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The Late, the Great, And the Plumb Wonderful

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page C01

NEW YORK, Feb. 9 -- Two days have passed since the Marc Jacobs fall 2005 show, and folks are still puzzling over the nearly two-hour wait that preceded it. Four days after the mayhem at the Baby Phat fashion show, one wonders why anyone bothered to go at all. Two days after Oscar de la Renta presented his collection, one continues to marvel at the designer's ability to create clothes that are desperately beautiful and utterly ageless. And one day after the Narciso Rodriguez show, one still can't forget his exquisite strawberry-colored evening gown with its tiny, raspberry-hued jacket.

Fashion is a curious business in which the most fragile companies often behave in the most professional manner and those with deep pockets allow themselves to be overtaken by chaos. Lamé and metallic brocade are so ubiquitous this season that one wonders if some fabric mill was giving it away by the bolt. Paris Hilton won't go away and neither will her dog, and the photographers can't resist taking their 1,599th picture of them both.


Marc Jacobs's dresses flared away from the body and were embellished with fabric rosettes. (Maria Valentino - for The Washington Post)

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Michael Jackson,Tailoring His Defense (The Washington Post, Feb 4, 2005)
Lang and Lacroix, Cutting Some Threads (The Washington Post, Jan 28, 2005)
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But first, let's discuss the toilet.

Kohler Co. signed on as a sponsor of Fashion Week and unveiled its Purist Hatbox toilet Tuesday afternoon. The event was a cocktail reception to toast the toilet, and although it conflicted with the Marc by Marc Jacobs presentation, it seemed to be the better choice. Marc is just another secondary collection aimed at lithe young women. (And given Jacobs's history, one might be waiting until pigs fly before the first frock appeared on the runway.) The Purist Hatbox is an impressive commode. It sells for almost $3,000. It has no visible tank and it will never run after it has been flushed in the way that toilets always seem to. Here was a splendid marriage of form and function and one did not have to muscle through an army of Paris Hilton-hunting paparazzi to get a good glimpse.

There are those who would argue that a toilet -- as a design statement -- has no place in Fashion Week. But in truth, it offered more design finesse than plenty of the garments on the catwalk. Richard Tyler was hired by Delta to redesign its uniforms and he sent the results of his labor down the runway Friday. A quick chat with a couple of Delta employees in attendance found them giddy over the red taffeta wrap dresses. But their highest praise seemed to be that the Tyler uniforms were better than the ones they currently wear, which, considering the staid state of airline uniforms, doesn't seem to be high praise.

Tyler also managed to sneak a few pastel, draped evening gowns from his signature collection onto the runway. But in the midst of all the uniforms, rolling bags and flight attendant wings, one wondered if the gowns were intended for those after-5 transatlantic flights.

Nicole Miller presented her collection before Fashion Week officially kicked off Friday. It was a mix of heavy, metallic fabrics in deep hues that were ruched and crinkled and inset with lace and adorned with embroidery. The silhouettes offered no hint of the reputation she established way back when for a sexy cocktail dress or the perfect party frock. This is a high-end collection that incorporates fur and other pricey materials. But money doesn't buy elegance, and that's what this collection lacked.

At Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons there was the usual madness of clogged entryways, surly security guards and power-tripping, clipboard-wielding flackettes.

The clothes were a mix of miniskirts and blazers cut from menswear fabrics, look-at-me furs, velvet jackets with satin lapels and slashed patent leather trousers that make the wearer look as though she were on the losing end of a knife fight. The show, however, is more about entertaining the friends of the house than presenting a serious collection of clothes. And the friends of the house are there to entertain the members of the fashion industry, since there are essentially no clothes on the runway. And so it seems fair -- maybe even mandatory -- to mention a particularly fetching blonde wearing a silk jersey blouse that was open to her waistband. Defying all the laws of physics thanks to several pieces of double-sided tape, the shirt never slipped and this supremely confident woman never once checked to ensure that all was where it should be.

Through the cacophony of toilet parties and cleavage gone wild, however, emerge the splendor of de la Renta and Rodriguez. In his runway show Monday afternoon de la Renta offered ikat printed shearling coats, metallic brocade skirts that hovered gently around the hips, exquisite evening coats sprinkled with jet beads, sweater coats trimmed in sable, wool skirts with gold embroidery and light-as-air, crystal-studded evening gowns.

De la Renta creates clothes that a young woman can wear without appearing dowdy and an older woman can embrace without looking silly. His point of view is pure sophistication and good taste, femininity and prettiness. There are no tricks. The clothes do not cultivate the insecurity that leads a woman to fret about the right hemline, this season's color or the hottest silhouette. They are rooted in classic shapes and techniques. The fabrics are fluid and even elaborate embroidery is applied with lightness and delicacy.

De la Renta's design sensibility relies on the philosophy that all women -- no matter their age -- want to look lovely. There are times when a young woman may want to look hip, androgynous or edgy. And for that she will seek out a different designer. An older woman may at times want to look like a powerbroker. There are other houses that cater to that. But the desire to be pretty extends across all generations. An older woman might want sleeves on her dress. A younger woman might want a slit to rise a little higher. Those are details. De la Renta's bold strokes can charm them both.

Rodriguez's clothes do not have the same ageless quality, in part because they are more revealing and body-conscious. But the collection he showed Tuesday night was filled with confident silhouettes, welcome bursts of color such as lilac and pink, and his signature seams and cutouts that tease and caress the female figure.

Some designers take classic shapes, shuffle them like a deck of cards and deal them out in random form. A Rodriguez dress seems to begin as a simple curve, perhaps a crescent cutout just above the breast. It leads to a dart that curves around the torso and it is connected to a seam that slithers along the hips. And out of those connections emerges a low-slung silver skirt with a cropped blazer that fits snug to the chest. It leads to a herringbone coat with a curvaceous shape and winking slits across the bodice.


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