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Stella McCartney: Balmy summer beach days, a golden sky and the gentle sway of palm trees. That was the setting depicted on Stella McCartney’s invitation, an image that came into lovely focus at her show on Wednesday.

Given Gucci Group’s current period of self-evaluation, this was the perfect time for McCartney to come up with one of the best collections of her career, especially since Robert Polet and François-Henri Pinault both settled into front-row seats, where they must have been plenty pleased with the view.

McCartney celebrated the gentle side of casual with clothes that hinted at boho without turning exclusionary. All kinds of cool girls should cotton to Stella’s cottons, washed silks and tribal prints. Reason one: It’s not often that pretty looks so darned comfortable, as if Grandma’s old housedresses suddenly morphed into hipster je ne sais quoi. Stella does love a dress, bunched and gathered seemingly at random, sometimes in flower child-esque, floor-sweeping proportions; at others, in sexy tunic mode. One such number, a chopped-off pale aqua caftan with silver streaks, would even befit a latter-day La Liz on holiday. But tailoring also has its place in any McCartney collection, and she tossed short, squarish jackets on over dresses or equally breezy pants and shirts, with rolled hems or ankle ties, as well as some high-steam swimsuits.

McCartney worked a pleasant counterpoint throughout — a trench dolled up with poufed sleeves; the cheery pairing of lingerie trims and athletic drawstrings. And if occasionally her big, weightless shapes crossed the line to sloppy, more often they looked utterly charming.

Dries Van Noten: Fashion is a movable feast, as few know better than Dries Van Noten, who, since 1985, has thrilled with collections inspired by Morocco, Turkey, China — anywhere and everywhere his talent takes him. In honor of his 50th show — counting both men’s and women’s presentations — he invited his audience on a voyage to La Courneuve, or as one driver called it, “le Bronx de Paris.” And what a trip it was.

Lucky guests who made the 40-minute commute arrived to find a spectacular mise-en-scène awaiting them in the dim center of a gas-tank factory. But then, Van Noten’s dreamy dinner-and-a-show concept is best summed up by the numbers: 500 guests sat at a single 492-foot-long table covered in two tablecloths, where 320 waiters and 20 sommeliers served dinner by the glow of 150 chandeliers. The wine flowed. The plates arrived — and later disappeared — in a single, well-choreographed fell swoop. Then came the moment of truth, the show itself. “He could show a gunny sack at this point,” said one satiated editor. Yes, the evening was that enchanting, and the theatrics that grand. But more importantly, Van Noten’s clothes — 70 looks and nary a gunny sack among them — were a feast for the eyes.

This story first appeared in the October 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The chandeliers rose toward the ceiling, and models took to the table top in pretty light cotton blouses and skirts in hazy faded florals that expressed the adventuresome, folksy chic of Dries at his best. Other designers may dabble in circle skirts, but Van Noten does them right, whether worn under embroidered aprons or sparkling with silvery trim at their borders. Meanwhile, peasant blouses embroidered in panels at the sleeves were intricate enough to seem authentic, but light enough to be au courant, and featherweight gauze dresses begged for a day of strolling under the sun. His collection was pure Dries, and though the house is hitting the 20th-anniversary mark, it all looked as fresh as if he were starting out on day one.

Celine: Reinventing a house is seldom easy. Should the incoming designer start from scratch, or try to adapt something of the existing house aura for his own purposes? Of course, it depends upon the house, its current strength and the personalities and visions of those involved. In taking the design reins at Celine, Roberto Menichetti obviously wanted to start fresh, because the collection he showed on Thursday was light-years away from the high-energy, jet set-loving runway kitsch in which Michael Kors wrapped his version of Celine. To wit, according to the program notes, under Menichetti, “the Celine woman affirms her spontaneous Parisian culture” — a distinct contrast with Kors’ very American sensibility.

But affirming the rich heritage of la Parisienne is one heck of a promise. While Menichetti was probably right to set out to reclaim Celine’s Frenchness, in this maiden outing he didn’t quite get the job done. He showed appealing enough clothes, shifting back and forth from sturdy satins for firmly constructed dresses and coats to colorful jerseys and printed silks for languid pieces that poured over the body, some playing a little trompe l’oeil dress-or-separates game. (When in doubt, it was a dress.) What he didn’t do was turn the lightbulb on brightly enough, so that his audience could leave with a clear vision: Ah-ha. This is where Celine is headed.

Veronique Branquinho: Most of us have at least one favorite Seventies phenomenon: macramé, “Three’s Company” or cheese fondue. Veronique Branquinho, it seems, is no exception, since she channeled nostalgia for “Emmanuelle,” the seminal soft-core erotic film, into a spring collection of long plaid cotton skirts and chiffon dresses worn with open-weave sweaters. Done in a soft palette of cream and powder blue, they were introverted clothes for a girl just discovering her sensual side — and that was their charm. Models sat on large rattan chairs à la “Emmanuelle” before taking to the runway in crisp cotton dresses or layered chiffon skirts with feathers peeking from the hems. Tweed jackets had leather elbow patches, floor-sweeping dresses had circular openings at the bust and knitwear came in graphic geometrical patterns. The clothes had a youthful cool, but lacked the subversive tremor that could have made them electric — just like “Emmanuelle.”