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Win-Lose-Whim Starts Big Week

Von Furstenberg mixes styles well, Sarafpour disappoints, IOC amuses


NEW YORK--Although Fashion Week hadn't officially started at the Bryant Park tents, the spring 2003 collections were launched here with a smattering of designers, some renegades, showing around the city Tuesday.

Diane von Furstenberg's collection could have careened out of control faster than Martha Stewart's career with such disparate references as Sandra Dee, Sailor Jerry tattoos, Bollywood and Studio 54. Luckily, her disciplined hand kept things together on the runway at her Meatpacking District studio.

Pieces such as a red-and-black heart tattoo-print chiffon shirtdress; a black matte jersey, '50s-style dance dress with a full skirt and contrasting white trim; and a blue ombre wrap dress that was a clever take on a sari proved once again that Von Furstenberg is the master mixer of sexy and sweet. She knows what she's good at and what her customer has come to expect, and wisely she doesn't often deviate.

Behnaz Sarafpour, on the other hand, is still figuring out what kind of designer she wants to be. Those hoping for more of the understated elegance she demonstrated in her fall collection presented in February (silk, bias-cut gowns and boxy, quilted jackets with pretty flower piping, for example) will be disappointed by this follow-up presented around the corner from Von Furstenberg.

Sarafpour, who also designs the Barneys New York collection, seemed to present the two sides of the 1960s beginning with Courreges-like mini-dresses in black and white, some with flutter sleeves and others worn with gold chain-mail bibs or belts. The Space Age faded into the Age of Aquarius with canvas jackets and pants and silk dresses hand-painted in Starburst shades of pink, blue, orange, green and yellow for a tie-dye effect. Although her hippie-chick separates will no doubt be salable, particularly to the Roberto Cavalli-wearing set, the collection as a whole didn't seem as special as Sarafpour's previous three efforts.

The clothes were beside the point on East 57th Street, where the merry pranksters from Imitation of Christ were up to their old tricks. For its latest act of fashion disobedience, the design collective whose members include founder Tara Subkoff and actress Chloe Sevigny brought the show to the street, filling the windows of the Maurice Villency furniture store with tarted-up models in the usual--reworked thrift-store finds. The show was billed as a retrospective and set up much like an art gallery opening, complete with a performance piece--topless models vacuuming. (You can't make this stuff up.)

Passersby were almost as confused as invited guests. "I think this is Fashion Week in New York," said Gerrie Licausi, an interior designer from Long Island who was strolling past the scene with her husband. Asked if she had ever heard of Imitation of Christ, she said, "I think I had the book when I was a kid."

Vicky Kerner, a physician in Manhattan, stopped for a gander at the bare gams. "What can I think?" she said. "I'm fat and old!"

Imitation of Christ held its first show in a Metro station in L.A. in 2000 and has since staged happenings at a Lower East Side funeral parlor and at Chelsea Market, where the models were seated in the audience critiquing guests in a fashion-show role reversal. In 2001, IOC produced a short film featuring famous pals such as Reese Witherspoon and Lisa Marie that juxtaposed the excesses of a movie premiere with the exploitation of workers in sweatshops. It was shown at a Midtown theater during Fashion Week.

Much of the fashion media balk at having to indulge the antics of IOC, which doesn't have wide distribution or sales.

Maybe so, but if you ask me, the group is a healthy reminder that nobody should take fashion too seriously.

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