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As Four: “Everyone is so goddamned conservative,” said a jovial Andy Spade at As Four’s Friday night show. He was making a complaint about the general state of fashion. “But I like it when other people are doing new things,” he added. “I just want to watch.” The statement may have been made in jest, but in some sense, As Four designers Gabi, Adi, Ange and Kai perform just such a function: offering an avant-garde sensibility, not just for Spade’s enjoyment, but for all of New York — a city in which even young designers have their ears sharply tuned to the hum of commerce. Somehow, the quartet have made a business of their otherworldly designs, as evidenced by their rack of wares at Barneys New York, which looks out upon a high-end sea with big fish such as Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Azzedine Alaïa. And, of course, Spade recently enlisted them to create a limited-edition line of accessories, due out in May of this year.

Most importantly, though they maintain a consistent aesthetic, they forge ahead each season with new ideas. Their fall show was no exception. Their trademark sculptural elements were now smoothed into, dare we say it, more refined and wearable shapes. Among these were chic, belted lamé dresses and leather coats that bloused on top and swung on the bottom; flattering boot-leg pants, and even a beautiful mink coat cut with their signature circular seaming. For evening, they hung their glamorous charmeuse gowns with twirls of pleated organza and artfully sliced their bottoms for fluttery movement. When young, creative types dream in their downtown lofts, they should dream of the career of As Four.

Gustavo Arango: While taking his bow, Gustavo Arango walked down the runway with a model on each arm, and upon reaching the photographers pit, he performed a jubilant little jig with fists pumping in the air. Well, not quite so fast, Mr. Arango. There were certainly a few beautiful exits in the eveningwear-dominated show, but spiking the ball in the proverbial end zone might be a tad premature. Arango is capable of creating pretty clothes, such as an understated black silk top with bat-wing sleeves worn with a gold jacquard A-line skirt and a simple-as-you-please blue charmeuse gown. However, the designer seems to trip on his own sensibility, which leans toward the overwrought with all manner of handpainting, beading, embroidery and laser-cutting on silhouettes. He would do better by playing up his elegant side and limiting the tricky embellishments.

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Custo Barcelona: From Russia with lots of pattern, texture and color, was how one could sum up Custo Dalmau’s fall lineup. The more-is-more attitude the designer favors was back for fall, as he combined layers of his top-selling graphic knits with well-cut coats and patterned leggings. There were many jewels to pick out in this collection, such as his tweeds, which looked so fresh with contrasting colored collars, epaulettes and banded bottoms. His versions of traditional men’s wear patterns including argyle and herringbone were oversized, and sometimes overlapped, to great effect. Not to mention the delightful knits accented with charming graphics or fringe. It was one part sophistication, one part peasant, and overall lovely.

Joanna Mastroianni: Joanna Mastroianni, who has been in business for the past 15 years and whose line appears in more than 40 stores across the country, decided to dive right in with her first runway show. “Now the time was right, because I come with years of experience,” she said. Mastroianni presented a full, balanced collection of evening looks that hit just the right pitch for the season. That meant distancing herself from a past that was stamped with a rather rigid signature. Now, shapes and fabrics have a lighthanded and sexy approach, as in her delicate dress in Chantilly lace over silk charmeuse or the sizzling black matte, long-sleeved jersey gown with leather encircling the waist and criss-crossing at the back. There were also some great sweater and skirt pairings, such as a black cashmere ballet-wrap sweater and camel mohair skirt with embroidered medallions. Occasionally, though, the designer got too hip for her own good, as with the patent leather vest and paneled skirt.

Iisli: Nelson and Sisi Li’s knitwear collection, Iisli, may already hang on the racks of high-end retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, but this week marked the runway debut for the two-year-old, New York-based company. Runway pomp be gone; this show was all about the clothes — unadulterated, fabulous knitwear. And what a knit fest it was. There were ladylike pointelle cardis and sweaters with crystal button accents; holiday-happy sequin vests and chunky wool scarves, and layered cashmere tops and skirts with crochet leggings and fingerless gloves for a grunge effect. There were enough knits here to go from uptown to downtown and back again.

Benjamin Cho: It’s too bad that Benjamin Cho goes for theatrics on the runway, since they tend to overshadow some great clothes. To wit: effeminate boys sporting oversized culottes, a football uniform with heels and oversized umbrellas that expand into billowy dresses. But in the midst of this madness, there were gems that shined through: oversized bows placed on dresses, pants and skirts à la Blass, signature knits and beautifully pleated skirts, many of which were shown with big crystal jewelry. If Cho can stay the course with these pieces, he might be viewed as a serious talent.

Zaldy: Zaldy thinks big. While pulling together his own collection, he moonlights as head designer for Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. line, as well as creates stage costumes for such solo artists as Melissa Auf der Maur. In fact, it was a bouquet Auf der Maur sent Zaldy that inspired the giant floral print in his fall lineup. He showed sweeping wool capes and velvet hooded coats in rich pumpkin, blue and green. When Zaldy focused on mood and drama, things went well — who wouldn’t want to brave winter’s chill in the voluminous wool coat tied up with an attached scarf and large gold leaf pin? It was when he played to his second muse, an architectural one, that the show lost steam. Sharply tailored pants and dresses suffered from too-tricky loop details and unflattering folds.