Wallflowers Not Welcome

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The New York Sun

Creating clothing for women who possess self-confidence in the extreme is surely a fashion designer’s best-case scenario. Such women are prepared to take risks in shape and color — or to flout convention entirely.

Which is probably what it takes to wear Marc Jacobs’s strapless puffy dress with short nylon strips. Or a dress with a bodysuitlike torso in lavender matte jersey from Bill Blass. Or a nearly shapeless dress of wrinkled linen gauze by Max Azria. But such edge-pushing is what makes fashion worth taking about — and it’s what made these three shows among the most visually interesting of the week so far.

The Marc Jacobs show took place at the Lexington Avenue Armory, transformed into a fantasy world. As the show began, the scene looked like a through-the-looking-glass version of the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene from the ballet “La Bayadere.” In the ballet, a long row of women wearing the identical white tutus files onstage slowly from a ramp at the back of the stage. At the fashion show, a row of women in an assortment of white, cream, and black outfits entered the runway from a ramp hidden by a set of simple hills. But here, the location seemed to be an island in outer space (as suggested by silver space caps on the models’ heads, plus a sea of blue pebbles under a green platform runway) — rather than a clearing in the underworld.

As for the clothing, many pieces required the aforementioned confidence. A silver sequined material with sparkling color was used for a high-necked blouse, as well as for an entire dress. Wallflowers need not apply.

Several pairs of pants enveloped the models with an unfortunate pear, or tulip, shape.But overall, this collection offered beautiful dresses that incorporated high-minded design. Skirts were adorned with layers upon layers of fabric, some with appliqué, some with embroidery, some with extra ruffles. It could easily appear too much, but instead, it was a feast for the eyes. As if to acknowledge the need for balance, several simple T-shirt dresses — some with tie-dyed designs, others with silver stripes and capelike sides — were shown.

Glamour, though, reigned at Bill Blass. There, a different sort of confidence was called for — one as dramatic as it was alluring. Designer Michael Vollbracht again exhibited his ability to translate lines on the drawing board into three-dimensional sass.

While the shapes of the suits or halter dresses were not necessarily new, the body-conscious lines and bold color choices produced maximum energy. These are classics with an edgy air of urgency.

Day looks included a belted skirt suit in dark blue linen and a natural linen dress with embroidery. Several matte jersey gowns in solid colors gave an updated verve to the familiar fabric. Evening dresses made for stunning confections, including a lavender silk chiffon gown with a giant paisley print and a halter dress with a thin blue bodice and a cascade of blue-on-white printed silk chiffon. The show ended with a sumptuous wedding gown that featured a sheer, embroidered layer over a slim-fitting gown.

An entirely different mood was in the air at Max Azria, the higherconcept and higher-priced line that complements the more commercial BCBG Max Azria. Slouchy, draping dresses and voluminous skirts disguised the models’ rail thin bodies. The loose, almost shapeless pieces were made in fabrics complex with texture and finish.

One dress of tan striped gauze stood out for its trappings of tradition; the gathers in the back and buttons at the front belied the unformed shape.A gown of silk and linen gauze featured a ruffle at the bottom, but its oddball beauty was in the otherwise total absence of convention. In look after look, the message seemed to be: This is not really a dress; just fabric wrapped around a body. Sometimes it worked. At other times it was unclear how — or where — a nonmodel might wear these pieces.

In more conventional looks, Tibi stood out with a spring collection dominated by ’70s exuberance. Off-shoulder collars and doubled elastic belts with everything gave the clothes a sense of free-spirited fun. Several dresses offered excellent options for summer parties. One silk dress in a vertical brown and white stripe print ended in a hem of bright flowers; another green and white graphic print made for an op-art gown that screamed: rock star girlfriend.

At Chaiken, the collection seemed to suffer from mission creep. Neon-colored silk shorts and tunics contrasted with a long series of white and black tuxedo looks — some with shorts, some with long pants.While some pieces — including a jacket with an A-line back and a belted front — stood out with strength, the collection lacked a cohesive statement.

The New York Sun

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