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True Designer Originals

Rodriguez made his point succinctly: lean trousers that flare just over the shoes, extravagant coats that reach to the ankles and are cinched at the waist, trim jackets with the seams clearly delineated. There was a singular dress in white with a pattern of flowers sketched out in embroidery that lingered in the imagination.

Perhaps asking for more is like demanding small talk from someone who prefers intimate conversations. Why should Rodriguez prattle on when his point has already been made?

The menswear collection that Thom Browne put on the runway Monday was personal, fearless, particular and, perhaps, reckless. All of which made it extraordinarily compelling. Browne, who is also working on a collection for Brooks Brothers, has attacked staid menswear at the jugular -- the business suit in its traditional banker grays. For fall, he maintains his distinctive proportions with trousers cropped to the ankles and shrunken jackets. Isn't every man a 38 short?

As his models walked along a faux snow-covered pebble path in an indoor pine forest, one was struck by how many ways Browne has found to re-create the business suit without losing its essence. In addition to shifting the proportions, he pleated the suit, lined it in fur, cut it out of mink, made it in a patchwork. His finale was a coy reference to the traditions of the old-fashioned womenswear show. Instead of sending out a bride, he sent out a groom in a formal suit. His train was 10 feet of pleated men's shirting.

Derek Lam, Rodarte

The runway can be intimidating. It demands technical skill, philosophical clarity, nerve and maturity. The designers Derek Lam and Rodarte's Laura and Kate Mulleavy, who are sisters, each lacked one or more of those ingredients this season.

Lam presented a pretty collection Tuesday, but it was a disappointing runway presentation. Lam's design expertise was apparent in his execution of slim-fitting trousers in black suede and leather, skater skirts in heavy wool, fitted dresses with corset seaming and industrial zippers. But each idea was evocative of another designer's vision. One could see nods to Rodriguez, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler and Prada. But it was impossible to tease out Lam's philosophy. For several seasons, Lam has embraced a soft, romantic sensibility. Now he has shifted to aggressive tailoring. The transformation should be celebrated but not if it comes at the expense of identity.

Lam made it clear that he is a talented craftsman with an eye for good taste. But before he steps on the runway again, he has to decide what kind of designer he would like to be.

The Rodarte collection needs maturity and better technique. The designers are known for their handcrafted clothes, each elaborate detail painstakingly sewn by one sister or another. One could almost see the fatigue in the collection they showed Tuesday. Big ideas such as an elaborately draped cocktail dress with contrasting beading called for a sharper eye and a finer touch. A pleated chiffon dress was tormented by a sheer over-slip that stood away from the body thanks to a hoop that swung back and forth as the model walked, creating the illusion that her derriere was as wide as a door frame. Ruffles didn't gracefully cascade; they drooped. On the Rodarte runway, the creative process had gone awry .

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