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The Late, the Great, And the Plumb Wonderful

The fashion industry likes rapid change, and it may be that Rodriguez will feel pressure to make some drastic shifts, to careen foolishly left or right. One hopes that he will stay on the same path -- with its gentle curves and calm rises -- and see where it ultimately leads.

Although de la Renta and Rodriguez have presented the most enticing collections so far, other designers have found admirable inspiration in metallic fabrics and Russian imagery. Tracy Reese continues to hone her vintage sensibility with pleated skirts and Peter Pan-collared coats. She uses wallpaper pattern brocades to bring a richness to a collection that is not overly dependent on beading and embroidery for its panache. At Tuleh, Bryan Bradley is moving away from the uptown restraint that has defined his collection and roughs up his chiffon dresses with frayed edges. His silver lamé skirt is crinkled and unkempt. He uses camouflage prints for his crisp trousers and even dyes a chinchilla vest pale blue as proof that nothing is too precious to be manipulated, damaged or disrespected.

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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Matthew Williamson cuts cadet jackets from gold brocade in a collection made much more enticing by his restraint. Williamson is known for his bold use of color, and his collections have often been a dizzying kaleidoscope of incongruous pink, blue, purple, yellow and any other color in the crayon box. For fall, the collection uses a narrow range of colors and keeps the silhouettes simple. The design team behind Proenza Schouler offered a reassuring collection of mannish trousers, corset tops and chain-mail tunics that put a mod spin on this season's fascination with shine.

Audiences could have viewed Proenza Schouler, Williamson, Reese and Tuleh in the time it took to see Jacobs's collection. One could have flown the Delta Shuttle round-trip from New York to Washington. One suspects a Kohler toilet could have been constructed from scratch.

In the fashion industry, it is normal for a show to begin 20 to 40 minutes late. Much of the tardiness comes from hundreds of people trying to move from one place to another in a crowded and busy city. But Jacobs has made a habit of keeping his audience waiting. It might be understandable if he had little money and was dependent on volunteers. But Jacobs, who also designs Louis Vuitton in Paris, has access to the deep financial pockets of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

The explanation for the interminable delays are, almost without fail, related to the clothes. They are unfinished. They are en route. The dog ate them.

No one cares very much about the petty hardships of fashion folks attending a runway spectacle -- it's hot, there's no water, the seats have no cushions, whine, whine, whine. Isn't there any free champagne?

But the Jacobs fiasco is worth noting because it suggests a willful refusal to demonstrate professional efficiency and focus. The behavior suggests that there is a desire to deny his brand's corporate affiliations, to play the role of the procrastinating slacker who is just as cool as he was before he hitched his wagon to LVMH and got himself stock options.

The collection that ultimately made it to the runway had a dark and romantic mood. Wool skirts in navy and charcoal were trimmed in gold. A charcoal cardigan was shrouded in a purple lace that offered a hint of sparkle. Low-slung skirts with schoolmarm pleats were paired with striped pullovers. Dresses had a trim bodice and ballooned away from the hips. And party dresses flared away from the body and were embellished with coils and thickets of fabric rosettes.

The day pieces looked warm and cozy but terribly unwieldy. Most women don't mind a cumbersome dress in the evening when they expect to be shuttled from house to formal dinner by car service or taxi, but they like to be unencumbered during the day. Most women prefer lean day clothes so they can slip through crowded streets and maneuver easily. Jacobs seemed to be designing for a woman who wants to glide -- distracted and moonily -- through her day rather than move through it with speed and focus. He seems to be designing for a woman who has nowhere to go and all the time in the world. Perhaps that woman was sitting somewhere among his exasperated guests.

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