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{THE SPRING 2008 COLLECTIONS}

Alchemy And The American Dream

Ralph Lauren works his magic, while new players aim to take New York. At Fashion Week, the results look bright.

September 16, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — In a year full of fashion anniversaries -- Dior's 60th, Valentino's 45th -- nobody did it quite like Ralph Lauren, who marked his 40th with Fashion Week's most glittering and memorable event. Ralph Lifschitz became Ralph Lauren, America's self-made aristocrat, by selling the look of wealth to the everyman. And last weekend, after two years of planning, he celebrated with a show and dinner in the lush gardens of the Central Park Conservatory, not all that far from the border of the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and a who's who of media (Charlie Rose, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters) walked through the magnificent Vanderbilt Gate and into a Ralph Lauren wonderland of perfectly pitched tents, white-gloved waiters and Champagne that managed to stay chilled even on a late summer's night.

Lauren, whose currency is nostalgia, could have served up quite a retrospective, spinning through "The Great Gatsby," "Out of Africa," the rugged terrain of the Rockies or his beloved Southwest. But instead, he chose a clever riff on the equestrian lifestyle that has figured so prominently in his success, with enough candy colors and youthful energy to set him on a course for another 40 years.

Inspired by a day at the races, he contrasted sexy, Edwardian tailoring -- a black silk riding jacket over pink stretch jodhpurs embellished with crystals and etched in a Ralph Lauren script -- with flouncy floral gowns, all accessorized with Philip Treacy's madcap hats. A black drop waist sweater dress with a pleated skirt even looked a bit naughty with taxicab yellow and black riding boots, and that pink, equestrian print taffeta jacket? Instantly collectible.

After a tuxedo-clad Lauren took his bow to Sinatra's "The Best Is Yet to Come," the back wall of the tent opened onto a twinkling terraced garden where tents were hung with chandeliers. Every detail was perfect, and nobody seemed to mind lingering in Lauren's dream world for a while.

The only thing missing was Gatsby himself.

THE UPSTARTS

ELSEWHERE, the week belonged to the next generation of American designers struggling to survive four years, never mind 40. As for the trends, color is important for spring, especially citrus shades. A new, longer line silhouette emerged with long jackets or anoraks worn over full-length draped jersey day dresses and floor-sweeping, spiral-seamed skirts at Richard Chai. Soft lingerie looks in the form of silk bed jackets, pajama pants and draped, corseted slip dresses were all over the place, especially at Max Azria and Doo Ri. Tribal and safari details were also a major theme on an embroidered medallion miniskirt and black-and-white ikat shorts at Derek Lam, and safari-style waistcoats in other collections.

Everyone was buzzing about the Rodarte sisters Laura and Kate Mulleavy, who certainly seem to have grown up. Inspired by color-soaked animation cells (and a recent trip to Disneyland), their fairy-tale gowns were exquisitely worked with undulating ripples, pinked edges, peek-a-boo lace inlays, silk vines and flowers. The Pasadena sisters delved into day wear for the first time with voluminous jackets in tweed or layered organza daubed with watery color, knife-pleat skirts and skinny pants with ripples of chiffon. And they kept things from being too sweet with edgy color-dipped ponytails, thorny, studded stilettos and rocker chic cellophane dresses.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler are the other darlings of the New York fashion scene. And though their bobby caps and flippy skirts might have looked a little too familiar (Balenciaga anyone?), their collection was still a knockout with sleeveless hemp linen safari vests layered over waistcoats, and jackets embroidered like abstract wood cuts. (We saw a similar ethnic vibe at Diane von Furstenberg, where a South Pacific theme bore a totem-print dress and Shantung safari wrap.) Proenza's workmanship reached new heights on a cocktail dress with allover gold leaf embroidery and an evening coat coated in tiny plastic "feathers," suggesting good things ahead for the duo now that they have received an investment from Valentino's fashion group.

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