporty sweatshirts were paired with ruffled skirts, while military jackets topped skinny trousers. Knee-length sweatpants were worn under all of the skirts, giving the silhouettes a street-smart appeal. Standouts included a fetching trenchcoat and a cardigan decorated with leather straps.