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Simply Christian Dior

There were moments when the balance of the collection shifted toward oddball patterns that sat at the center of the chest like a bull's-eye seen through an intoxicated haze. But Ghesquiere quickly recovered his aesthetic footing with a group of short dresses that fit close to the body and are adorned with bouquets of feathers that float up to caress the neck and shoulders.

For spring, Ghesquiere had hinted at his talent for balancing his daring collages and razor cuts with the demands of a fashion house trying to rebuild itself. This season he has shown that Balenciaga will have much more to offer customers than an enticing handbag.

Christian Dior delivered surprisingly simple designs, such as this rich velvet topcoat over a printed mini-dress. (Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)

_____From Robin Givhan_____
Lights, Camera, Allure! (The Washington Post, Mar 8, 2005)
On the Trail Of Chanel's Famous Blazer (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 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_____
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Theyskens's collection for Rochas was dominated by eveningwear. And what one notices first is how little skin the clothes reveal. So often, designers signify that a garment is meant for evening by stripping away the sleeves, dropping the neckline and adding a slit or two. In contrast, Theyskens covers up. His long skirts with their fishtail hems are topped with form-fitting jackets with collars that climb up the neck. In less sure hands, the silhouette could be matronly and stifling. But he keeps the cut snug so the curves of the body can be seen and enjoyed.

Theyskens doesn't ignore the daytime, but most of what he offers are close-fitting suits that celebrate the waist. Even when he shows a loose collarless jacket with a matching skirt, there is a corset-inspired waist wrap that keeps the hourglass figure in the spotlight. Theyskens's work is elegant and gains in distinction because it so boldly contradicts fashion's cliches.

The Undercover collection was presented in the round at the Hotel Intercontinental in an antique ballroom lined with gilding and mirrors. The models moved in a circle around the room while guests sat at small cocktail tables sipping glasses of wine. It was an odd juxtaposition to be in such a visually pornographic space participating in the grown-up act of consuming alcohol with the models dressed like schoolboys. Surely some moral watchdog is firing off a public statement explaining precisely why this was bad, bad, bad.

But those schoolboy ensembles were terribly cute. There were gray jackets and white shirts appliqued with trompe l'oeil ties. Skinny trousers and narrow jeans were worn with motorcycle boots. Loose houndstooth trousers were attached to matching suspenders. An olive coat tricked the eye into believing it was topped with a rugged vest.

The clothes were an intriguing blend of androgyny, boyishness and youthful rebellion. And there, it should have stopped. But it continued on with jackets sprouting corkscrews of ruffles and sequins and coils of skull lattices. Still, one could forgive Takahashi a certain flamboyant misdirection. At least he acknowledges when he is being devilishly absurd. A shirt in the collection read: "We make noise not clothes." That's often the case. But rarely does the designer let his audience in on the truth.

Viktor & Rolf

The designers Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting showed their collection Wednesday afternoon at the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which hosts much of Paris's experimental productions and is in a state of glorious dilapidation. The collection was inspired by sleep, by the bed, by the linens, by a dreamy state of reverie.

The first Viktor & Rolf model appeared dressed in a full black coat with a white eyelet collar. This would not be particularly remarkable except the white eyelet was more like a turned-down sheet and king-size pillows were propped behind the model's head, her hair splayed against them. In essence, she looked as if she had been elevated directly from her bed -- pillows, sheets and all. It was a startling moment. And one that tended to make one laugh at the ridiculousness of it rather than at its cleverness.

That, of course, is the risk when a designer engages in high concept. The distance between intellectual and pretentious is not much, and all it takes is a little too much dry ice and patchouli incense before eyes start rolling in derision. And the difference between a clever joke and a ridiculous one seems to be a matter of degrees. Perhaps if the pillow hadn't been so big?

There were examples of fine tailoring and a wonderful mix of white shirts, some of which had only one sleeve or seemed to have been constructed from hundreds of tiny handkerchiefs. There was a black quilted suit; but, it had a pillow for a collar. Enough! A black trench coat had pleats in the back, adding a little oomph to a traditional silhouette. But this time, the designers were too entertained with their own joke. They were still chuckling long after it had ceased to be amusing.

Dries Van Noten, Veronique Branquinho, Rick Owens

Tension creates the most interesting collection. The inevitable push and pull, the ambivalence, even the confusion over precisely what the collection wants or needs to say often results in the most mesmerizing clothes. They surprise the eye. Confound it. Without tension, designers tend to create lovely clothes that often want for energy.

Dries Van Noten, for instance, offered a beautiful collection on Wednesday night. It was darker in tone and hue than his spring collection, and it was less reliant on glitter and jewels. There were murky tweed swing coats with fur collars, cropped trousers worn with high, chunky heels and waist-length jackets thick with embroidery. On the runway, he showed fewer elaborate patterns and focused on strong blocks of color. But there was no creative dialogue in evidence. It was simply a pretty statement.

How sad that simple and pretty no longer suffice. The fashion industry was overwhelmed by both notions in the past few seasons, and now those ideas seem trite and overworked.

Veronique Branquinho's collection from Wednesday night looked tempting in part because it was all black. But it was not intimidating or depressing. Many emotions and ideas can be expressed with the starkness of black. It can suggest mystery and sorrow, romance and sensuality. For Branquinho, the black clothes with their quiet details -- double layers of pleats on a skirt, decorative stitching on a pant leg, tiny quilting stitches on the shoulder seam of a blouse -- draw the viewer closer. With her emphasis on black, Branquinho creates intimacy. And her collection makes one think that the only item worth purchasing for fall is a perfect black pantsuit with some secret detail.

Rick Owens's mournful silhouettes in shades of gray, mushroom and oatmeal seem more interesting simply by virtue of their sobriety. A smile might be the most pleasant expression, but it often is the least interesting. Owens did not expand his aesthetic, with its floor-dragging skirts and jackets with overly long sleeves. And there were a few downright unattractive flourishes such as tiny, pointy peaks of fabric jutting out from the shoulder blades. But after so much clench-jawed smiling, his frowning, grumpy collection came as a surprisingly pleasant relief.

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