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Lanvin: Anyone who is searching out that elusive Parisian je ne sais quoi need look no further than the house of Lanvin. Alber Elbaz knows what, and if he could bottle the esprit of his exquisite spring collection, he’d be a gazillionaire. Jeanne Lanvin, the label’s namesake, did just that in 1925, when she launched her first perfume, My Sin. But while he plays off the moody sophistication of that heritage, Elbaz also does clothes there that are thoroughly his own. They’re of the moment, but full of character, like clothes with a backstory.

Elbaz’s main message was one of pumped-up volume, and though inflating their cuts is the way other designers have pushed the boundaries and been burned, with a little pouf here and a little puff there, Elbaz’s vision looked tantalizing. On top, he proposed a featherweight mock parka or a jacket cinched at the waist. Meanwhile, he tinkered with a variety of ample skirt silhouettes — from full circle skirts to those shaped like an upside-down champagne flute — because there are a multitude of ways to dress beautifully chez Lanvin. The original Lanvin once described her craft as a way to “contribute to the spell of femininity.” Come spring, Elbaz’s devoted clientele are sure to think they’ve died and gone to party-dress heaven. His were some of the best of the week, and included intricately sculpted, pleated dresses perfect for any goddess in training and those done in a loose, vaguely Twenties style.

Throughout it all, Elbaz maintained the luxe, the romance and the mysterious chic he’s brought to the brand. Madame Jeanne would have been proud.

Sonia Rykiel: With barefoot models flooding the runway in a love-fest finale, Sonia Rykiel capped a rollicking show that drew on peppy striped knits, frilly dresses and ethnic trimmings, from golden coins embroidered onto sweaters to tassels on knits. Hippie rainbows turned up on the busts of sweaters, while there was flower power in the prints on pretty chiffon dresses. But Rykiel also applied sequins to her signature black sweaters — one emblazoned with “Legend,” another with a skull — and added fluffy feathers to handkerchief skirts. It was upbeat and even a family affair: Three of Rykiel’s granddaughters joined the designer when she came out for a bow.

This story first appeared in the October 12, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Kenzo: In his second collection for this LVMH-owned house, Italian designer Antonio Marras poetically told another ethnic tale, this time inspired by the patterns, colors and intricate beading of Africa. A patchwork of prints appeared on a flowing dress, while wide ankle-length pants were worn cinched high on the waist and paired with a loose colorful blouse. Other members of his chic fashion tribe wore cropped jackets, teamed with jumbo-sized African jewelry. And to beat home the theme even further, a squadron of drummers filed onto the runway for an uplifting finale.

Cacharel: Inacio Ribeiro and Suzanne Clements have been whipping up young, fresh collections for Cacharel since they started designing for the firm a few years back. This season, their cheery sportswear had zip, too. African-style prints decorated dresses and jackets, and tops came with ethnic embroidery. Bright greens and blues gave pleated skirts energy, while tiered skirts paired with ruffled tops were in step with the trends. Tropical flowers emblazoned other confections and brocade added sophistication. It’s all sure to appeal to their youthful customers.

Martin Margiela: Imagine that you rolled out of bed in a hurry and put your sweater on upside down and your skirt on sideways. You wouldn’t think that it was much of a style statement. But this season, Martin Margiela certainly does. The conceptual Belgian turned his creations askew, creating one very strange — and difficult to wear — silhouette. Dresses, too, were slipped into sideways, becoming skirts with sleeves floating in the breeze on one side and hemlines sagging on the other. Some even came with steel hangers dangling from dress straps. While this was Margiela’s main theme, he also confected a dress out of dozens of pantyhose and cut off the sleeves of vintage-looking majorette jackets. Margiela’s quirky take on fashion has often left his audience bewildered, and is, as King Mongkut sang in “The King and and I,” “a puzzlement.”