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Two get the heart beating

September 18, 2006|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — This wasn't the season for reinvention in the American fashion industry. A full, billowy dress is still a must-have item for spring, along with miniskirts, short shorts and new, longer jackets. Layering is still in, with dresses worn under dresses and leggings under skirts. Yellow, blue, white and black are the hot colors. The world of dance was a common point of inspiration along with flowers, which influenced silhouettes as well as turning up as trim.

And, of course, romance was the word on everyone's lips as the spring collections ended with two top-notch shows, one from a young gun, the other from an old pro.

At Zac Posen's star-studded show on Thursday night, Diddy paced the runway like a nervous dad, shaking hands and darting backstage at the last minute to offer good luck. But the music mogul and financial backer of Posen's line needn't have worried. Because this was the young designer's best collection and one of the most blissfully creative of the week, inspired by a kooky collision of Japanese design and Esther Williams glamour.

Posen came onto the scene five years ago making party dresses for Claire Danes and other downtown celebutantes. More wearable, salable pieces always seemed to be an afterthought. But by opening his show with a sharp-shouldered white suit with impeccably tailored high-waist pants and a ruffled champagne silk blouse, he seemed to be announcing to the fashion crowd that he had grown up. He went on to offer plenty of pieces that could easily be integrated into a woman's wardrobe or paired with jeans, including a lovely sheer organza blouse with layered sleeves and a deconstructed military jacket with all of the buttons moved to one side. The models' slicked-back hair added an air of sophistication too.

Dresses went from the simple (an oyster satin shift with a swinging cowl back and a black tuxedo kimono dress with a white satin sash) to the sublime (a fuchsia duchesse satin pouf with rosettes around the hem and a flapper style with looped fringe in ocean blues). It's true, Posen occasionally tricks things out too much, and the gilded flower cage dress he ended with was probably overkill. But at 25, he can be forgiven for still indulging in a childish fantasy.

Ralph Lauren's collections have always been about understated elegance, but in this season of fussy white lace and organza dresses it was especially nice to see his brand of simplicity, which began with tailored black pants, a black polo shirt and a straw Panama hat. His story for spring, set in colonial Africa and India, unfolded in black and white with a loose tunic top worn under a pinstripe vest with cream linen pants, a graphic serape and an embroidered cheesecloth skirt paired with the simplest of linen jackets.

For evening, a white linen tuxedo shirt dress was the definition of luxury at ease, as were white shirts paired with a beaded skirt or brocade pants. But the final looks in antique platinum lame were unforgettable. A floor-sweeping shirtdress with puffed sleeves was a piece of jewelry unto itself.

It was a surprise to see Donna Karan change courses so quickly after her sleek, body-conscious fall collection. The group of slouchy jersey dresses with big pockets that opened her show looked promising, but then she traveled to the Middle East with flowing caftans in earthy colors worn over skinny pants, and droopy tent dresses. A coat in an ombre tribal stripe was cool, as were wedge sandals with sculptural Lucite heels, but they didn't fit with spring's romantic trend or push things in a new and interesting direction. The week's most forward-thinking designers brought the silhouette closer to the body (with a couple even bringing back Karan's revolutionary body suit), and it would have been nice to see her weigh in on the subject.

Similarly, at Calvin Klein, Francisco Costa was on a roll last season with his sophisticated suits and dresses with intricate chevron beading winning favor from retailers and celebrities alike. But for spring, he took a totally different tack with a nearly all-white collection that was so cold it was practically institutional. He drew loosely from sports, with layered tank dresses with circle cutouts over the hips so complicated they looked like they'd require a playbook to put on and pants with waistbands as wide as a boxer's prize belt. There were tent dresses with randomly placed pleats, worn with nurse-like white stretch leather platform booties. And when there was color, it was a neon yellow tank top and skirt with a transistor board texture or a sea-foam green chiffon cloud of a dress -- not the kind of clothes that flatter.

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