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THE RUNWAYS: NEW YORK

Carolina Herrera, Donna Karan, Von Furstenberg and Juan Carlos Obando get touchy

Collections have a tactile feel.

September 15, 2009|BOOTH MOORE | FASHION CRITIC

NEW YORK — Many of the spring clothes designers are showing this week have a tactile appeal. Maybe it's a signal that we're searching for more depth in fashion, something to touch and feel, not just to look at and discard after one season. Of course, it also helps to justify a high price tag -- because you can actually see the work.

The new summer suit as a trend came into focus at Carolina Herrera on Monday, where a sinewy rope-weave raffia vest was paired with linen shorts. Herrera's collection had an organic sensibility and was free of any strict theme. Working in a palette of ivory, amber, redwood, rose and caramel, she focused instead on workmanship.

An ivory fils coupe, or cut thread, raffia blouse had the coarse look of handmade paper, cinched with a redwood leather rope belt over a pencil skirt in a tile-like Jacquard. And a draped front, rose-colored fils coupe chiffon cocktail dress fell in shiny rivulets. Even a brown and silver brush-stroke Jacquard tea-length dress appeared to have texture.

Donna Karan's collection had a similar earthy spirit, with fabrics seemingly weathered by the elements. Here, the suit was cut close to the body in pumice-colored, crushed and scratched canvas or storm-blue whirled tulle. And dresses came in silk, painted to look like the sky, or in fire-colored taffeta.

At the lower end of the designer price scale, there was also a craftsy feel at Diane von Furstenberg's "Queen of the Desert" collection, including a chubby jacket in cream shredded chiffon that resembled feathers, and a black macrame shift dress. The mood was accentuated by woven bangles and rainbow metallic basket weave leather hobo bags.

Von Furstenberg has a lock on the globe-trotting gypsy look, which she channeled into layers of sunset-colored mosaic and palm tree prints, beaded and embroidered to the hilt.

But beneath the tribal drumbeat, there were lots of wearable basics, including silk anoraks in brown or burnt orange, gently gathered at the back, that could represent the evolution of fall's boyfriend jacket.

"The end of the Old West and the beginning of the new frontier" was the inspiration for Los Angeles designer Juan Carlos Obando's spring collection. With Elmer Bernstein's theme from "The Magnificent Seven" on the soundtrack, you might have expected a cowgirl romp.

But Obando had something more sophisticated in mind: strong, sculpted peplum jackets and sexy skirts, slit high up the side, hand-washed, broiled (yes, broiled) and pigmented to sun-bleached and weathered effect.

Working with lightweight silk that took on a stiff, waxy sheen that could almost have been mistaken for leather, Obando imbued the clothes with a sense of history. The colors -- shades of sand, terra cotta, gray, brown, violet and blue -- recalled the burnished landscape of the California desert. And though the skirts might have a limited life beyond the runway, there were more versatile pieces (low-slung pants and lightweight coats).

For evening, out came short dresses with micro-pleating, in beautiful sunset shades of green, orange and violet.

Obando's dedication to handcraft is undeniable (and similar to that of the Rodarte sisters, those other L.A. designers). But it seemed to come at the expense of creating a well-rounded collection. What he did show was impressive, but he could have used another idea or two.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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