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STYLE & CULTURE | SPRING 2004 COLLECTIONS

The end of mod

Marc Jacobs' flouncy florals and Nicole Miller's clingy rope-decorated dress shared runway space with other designers in New York. Some experimented with volume.

September 17, 2003|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

New York — New York

Marc JACOBS is one of the few American designers important enough to keep the fashion flock sweating. After an excruciating bout of humidity hit the city, show-goers were forced to trade their autumn tweeds for tank tops. Squeezed into packed bleachers at the New York Armory on Monday night, they were left to turn their programs into fans and watch makeup slide off of one another's faces as the show began an hour late.

But when model Gisele Bundchen stepped onto the runway to the backbeat of Beyonces "Crazy in Love," all was forgotten. This season Jacobs -- the consummate New Yorker -- made a U-turn from mod and headed straight to the country. Delicate silk floral blouses with fluttery sleeves were paired with linen shorts rolled up around the thighs, and sweet cashmere cardigans or cap-sleeved wrap sweaters topped lightly striped ivory seersucker pants. Worn with round-toed, lace-up ankle boots, silk floral sundresses had airy handkerchief hems and straps twisted into knots on the backs.

The collection -- in shades of wheat, petal pink, maize yellow and sage green -- was informed by a metropolitan sophistication. Jacobs introduced "denim tweed" made into a boxy jacket and a prairie skirt. A silver lame floral trench coat and more than one gauzy gown dusted with sequins in scalloped patterns were musts for burning up the barn dance floor.

Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera both have recently added young talent to their design teams and it showed, with fewer looks for the ladies who lunch and more for the ladies who do their socializing at cocktail hour.

Inspired by photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue's famous images of the French Riviera from the 1920s, Herrera used a palette of burnt orange, yellow, cream and navy blue to create daytime suits with wide Riviera pants and piped jackets. For her skinniest society clients, long skirts had patch pockets sitting unmercifully on the hips or vertical organza pleats that resembled Venetian blinds. For evening, it was time to tango in a lithe strapless silk gown with an abstract orange tulip print, or an ivory organza floor-sweeping dress with sienna embroidery.

De la Renta, like several others this season, experimented with volume, an idea explored in Paris last March when Rochas' Olivier Theyskens created dresses and jackets with rounded, almost hump backs, and puffed-up skirts like beehives with nipped-in wasp waists.

Here, de la Renta seemed to answer Rochas with a bouquet of romantic, flower-inspired designs in shocking pink, absinthe, turquoise, melon, sunny yellow and black. Tulle dresses had skirts so voluminous, they looked like flower bulbs; shredded silk chiffon resembled petals cascading down the front of long skirts, paired with cashmere cardigans edged in delicate fringe or tank tops edged in chiffon; and the beading and embroidery on a black tulle gown brought to mind flower filaments. There were tropical prints, too -- straight floral skirts in hot pink and white so pretty you wanted to pluck them off the runway.

It's always about Diane Von Furstenberg at Diane Von Furstenberg, where the famously jet-setting designer, married to media mogul Barry Diller, seemed inspired by her own lifestyle to create looks that went from the garden party to the tennis court to the yacht to the disco. But the wrap dresses, in pastel leopard chiffon, or a navy and white jersey, tie-dyed jeans, perforated leather tennis skirts, crocheted sweater coats and Cleopatra-esque gold jersey gowns weren't inspiring enough, and the line is starting to have a been-there-done-that feel.

Monique L'huillier, the Los Angeles-based bridal and evening wear designer, improved on her debut last season, offering several lively charmeuse gowns in an English garden floral print chiffon. But tweed seemed to be unfamiliar territory; and it felt a little too obviously derivative of Chanel.

Using the age-old shipwrecked theme, Nicole Miller reworked the captain's jacket into mini-dresses and skirts with brushed brass buttons, paired with fishnet tank tops. Chiffon gowns in an unimpressive rosebud chiffon were embellished with enough rope to, well, you know. Miller's show also boasted one of the most unusual celebrity front row lineups -- "24's" Sarah Wynter, Cyndi Lauper and Anthony Edwards, there to support his wife, makeup artist Jeanine Lobel. What ever did they talk about?

More cute than sweet, British designer Luella Bartley seems finally to have left the 1980s behind. This season, beach-ready miniskirts and flood pants came in white or mint green linen with cinched waists and knotted belt loops. A skirt was made by weaving together multicolored leather pieces, reminiscent of soda can tabs. The top of a tweed jacket was decorated with leather charms in the shapes of skulls, bones and guitars, which also dangled from chain belts and bags. The whole collection had a DIY (do it yourself) feel, which should appeal to the young set who like to personalize everything.

Then there's Miguel Adrover -- who soared after his 2000 debut, then crashed after he couldn't manage the sudden fame. Back on the runway after falling into virtual obscurity, he presented an homage to the tribes of life, with African-inspired robes in black and white draped over the head and around the body, beautifully cut cashmere pantsuits and a long brown feather skirt that was, as Vanity Fair fashion editor Elizabeth Saltzman put it, "beyond cool." Always working with a sense of humor, Adrover used UPS packing slips for invitations and sent a UPS delivery man down the runway, reminders of the less-than-subtle presence of corporate sponsors here this season. Adrover, who is showing just once a year for budgetary reasons, is truly talented. One hopes he is able to get his business off the ground so that this collection, unlike his previous one, isn't delivered to the Back Room of Loehmann's.

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