THERE’S SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR DOING WHAT COMES NATURALLY. FOR OSCAR DE LA RENTA, THAT MEANT REALITY CHIC FOR BALMAIN, WHILE CHRISTIAN LACROIX MIXED PATTERNS, FABRICS AND THEMES WITH ABANDON.

Balmain: Flights of fancy? Oscar de la Renta isn’t taking that trip. He is — and always has been — more passionate about making his Ladies happy than revving up rock stars and hyping the press. Pretty, flattering and wearable may not be the qualities that spell “wow” to most fashionistas, but they sure snag plenty of euros for the House of Balmain, which sells from 200 to 320 couture numbers per season.

Oscar’s spring collection was all about refinement, a refinement infused with a youthful spirit. His navy double-face wool coats and suits were detailed with discreet inset waistbands or tied at the waist with grosgrain ribbons, while pleated collars and cuffs added a whiff of Coco to pantsuits. He also gave an elegant nod to the Forties with an ivory tweed suit which paired a belted jacket and skirt that was softly flared at the hem.

Some of his prettiest pairings combined an exquisite peasant blouse or a ruffle-edged sleeveless top with long, pleated and ruffled organza skirts — more for ingenues at a the dansant than the Ladies who Lunch. Those frilly white blouses, by the way, fit right in with de la Renta’s toned-down mood, fashioned as they were in cotton, which he said can be “washed and worn.” Imagine, wash ‘n’ wear couture!

Oscar even managed to restrain his exuberant Latin style for evening by toning down the glitter and overt glamour. This season, he preferred simple strapless columns, breezy mousseline dresses and a series of black draped and ruffled numbers with more simmer than sizzle.

But the designer threw discretion to the wind with a sky’s-the-limit cache of jewels that accessorized his clothes. The Fred Leighton collection of old, rare pieces included everything from moonstones and opals to black diamonds, and while no one would divulge prices, one diamond brooch was reportedly worth a cool million.

Christian Lacroix: “Couture now, couture forever.” That’s what Christian Lacroix insisted in his program notes. And with that particular determination of spirit, he took off on a celebration of couture as he believes it must be: full of beauty, exclusivity and, most of all, magic. And in this most compelling of couture seasons, when so many people are questioning its future, Lacroix’s tactics remain as clear as ever: to create the most irreverent mixes of fabrics, prints and historical references.

While not as spectacular as last season’s blockbuster, in this collection Lacroix exercised a lighter hand. The 18th century was echoed in elaborately trimmed and embroidered jackets; bustiers over sheaths and sequin-fringed skirts, and striped satin corsets over sequined skirts.

It goes without saying that this crazy visual feast can — and should — be enjoyed a la carte, with such choices as Lacroix’s irresistible patchwork jacket or white lace coat. And his folkloric trio — a dirndl taffeta skirt appliqued with silver animals, tricolor African sweater and white crepe bolero — had plenty of runway impact, but could be just as easily appreciated one piece at a time, like a precious jewel.

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