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The New Deconstructionists

Rebel designers restyle old garments and poke fun at fashion genres.


NEW YORK — In February, when the Spanish-born Miguel Adrover sent down the runway an iconic Burberry trench coat that had been ripped apart and sewn back together as a dress, it was one of those big fashion moments. Suddenly, after only his second show, the designer was the next big thing, and journalists and editors who hadn't set a stilettoed foot into the community theater on the Lower East Side where the now-famous dress made its debut were bragging about having been there when Adrover was "discovered."

Deconstructing a Burberry last season and fashioning a miniskirt out of an old Louis Vuitton bag in his first runway show the season before that may have made Adrover famous, but his new collection shown Sunday proved he is not just a one-trick pony. For spring, he's gone beyond the notion of deconstructing a single piece to deconstructing genres of American fashion design, especially those of one of this country's fashion icons, Ralph Lauren.

Adrover, 31, who has no formal fashion schooling, is one of several designers known as deconstructionists because they break down a garment such as a coat into its components and reassemble them into another form. The same urge to pull apart and put back together inspired 20th Century artists and today's DJs who sample music. Deconstructionism in fashion , which has languished since the early 1990s when it was first embraced by Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester, is being rediscovered by some young designers.

Eager to prove he can be a commercial designer since American luxury conglomerate Pegasus Apparel Group acquired his company in April, Adrover featured an immensely wearable spring collection of nautical, military, prairie-western and hip-hop looks. "It's evident he wants to branch out and make his collection a little more accessible," said Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising at Barneys New York, which carries his clothes.

Adrover's ivory-and-navy-blue lightweight silk wrap dress that tied on the side was feminine and pretty. The American West was evoked in a cape made from a colorful quilt. A hand-painted silk shirt that read "Marlboro" across the front was reminiscent of a weathered pack of smokes. Adrover sent boom box-carrying models down the runway in baggy jean shorts, sleeveless plaid reconstructed shirts and doo-rags, poking fun at Lauren and other high fashion designers' attempts to co-opt the streetwear market.

Adrover, who will be showing his fall line at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills Wednesday, presented plenty of flat-front army green pants and jackets festooned with medals. His truly deconstructed garments were confined to a backward coat dress created from distressed GI jackets and a few other pieces.

By breaking down the elements of fashion and reconstructing them, deconstructionists have forced a reexamination of how clothes are worn and made, and what indeed a designer does. With Adrover, the workmanship is obvious. But with the Imitation of Christ collection, it was difficult to discern the actual work of designers Tara Subkoff, 28, and Matt's Damhave, 21.

The Los Angeles duo presented their first runway show Sunday--clothing found at Goodwill that was "crucified" with paint and scissors, resurrected and reconstructed. At the Peter Jarema Funeral Home in the East Village, models (some shedding real tears) marched up the "runway" to a coffin, paying their respects to a beautiful corpse (another model). A straight black Dior-like gown with a round collar encrusted with pearls and finished with a black bow was elegant.

Other pieces were, well, creepy. A shirt pinned with military badges looked as if it might have been rescued from a soldier who died in battle, and a braided sash fixed to a dress looked suspiciously like blond human hair. Subkoff described the line as "a tribute to an uncle who passed away last year."

Subkoff's friend, actress Chloe Sevigny, is the creative director of Imitation of Christ, and undoubtedly the 4-month-old line has garnered more than its fair share of newcomer buzz because of her celebrity. After the show, cameras snapped the too-cool-for-school Sevigny, dressed in black jeans bunched down over high-heeled shoes, a T-shirt pushed up to the elbows and a yachting cap emblazoned with a cross. "I thought it was very effective," said the calculatingly indifferent Sevigny of the show.

As so-called anti-fashionistas, the Imitation of Christ designers abhor the establishment that churns out commercially driven looks from the same designers--namely Prada and Gucci. And one wonders if Sevigny and friends were backstage, smoking and laughing about actually succeeding in luring that same establishment to a funeral parlor on a sunny Sunday afternoon for their little show.

Another designer who has taken deconstruction to the extreme is Susan Cianciolo, 37, who has been a mainstay of New York's downtown anti-fashion scene for 11 years. Her spring collection consisted of kits containing plain and homemade-looking skirts and shirts and embellishments--for users to create personalized pieces.

Cianciolo has "removed" the designer from the design process altogether--the ultimate form of deconstruction. An interesting intellectual exercise, but wouldn't it leave her out of a job? Not quite. The kits retail for $100 and up.

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