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Boudicca: Design duo Brian Kirkby and Zowie Broach, cult favorites in their native England, hopped over the pond to show on the New York runways this season, forgoing London’s fashion week. The move is part of their plan to expose their avant-garde luxury label, Boudicca, to a larger, more international audience.

Kirkby and Broach showed an almost entirely black fall collection, which benefitted from the straightforward presentation. Their sharp tailoring was seen in well-cut jackets and skirts, sometimes tonally embroidered with words like “forever,” or sporting delicate lace overlay. A welcome dose of color came in a featherweight metallic purple silk top, cut with 18th-century-style sleeves. And for anyone who missed that great black leather puffy bomber that flew out of Barneys New York a few seasons ago, there was a new version in caramel floral-embossed leather. With their deftly-cut pieces and modern-gothic sensibility, Kirkby and Broach should find plenty more fans here.

Costello Tagliapietra: Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra are faithful to one woman — the Jersey Girl. No, not someone of dubious fashion sense hailing from across the Hudson, but one who only wears jersey: silk jersey, lace jersey, wool jersey, you-name-it jersey. The Ecco Domani-winning team worked it beautifully in a stream of heather gray, red and taupe dresses and skirts that swung gently around the body, but that one look has its limits. While there’s a lot to be said for having focus, Costello and Tagliapietra must broaden their scope to prove that their label isn’t a one-idea wonder. After all, there is life beyond jersey.

Twinkle by Wenlan Chia: Whether it’s a lightweight cardigan, a chunky vest or a merino wool bud jacket, Wenlan Chia’s knits have it all — fabulous construction, wonderful patterns and a bright, easy color scheme that consisted of lavender, chocolate brown and coral. In this collection, Chia took her knits one step further, venturing from sweater territory into coats. They looked good over lovely herringbone-print silk and chiffon dresses. Chia’s ensembles are for the youthful, sophisticated woman who doesn’t mind a girly look on occasion. Next time, we’d like to see the designer take a few more risks and not play it so safe and sweet.

Gary Graham: Gary Graham’s fall collection was based on an imaginary trio of women — a Gothamite, a scientist, and a boondock honey — and he managed to combine the social chic of one with the clinical edge and country-bumpkin appeal of the others. And it was all executed to perfection with a matching soundtrack — rock, country and dripping beakers. To that end, the scientist wore silk bustiers and quilted armor coats in a palette of gray and black; the boondock honey wore twisted bouclé skirts and shearling vests paired with wellies, and the Gothamite wore pretty georgette dresses and swinging taffeta and organza skirts. While it may all sound schizophrenic, the mix of looks (and personalities) were worked to chic effect.

Afshin Feiz: Paris-based Afshin Feiz’s New York debut was impressive and promising. The designer’s second collection exhibited a great color sense, talent for tailoring and, most importantly, a willingness to experiment. Feiz’s intricate body-hugging skirts cut in tweeds with a host of details — satin and velvet trim, flippy pleats, gold piping— certainly made it to the winner’s circle. They joined a beautiful black A-line coat with subtle gold piping and a pair of silk skirts cleverly constructed with overlapping panels of colored fabric. Though he could use a bit more time to develop his pants and evening dresses, Feiz is certainly one to watch.

Trovata: So-Cal surfer boys don’t exactly seem like the types to throw a blue-blooded garden party for their first formal fashion presentation. But then again, the fact that the four behind this burgeoning line (John Whitledge, Sam Shipley, Josia Lamberto-Egan and Jeff Halmos) are designers at all is equally baffling. After viewing these comfy worn classics, however, you kind of get the beach-bum-goes-to-Harvard aesthetic. The collection included soft classic cashmere sweaters, chinos, fitted jackets, butter-soft Ts and corduroy from head to toe. Piece by piece, the lineup isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but taken as a whole, it successfully illustrated a lifestyle. Think Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle, only way cooler. Unfortunately, the mood lighting at the National Arts Club where they showed made it virtually impossible to truly see the clothing, a major misstep for young designers.

Y & Kei: Designers Hanii Y and Gene Kei took more than one page out of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” when looking to the Twenties for inspiration. These two have always been romantic but usually temper the flou with a harder, artsy edge. This time around, the inspiration got the better of them. There were some beautiful pieces, but the look in general was way too literal. That said, the best were the luxe meaty knits, such as a taupe jacquard sweater-jacket with a mink collar. And a black matte jersey and suede dress was so sleek and modern you could hardly believe the materials were married. It is that kind of forward-thinking that Y and Kei need to continue doing.

Kai Milla: Kai Milla, wife of Stevie Wonder and first-time designer, focused on eveningwear for fall. A smart move for someone who has high-profile event experience, and certainly the parade of satin, velvet, organza, chiffon and sequins, were appropriate for the genre. But as often happens with new designers, Milla tried to incorporate too many ideas at once. But that’s not to say there weren’t some winners there, too. Her plunging jersey gowns with sequined hip bands moved beautifully, and the toffee silk satin strapless gown with baseball-like stitching would keep any red carpet red hot.

Jeremy Scott: Madame Butterfly, meet Mr. Compton Gridiron. Jeremy Scott introduced the two in his show Friday night, because only in his world (and maybe Galliano’s) could those two cross paths. It became clear that Scott takes himself too seriously and the business of fashion not seriously enough. Everyone likes a dramatic showpiece, but a whimsical, giant butterfly jumpsuit is a tough sell. Especially when it’s backed up by a confusing lineup of sports jerseys-cum-sweeping capes; sweatshirt dresses printed with Chinese theater masks or football helmets pierced by a sword and two flags, and denim jackets and skirts embroidered with what looked like bright butterflies but were actually two guns facing outward.

Scott teamed up with Saga Furs and sent out one gorgeous, giant black fur coat, to which he added beautifully-etched metal shoulder plates à la a Japanese samurai. The metal plates, worked elsewhere as a corset on a sweatshirt dress, will no doubt be an easy pick for editorial. But again, how will that translate at the cash register?

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.

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.

The Beene Goes On – Geoffery Beene: Geoffrey Beene’s eccentricities are legendary, including the surprise that he slipped into his will: that his house would continue with his assistant, Norwegian designer Einar Holilokk, at the design helm.

Holilokk began working with his mentor in 1989, left after four years, returned in 1998 and has been at the house since. “Being given this responsibility was a great compliment,” the designer said, walking among the mannequins in Beene’s 57th Street salon. He acknowledged that his collections must continue Beene’s “vocabulary, and evolve his philosophy,” but that he will inevitably give his own voice to the house.

For the past four years, Beene worked only on a made-to-order basis. While Holilokk said that he may continue with that approach indefinitely, he added, “At some point [a collection for retail] might be a good business move.” Certainly Holilokk understands Beene’s distinctive sensibility, one in which artfully conceived details are as intrinsic to a dress or coat as its shape and fabric. A long dress, for example, zipped open from the hemline to, and across, the neckline, and a high-necked black rubber raincoat was edged in white marrow stitching. Among the other top looks were a graceful, red-trimmed navy coat, the exquisite Empire gowns and the terrific printed cotton jackets.

A Geoffrey Beene collection is certainly not for everyone. These clothes aren’t designed for fashionistas who need to adorn themselves in the more obvious of labels. Hopefully, the Beene collection, under Holilokk’s direction, will maintain its equilibrium instead of starting to telegraph the latest trend. But, with time, Holilokk should be able to keep the current clientele happy and capture an even younger, quirkier crowd.

Zac Posen: Life isn’t all a great big glam fest. But a girl can dream, and if she finds a designing soul mate along the way, all the better. Zac Posen’s her guy. For him there is no more enchanting a muse than a serious party girl.

On Thursday night Posen showed a collection for just such a girl. It made for his best collection yet, as he seemed to work through — and for the most part throw away — the campier elements characteristic of his past efforts. And that’s no small feat, since like his muse, Zac barely endured the banality of clothes for day. Sure he showed a cursory jacket or two, little puff-sleeve blouses and a quite good wool lace coat. But for the most part, if the occasion calls for something more buttoned-up than a high flirt-factor dress, he really isn’t interested. Unless, of course, you’re talking skintight separates with a Forties attitude and major snake embroidery. Otherwise, he was more than happy to focus on evening, which he did with considerable range and increasing maturity. Make no mistake, these were still done-up, high-impact clothes, but most will transition easily beyond runway theater to real-life soirée. He went short with pleated gray charmeuse or gold voile finished with a flurry of ruffles, and long with a range from major flou to hot canary construction. Among the best: the Grecian-inspired, pleated goddess dresses, waistlines wrapped in thick golden coils. And if once or twice he lapsed into the stuff of clunky furs or a bridesmaid’s surfeit of pastel chiffon, who cares? For the most part, Posen’s dresses looked plenty alluring, delivered as they were with a certain restraint while retaining that sense of risky exuberance that feels right from the twentysomething set.

Derek Lam: It’s possible that Sean Combs, who had requested an invitation to Derek Lam’s two o’clock show on Friday, enjoyed himself too much at Zac Posen’s after party the night before, since he was a no-show. Nevertheless, the empty seat with his name on it triggered inevitable speculation that he might be looking for another fashion investment.

Certainly, anyone looking to invest in a fledgling house would be well advised to give Lam a look. His fall collection played like a dream, and while at times it felt a tad Chloé-ish, it indicated savvy movement from the vintage-y look that had dominated his previous work. In its place was a mood that was fresh, relaxed and oh-so-pretty. It’s summery feel was intentional, inspired by stylish young things Sienna Miller and Kate Moss, as well as by more practical concerns. Lam noted that keeping the attitude and the fabrics light made the collection better suited to a range of climates.

The designer achieved his goal of prettiness minus preciousness over and over again. Full silk dresses and skirts were cut with pockets, judiciously embellished and worn with flats. Pants were pleated and loose and worn casually with embroidered or beaded tops and jackets. For evening, who can deny the easy glamour of a gorgeous pleated gown dragging gently over Grecian sandals? Of course, Lam did not ignore the reality of winter completely. Mostly, he chased the chills with luxury, topping numerous dresses with fur vests, scarves and even a mink sweatshirt. Elsewhere, he showed  herringbone wool coats, a chic peacoat or a chunky cashmere scarf looped round the neck of a white Swiss dot chiffon dress. And a girl in possession of his striped cashmere blanket embellished with a huge, cathedral-worthy cross will surely wish for a drop in the mercury. Whatever the weather report, this is a collection to love all year round. And Lam is a designer that New York should be happy to have.

Peter Som: “Modern-day ease meets turn-of-the-century constraint,” read the first line of Peter Som’s show notes. Hmm…we’ve all heard that opposites attract, but matchmaking is an awkward thing. Sure, you can get them to meet, but the real question is, “Will they get along?” In the case of Som’s fall show, the answer is sometimes, but not always.

The designer has found his niche in creating luxurious, uncomplicated clothes that breathe fresh air into the vast walk-in wardrobes of his uptown clientele. Those ladies will find no shortage of looks to love, particularly when it comes to stepping out after eight. The collection was heavily populated with a rich array of velvet, black point d’esprit and metallic radzimir silks. He worked the velvet in a variety of forms and colors  — the best of these being a full skirt in bright apple green along with slouchy tuxedo pants and high-waisted skirts in a deep plum. Those pants paired with either a white silk coat in a neat military silhouette or a champagne mink trench are the essence of what the designer’s fans adore. The same can be said of an elegant, slim evening skirt in a burnished silver with a simple, ruched dusty pink top. A tweed coat dappled with gold and trimmed lightly in mink was another great standout.

Nevertheless, making 1900 new again is a tough task. The designer made the occasional misstep by either pushing his theme too much, or not enough. So, while a simple red velvet dress felt unfinished, a black velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit needed a bit of loosening up.

Chado Ralph Rucci: Season after season, one is reminded that Ralph Rucci is attempting to create art. This fall proved no different, with looks he called the “Franz Kline dress,” and “Cy Twombly tube gown.” But most women want to wear real clothes that make them look and feel terrific, rather than be secondary to a designer’s canvas. Therein lay the problem with much of this collection, even more so than in past efforts. However intellectually intriguing their architectural riffs, most of these clothes lacked the important element of seduction. Consider looks made from purple or black alligator and a feathered tulle coat and pajamas — they don’t exactly signal “Come hither.”

Nevertheless, there were some beauties to be found, such as the suede-backed golden sable coat over a cashmere sweater and camelhair pants and the fluid black matte jersey dress with long sheer sleeves. To raise the pitch a notch higher, he also unveiled 15 looks from his couture collection that he decided not to show in Paris. Oddly enough, these contained his most accessible offerings: a white pleated silk chiffon dress; the beige suede macramé coat over a suede dress with a gold bullion bodice. And that’s what we love: clothes that — besides stimulating the mind and pleasing the eye — can keep a fashionista’s heart beating.

Diesel: While Diesel’s inspiration for fall — Russia meets the American West — was clear Thursday night, it still begged the question, does it make any sense? The answer was a firm no, and the over-the-top fringed, tutued and spangled premium-priced wares served as proof. Diesel is one of the most rock-solid denim-based companies in the world, and owner Renzo Rosso and creative director Wilber Das are far from novices when it comes to knowing their customers. On that note, there were undoubtedly pieces that will serve the everyday circumstances of cool gals and guys, such as the lush, fur-lined leather bombers that were cropped and wrapped around the body, daring denim minis and short shorts with embroidered back pockets.

It’s a fashion show after all, and excess is expected, but next time, offer the people who are getting the clothes into their pages and stores better than third-row or — gasp! — standing-room seats. Surely, the masses of hangers-on perched beside Missy Elliott, Michelle Rodriguez, Vincent Gallo and Tara Subkoff would understand.

Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Sweetface/JLo

As the adorable Lil’ Kim arrived at the Jennifer Lopez show on Friday night, her hair a marcelled plaster fastened by monster diamond bows matching her cartoon-sexpot indiscretion, she caused the inevitable paparazzi madness. Taking in the scene, one couldn’t help but register how strange indeed these times are in fashion, especially in New York, mired in the frenzy — some would say folly — of the celebrity launch-a-minute. Here was the fashion crowd turning out in droves at 8 p.m. on Friday after a week crammed with collections, waiting for a credential-free designer to raise the curtain.

Certainly Lopez has done her part as an ambassador of fashion. She owns a strong style, as do Beyoncé Knowles, Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani and all the other pop stars lined up to cash in on the images they’ve developed with the help of countless designers, stylists, hairdressers, makeup people and other handlers. But does the mere act of working a fashion look with bravado qualify someone as a designer? Probably no other profession, including other design-related fields, gives off a vibe as welcoming as fashion: “I wear clothes well, therefore I am a designer.” Would the same confidence, some might say hubris, transfer to other disciplines? “I sit in modern chairs, therefore I am a furniture designer.” “I have a chic roof over my head, therefore I am an architect.”

Granted, fashion doesn’t involve designing a building that won’t fall down. But lest we forget, it is hard. It requires talent, skill and, at its highest level, years of dedication and toil, a notion all but buried in the obsession to keep up with which pop star will launch when. Which is not to reject the possibility of crossover success; the Sean Jean collection, for example, is a rare hit, although even P. Diddy has learned that women’s is an entirely different reality.

Success as a designer — not as a fancy figurehead, but as a designer — requires more than the ability to dress one’s self flamboyantly, or, more likely, to find the right advisers. How about a point of view, a vision, that brings something distinctive to the party? That notion was brought home beautifully in the trio of major shows held on Friday. Because, while Lopez staged a fabulous show, its production of a level that one would expect from an entertainment superstar, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren both showed beautiful collections that radiated their signatures with confident currency.

Orthopedic adversity notwithstanding, Donna Karan delivered a breathtaking collection, her best in eons. In it, she wrapped many of the themes she loves into one big, bold, oh-so-glamorous statement of chic. She titled the show “Manhattan Rush” in this latest chapter in her career-long obsession with the city, and wrote in her program notes, “It’s as new as it is old, as much reality as it is fantasy.” She was spot on. For fashion to work beyond the presentation phase, it must be as much about the reality of getting dressed as the possibility of fantasy fulfilled. And for a designer collection to work, it must reflect its creator’s core beliefs with an essential spark of the new. 

Thus, Karan brought together elements of men’s wear, ultrafeminine draping, intense details and a soupçon of the artiste in near-perfect expression, starting with a palette that worked the romantic side of moody, its dominant grays laced with violet, fuchsia, teal. Karan opened with haberdashery gone girly — or more correctly, womanly — with pinstriped stretch wool twisted, pulled and curved into alluring jackets and skirts, their femininity heightened by a color-drenched shirt or outsized rosette perched on the shoulder. Volume? Donna made it an option rather than a mandate in full skirts worn with jackets or under the swagger of a cape, and indulged in an editors-only moment with a puffed-up violet cocoon that looked like Erte on steroids.  

That digression aside, the collection featured a compelling counterpoint of formality and ease. A military motif came devoid of strictness, while shirts with Elizabethan grandeur gave soft tailoring a whiff of haughtiness. Dresses included full-skirted, micropleated charmers with bold Xs that defined the bodice while mimicking the straps of the shoes. There were also new versions of Karan’s beloved curvy jerseys, now with ruffled shoulders and poet’s sleeves. Some trailed dark ribbons for that touch of the artiste — but only a touch, lest they stray too far from the designer’s glorified reality.

About midway through Ralph Lauren’s show, those guests sitting nearest the models’ exit heard the din of backstage commotion over the music. Apparently, dressing the girls had presented unusual challenges because, toward the end, they emerged out of order, upsetting the intended finale. Which is worth mentioning merely to restate the point: Every part of this business is harder than it looks. Behind the cool, a-million-bucks-says-you-can’t-ruffle-my-feathers attitude of every model who took to the runway, there might have been some well-masked, unexpected snafus. But there were also 30-plus years of development and devotion to a highly evolved aesthetic, one changing ever so deftly as the years demand, while staying powerful in its clarity.

For fall, Lauren again rendered that mood impeccably. He said he was inspired by his collection of vintage racing cars, on view starting March 6th at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Yet, except for the occasional flourish of an aviator helmet and goggles (likely culprits of the mayhem backstage), he kept the references discreet, once or twice even veering into the dull lane. But no matter. This collection still offered plenty to love, starting with the youthful elegance the girls projected as they glided past.

Since he’s thinking racy, Lauren went for lean shapes, a hint of provocation percolating beneath perfectly manicured flannels. He loves gray, by day as well as its evening evolution into silver, and worked both in countless variations. He sent out mannish fabrics galore, dolled up in a light gray vested skirt, mixes of glen plaid and houndstooth, chicly belted jackets and coats. Sometimes, he punched up the tone-on-tone gentility with a fab leather jacket. And his series of curvy knits flagged an oft-forgotten truth: That refinement and sexiness are not mutually exclusive, a point driven all the more forcefully at night in goddess-worthy gowns shimmering with the glow of beading and of Lauren’s confidence.

Friday night, of course, belonged to Lopez, who showed both her Sweetface and JLo lines. “This should be looked at as the real start of our company,” she told WWD in an interview last month. “Now we’re really going to show the world what we stand for.” She also copped to a certain humility. “Let’s be real — I’m obviously not at the level of a John Galliano. There is an art to what he does that I admire.”

You can say that again. This show played like an homage to Galliano (with digressions into Versace, Dolce and Cavalli lands). With its maze of deck chairs on a glitter-strewn floor, the expansive set pulsed with Galliano theatricality, and, no slave to subtlety, Lopez even signed up John’s favorite makeup artist, Pat McGrath, and frequent music collaborator, Jeremy Healy. The styling, too, invoked his mixed-metaphor, pile-it-on m.o., especially in the opening jeans section.

In the midst of it all, there were some perfectly appealing clothes — lots of jeans, short-shorts, belly-baring tops, baby dolls, capelets — a lexicon of the here-and-now of cute-girl dressing, the kind of fashion that derives its point of difference almost exclusively via the wearer, or in this case, the stylist. One could extract, as well, more grown-up, dressed-up clothes from the riotous offerings lavished with runway-only diamonds and fur, and shown in full wind-swept, Avedon-cum-music-video glory, thanks to a fan positioned just so at the end of the runway. Although it’s tough to imagine a run of the hoped-for J. Lo-generation thirtysomethings on the Sweetface department, many of these clothes could find viability among younger women and teenagers, if well-priced and well-marketed.

What the Lopez extravaganza did not even approach, however, was anything resembling a true designer collection, or at least what this industry has traditionally thought of as such; that is, something inclusive of genuine innovation or at least distinction. Whether that matters, or whether the “celebrity designer” phenomenon will ultimately reshape the American fashion industry, remains to be seen.

Paul Smith: It’s all about hay rides, hockey sticks — and sneaking ciggies in the school parking lot. Paul Smith’s girl has a closet full of classics: kilts, cowboy shirts and wooly knits, and she knows how to strut them. This season, she can choose from pleated minikilts, skinny plaid trousers, tweed capelets and cropped, nubby sweaters, all in a ultrarich palette of pumpkin, sage and mustard. “I think overtly sexy fashion — bare breasts and bling — is starting to level out,” said Smith after the show. “This has a boyish feel to it, and I think it reflects a very modern way of dressing — taking things from your mum’s wardrobe or wearing your dad’s old jacket.” Smith also turned out Empire-waist silk smock dresses in deep purple, olive green and claret, and a high-waisted, double-breasted plaid coat for the demure girl who lurks inside every naughty teen.

Julien Macdonald: Ever since he bid au revoir to Givenchy and hopped on the northbound Eurostar, Macdonald has been on a winning streak here. Last season, he began stripping off the excess details that had come to characterize his London runway shows and started showing off the genuine goods. For fall, his skinny, sharply tailored trouser suits, belted wool coats, sparkly knitted vests and colorful sweater coats all hit the mark. The fab fur jackets — made from chinchilla, sable, mink, and lippe cat and tinkling with small Swarovski chandelier beads — helped make this a first-rate collection. “It’s Miss Marple goes to Florence — with a little Glam Rock thrown in the middle,” said the designer backstage after the show. “They’re clothes you can actually wear. I’m developing my style. I can make lots of different things, you know.”

Basso & Brooke: They’re very naughty boys. Brazilian-born Bruno Basso and British Christopher Brooke, partners in business and life, called their show Succubus — and with good reason. Their spectacular cartoon prints were a spicy, sinister mix of “Yellow Submarine,” the Brothers Grimm and the local XXX shop: topless ladies emerging from shark’s noses, partying dogs and rats, mechanical fish and comically disembodied breasts. Finally, there was that mythical blonde bombshell Rapunzel, orange flames licking the ends of her long, wavy locks, on the back of a floor-sweeping coat dress. Though the patterns stood out, however, many of the silhouettes were tricky: leggings, fussy capelets and awkward pouf sleeves.

Basso & Brooke, winners of last season’s Fashion Fringe event, have also linked up with the Italian clothing manufacturer Aeffe, which will produce and distribute the collection starting this season. “There are no big strategies, no sales targets. This is not about marketing,” said Massimo Ferretti, who owns and runs Aeffe with his sister, designer Alberta Ferretti. “We’re having fun with fashion.”

Nicole Farhi: Nicole Farhi went to Russia — no, not the nation of overnight billionaires and their glittering companions — but the country once ruled by the Romanoffs in their regal style. “I saw the collection as very poetic,” Farhi said. “I had a picture of the Romanoff family in the studio and was inspired by their austerity and poise.”

The results were romantic and rich, with bottle green or claret taffeta dresses detailed with velvet bows at the waist, flower-printed silk crepe dresses with velvet trim and silk brocade pants and jackets. Dark sequins sewn on to diaphanous black blouses added a tiny bit of sparkle, while black lace sleeves on a blouse provided a touch of Tuesday Addams.

Temperley: Keep on knitting! Although Alice Temperley tried to infuse a little Spanish crackle and pop into her collection with embroidered, beaded shawls and long, tiered dresses, they simply paled in comparison to her sensual knitwear. There were liquid black wool dresses with deep V-necks and hot-pink intarsia patterns; lovingly crocheted evening dresses and smock tops with tie backs, and swingy black skirts with contrasting red pleats. Temperley’s coats, too, were a wonder. She punched up a black military number with hot pink piping and layered a black, waffle-textured wool coat over the luscious knits.

Ashish: Indian designer Ashish picked up his fashion wand and dusted his fall looks with sequins. The designer’s glittering collection featured deflated minipouf skirts, vintage sweatshirts with logos such as “Quality Is Caring” and sleeveless, diamanté-encrusted athletic tops overlaid with chiffon. He also showed plenty of graphic prints — musical notes, cigarettes, skeletons, children’s toys and colored cubes — which adorned everything from overcoats to poodle skirts to tracksuits.

Eleykishimoto Ellesse: Courrèges meets Chilly Willy the Penguin on the slopes of Saint Moritz. And believe it or not, it works. In their second season of a three-season deal designing for the Italian activewear label Ellesse, husband-and-wife team Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto gave ski slopes around the world some badly needed style. They splashed penguin, shooting-star and flame prints across everything from featherweight fleece and ski jackets to A-line skirts and ski overalls. Their marine blue Courrèges-style ski coat gave an urban edge to the standard ski suit, while their navy and white knee-skimming trench coats were young and sharply tailored.

Sinha-Stanic: Sinha-Stanic, the Fashion Fringe runner-up that also signed with Aeffe, steered clear of prints and color. Fiona Sinha and Aleksandar Stanic, who are also partners in life and work, kept it simple  — or so it seemed. The collection was based on Depression-era clothing and featured clean shapes: skirt, coat and pinafore dresses in shades of cream, gray, khaki and purple. At a closer glance, however, distinctive details were everywhere: knotted shoulder ties on strappy satin tops, sequins — in the shape of an apron — on the front of a pinafore dress and intricate beading around the hemline of slip skirts.

Giles Deacon: “The collection doesn’t really have a theme. I just wanted to explore old-school, traditional couture and tailoring techniques and play with proportions,” said Deacon a few days before his spare, elegant show on Wednesday night. And he was true to his word. After seasons of overstyling his sharply cut, dramatic pieces on the runway, Deacon got to straight to the point, sending out a collection that oozed sophistication from every seam. Black velvet chain-link patterns wound their way around sharply tailored, nip-waisted jackets, while pencil skirts and trapeze jackets were cut from ponyskin. 

But the collection, worn on the catwalk by the likes of Eva Herzigova and Karen Elson, wasn’t all sharp angles. Some of the structured wool jackets had puffed, twisted velvet sleeves. Voluminous black velvet capes and French highwayman’s coats with velvet pouf sleeves were dramatic but unfussy. Deacon, whose clients include Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, also unveiled evening gowns, including curve-hugging black knits, flowing jersey dresses with cutouts and strapless crepe ball gowns cinched at the waist with velvet bows.

Aquascutum: The British brand that built a name on rain-repellent wool coats back in the days of Queen Victoria just got a hit of youth serum. Founded in 1851 by John Emary and now owned by the Japanese company Renown, the brand is best known for its Aquascutum London collection of well-tailored suits, dresses and trenches in fabulous fabrics. Now designers Michael Herz and Graeme Fidler are turning the fashion volume up a notch with a line called simply Aquascutum — a collection inspired by British men’s tailoring and London street style. The debut runway show was a mixture of structure and drape with sexy, fitted tailored jackets and pants or pencil skirts worn with corsets, unlined, washed silk trenches and Fifties-style prom dresses with tulle petticoats that can be worn on the inside or the outside of the skirts. “We want to raise the profile of the brand and carry the business forward for another 150 years,” said Fidler. Herz added, “In a few seasons’ time, we’d like to see this on the catwalk with bits of the main line mixed in.” The women’s wear currently sells at Harrods and at the London flagship at 100 Regent Street and, inspired by the success of another venerable rainwear company, the firm is hoping to broaden its wholesale base with the new collection.

Clements Ribeiro: Life’s a rose garden for design duo Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro, who sent out pieces with flower motifs that were bigger and bolder than ever this season. Big appliquéd red roses flourished, embroidered onto black flamenco-style dresses, wool sweaters and sheer chiffon tops, while sprigs of black sequins sprouted on toggle-front red sweaters. Colorful bouquet prints bloomed over black blouson sweaters, smart tailored coats and the label’s signature tea dresses. “Our inspirations were Frieda Kahlo and Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead,” Ribeiro said after the show, which also featured coats, shorts and skirts in heavy wool fabrics such as flannel. The flapper dresses, however, looked flimsy and insubstantial up close.

Eley Kishimoto: Gone are the whimsical jungle motifs, the primary colors, the batik fabrics and, in their place, something far more sinister has crept in. The design duo of Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto covered their Empire-waist dresses and liquid silk skirts with prints of disembodied teardrops and locks of Rapunzel-like blonde curls, tangled branches and bunches of flowers from a creepy enchanted forest. “We were thinking of fables, a princess who leaves her castle and climbs down a cobbled hill into an enchanted forest,” said Eley. Before the princess takes the plunge, however, she wears clothes that are rich and sophisticated — fit for any house with a drawbridge and a few turrets. There were gold brocade dresses with velvet bows at the waist, belted plaid coats, and sweet, low-waisted velvet and flower-print silk dresses.

Camilla Staerk: Her muse was Ariane from the 1976 French film “La Maîtresse,” the story of a prostitute who works at grand estates by day — and inhabits an S&M dungeon by night. So it’s no wonder that Danish designer Camilla Staerk mixed hard leather looks and soft shapes in her fall collection. For day, there were prim, pretty dresses, pencil-skirted numbers in shades of berry and black lace and floaty black-and-white tea dresses. Evening, however, was much more fun. Staerk showed off her leather-cutting skills — and love of rocker Siouxie Sioux — with black puffball skirts, sharp bustier dresses, tapered pants, cropped dinner jackets and ultra-high-waisted, ruched pencil skirts. Her woolens showed just as much expertise: Cropped sweaters were detailed with her motif of the moment, a leaping black panther.

FrostFrench: Cocktails in a church? Leave it to FrostFrench, where the spectacle often takes place off — rather than on — the runway. This time around, however, Sadie Frost and Jemima French showed one of their best clothing collections since they set up their business in 1999. The venue was St. Mary Magdalene Church in West London, the theme was Russian-peasant chic, but the collection was actually fit for a tsarina. The designers showed sheer, lustrous, puff-shouldered blouses that came in gold, purple and electric blue, Fair Isle sweaters and plenty of chunky knits. The long, fitted evening dresses came in jade silk brocade or crushed, rose-colored velvet, and they were worn under sequined bolero-jackets trimmed with fake fur. The presentation took place against the backdrop of a winter-wonderland of fake snow, Christmas lights, and the strains of Kate Bush’s Eighties song “Babushka.”

Ghost: The spirit of Stevie Nicks in her Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” days hovered over the collection that Tanya Sarne turned out for fall. There were velvet brocade jackets and coats in shades of claret, navy and black, peasant dresses galore — some dotted with diamanté sparkles — and lean, liquid trouser suits fashioned from Sarne’s signature viscose or velvet. When Nicks’ spirit departed, flapper girls came roaring in instead, wearing olive-toned, low-waisted dresses, some of them over knits. “It was Twenties, Forties, Seventies — Morocco in the Seventies —mixed all together, and I hope I came out with something very modern,” Sarne said.

Jessica Ogden: The designer who has built her business on sweet sailor dresses, flapper-inspired silhouettes and comfortable homegrown knits took a trip to the South of France for fall. But the land that fired the imaginations of Gauguin and van Gogh didn’t exactly bring out the best in Ogden. Her painter’s smock jackets paired with voluminous circle skirts made her models look like Christmas trees, while the patchwork pants with elasticized hems were equally unflattering. Some delicate, printed cotton dresses, however, peeked from between all the patchwork, quilted shawls and flowing handkerchief blouses on the runway — and hopefully there are more of those frocks back in the showroom.

A Dark Spell

There was a sinister undercurrent in the London collections this season, with damsels in distress, dungeons, dragons and the odd skeleton creeping into many of the collections. “Fashion has been flirty, feminine and pretty for so long, it’s refreshing to be dark,” said Inacio Ribeiro, whose  Clements Ribeiro collection this season was inspired in part by the “Day of the Dead” and Wednesday Addams. “We had a great desire to be black and moody, verging on the sinister. It just felt right.” To wit, a skeleton dressed as a musketeer adorned one of the house’s black slip dresses, and models wore earrings with dangling clay skeletons, while one jacket featured a black skull wearing a white top hat.

Meanwhile, there were skeletons in Ashish’s closet, too. A full-size, multicolored skeleton design covered a black tracksuit, while smaller sequined versions sparkled on lavender sweatshirts. Basso & Brooke and Eley Kishimoto, both known for their thought-provoking prints, were inspired this season by Rapunzel in the tower. The former showed an image of orange flames licking at the ends of the princess’ hair on the back of a coatdress, while the latter used Rapunzel’s blonde curls  — and tears — as a motif for dresses and skirts. Camilla Staerk was also in a sinister mood, sending out prints of a black panther crawling through tangled leaves. “It’s my dark little universe, but not in a pessimistic way,” she said.

Get Into the Groove

They’re not exactly what you’d call fun furs, but Hockley’s new 20-piece collection designed by Clements Ribeiro is sure to put a smile on the faces of fur fans — and make a few new ones. The line, which made its showroom debut during London Fashion Week, has a young look and a groovy, flea-market vibe. “We set out to create fur coats for women who’ve never worn fur before,” said Inacio Ribeiro. “When I design, I think like a fur virgin, which means nothing fancy — no twisting, melting or overdyeing. I just want fresh and modern.” To wit, the duo’s black overcoat looks at first as if it’s made of wool, but it’s actually sheared mink. A short, black-and-white fox jacket has a bright purple velvet belt tied at the waist, while a white bleached mink jacket looks fine with — or without — its black dyed fox tippet. The old-Hollywood-style printed fox wrap can be draped over anything from a pair of jeans to an Oscar gown.

Retail prices range from about $1,134 for a rabbit capelet to $8,500 for the black sheared mink overcoat. The collection will be on sale at Hockley’s store on London’s Conduit Street, and the British fur company is aiming to sell to specialty stores in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. Ribeiro, who featured a handful of furs in the Clements Ribeiro ready-to-wear collection, believes fur is the new cashmere. “There was a time when young women didn’t wear cashmere sweaters,” he said. “Then there was a revolution, and today everyone has two or three — or 20. Very soon, we’ll be used to the idea of having two or three furs in the closet.”

Links to other Fall 2005 Reviews:
The Reviews – Fall 2005: New York
The Reviews – Fall 2005: Milan
The Reviews – Fall 2005: Paris