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Lights, Camera, Allure!

But Pilati's use of gumball-size buttons only succeeds in making the jackets look bulkier and heavier -- as if one might need a muscular valet just to lift one up and get it around the shoulders. There are romantic dresses that summon Shakespeare's Juliet, but they are overwhelmed by breezy pleats, elaborate ruffles and twisted straps all battling each other.

Pilati is attempting to speak to a woman who appreciates a beautifully cut garment and feels most comfortable when she is keeping a few secrets. Her mystery makes her compelling. That is a daunting challenge, and one admires Pilati for setting it as his goal. But success remains a long way off.

Among Galliano's Paris designs, a leather trench coat evoking the screen sirens of the past. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

_____From Robin Givhan_____
On the Trail Of Chanel's Famous Blazer (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 2005)
Simply Christian Dior (The Washington Post, Mar 4, 2005)
Beauty and the Beat: Yamamoto Rocks (The Washington Post, Mar 3, 2005)
What the Designer Has in Store (The Washington Post, Mar 1, 2005)
D&G Turns Up the Heat For Fall (The Washington Post, Feb 27, 2005)
_____Arts & Living_____
The Fashion & Beauty section has stories and tips.

Comme des Garcons

For some designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons, the show is an opportunity to make an intellectual proposition. Her aesthetic is uncompromising. Her appeal is contentedly narrow, but her influence is broad. Only from Kawakubo could one see a white jacket of crocheted lace incorporated into a flowing lace gown that together seem to be a meditation on weddings, ceremonial dress and female rituals.

A lot of folks would look at a Kawakubo show as an exercise in pretentiousness, but those would be the sort who wouldn't be invited. It is as though the designer -- or at least her staff -- can sniff out nonbelievers from 50 miles away. The show is a haven for those who believe clothes can be something more than the sum of lace and silk.

Kawakubo's first model emerged in a long, flowing bridal veil. Her face was covered in ghostly white makeup, and colorful crystals were sprinkled on her hands and near her eyes. White lace, embroidery, ruffles and tailoring all collided in her ensemble. All the elements of bridal gowns converged at odd angles, in unbalanced proportions, in beautiful and startling ways.

The models paraded to the strains of a traditional wedding march. Photo prints of lush gathers and delicate embroidery sometimes replaced the real thing. The black tuxedo of the groom invaded the bridal space. And occasionally, the music was interrupted with the sounds of drums, of chatter, of clanging, unfamiliar instruments. They were random intrusions on solemnity as well as breaks from the traditional and expected. Kawakubo's marketing campaign succeeds through the force of her personal design integrity.

Alexander McQueen

On Friday night the marketing vehicle for Alexander McQueen's collection was Alfred Hitchcock and his film heroines. The collection was dominated by straitjacket pencil skirts worn with swing jackets and tight-fitting shifts that force a woman to shimmy because it is impossible for her to take long, striding steps. The clothes that McQueen showed were beautifully tailored but looked rigid and uncomfortable. Women tend to weigh the amount of discomfort they will endure against the amount of pleasure they will get, and frankly these clothes just weren't pretty enough.

McQueen showed his collection at the Lycee Carnot in a cavernous space that reminded one of a double-decker prison ward or a particularly gruesome boarding school. A cold chill swept through the room. Aides graciously handed out wool blankets of the sort that one finds in the business-class cabin of an airplane. It was a strange sight to see these long rows of people huddled under their blankets watching models done up like Doris Day and Grace Kelly do a stylized walk along a second-floor catwalk and then come sashaying down the vast open runway.

Hussein Chalayan

Designers like to transform the simple act of unveiling a few frocks into an adventure -- be it one that is steeped in glamour or fraught with inconvenience and odd juxtapositions. In the latter case, the scene often resembles a David LaChapelle advertisement come to life: a parade of Manolo Blahnik-clad editors in astrakhan coats mince their way from chauffeured car to grimy venue against the backdrop of street vendors, teenagers pimp-strolling and rapping in French, and the screaming pink plaid signs of Tati -- the Paris discount merchant that always seems to smell of stale cigarettes and sweat.

Hussein Chalayan markets himself as a conceptual designer, more concerned with theory than practicality. He created a collection of beautifully structured jackets tailored with great rigor and solemnity. But nothing can really explain the beehive boleros carved out of shag carpeting, other than it was amusing to see models waddling down the catwalk looking like Jane Curtin as a conehead. Designers need a little creative silliness to keep their imagination limber.

Paco Rabanne

Maybe Patrick Robinson would have benefited from a bit of devilish mayhem, a little nonsensical experimentation. (Although let's be clear: This is not encouragement for more Stainmaster chic.) Robinson showed his debut collection for Paco Rabanne on Saturday afternoon. The house was known for its futuristic sex appeal and use of materials such as plastics and chain mail. Robinson, who most recently was the designer for the Perry Ellis women's collection, stripped away the most overt references to the house's past. But in doing so, he was left with little that would give the collection an immediately distinctive sensibility. It was a bold step and in some ways it was courageous.

The best pieces were cocktail dresses composed of satin panels that lay flat against the body but shimmied flirtatiously as the models walked. His wrap coats with their low-slung belts offered a sophisticated nonchalance, but in a season in which every house seems to offer more than a few spectacular coats, one nice silhouette is far from enough.

Over the course of a career that has included time at Giorgio Armani, Anne Klein, Perry Ellis and as the head of his own label, Robinson has spoken in his own unique voice and served as an able spokesman for other's sensibilities. But with his presentation for Paco Rabanne he didn't seem to be speaking clearly or with confidence. There were only murmurs and whispers and a few mumbled ideas. What will Paco Rabanne stand for? Why should a woman look to this label? Robinson has barely offered enough to attract a lingering glance.

With so much jostling for attention -- a new designer, Hitchcock, brides gone wild, rug burns in odd places -- one wonders whether it is possible to sell a designer brand, at least on the runway, simply with the clothes. Is a gimmick always necessary? Not at Lanvin, Louis Vuitton and -- for the fall season, at least -- not for John Galliano.

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