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Made You Look

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For newer designers trying to avoid getting lost in the Manolo Blahnik shuffle at shows here, there is a fine line between clever entertainment and cheap gimmicks. For some of the lesser-known names vying for attention, over-the-top antics couldn’t obscure uninspired designs. Others managed to balance their clothes and creative presentations, and a few opted for traditional low-key formats to let the clothes shine--and they did.

Trying to top the funeral parlor locale of their show last season, the design duo Tara Subkoff and Matt Damhave of Imitation of Christ moved to a movie theater on the Upper East Side. Once seated, guests watched a live video of others arriving in the theater lobby. It seemed merely a diversion to pass time until Imitation’s creative director, actress Chloe Sevigny, stepped out of a limo onto the red carpet. When consecutive limos followed, full of beautiful women dressed in resurrected, reconstructed Goodwill gowns, the audience caught on: This was the show.

The premiere-style entrance was a nice comment on the current incestuous relationship between fashion and celebrities, and the swell of attention (deserved or not) that the line has received because of its association with Sevigny. But it wasn’t much of a fashion show.

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The clothes lacked the sophistication of last season’s collection. A pink tutu-like skirt paired with a plunging satin halter, for example, looked silly, resembling something a child would throw together while playing dress-up. The clothing seemed like an afterthought for Damhave and Subkoff, but perhaps that was the point. Rather than designing, the two seem to delight in manipulating the publicity machine. A warning: The novelty is wearing thin.

One begins to worry about L.A. designer Jared Gold too. At his runway show during L.A.'s fashion week last November, he sent models out adorned with crystal-studded living cockroaches leashed to brooches. For his first New York collection, the 28-year-old former Fred Segal salesman sent a blue-painted, bald transvestite down the runway in a corset top and full skirt. There was a creepy air to his clothes, which included a coat made from a pilled, satin-tipped, blue baby blanket and a black wool and muslin “body bag” dress. He also used death masks decorated with real animal teeth and bones.

Sicilian-born Fausto Puglisi was less gimmicky but still outrageous, almost to the point of pandering soft porn. With Madonna’s latest album, “Music,” blaring in the background at a strip club, models straddled mirrored poles in leather pants, rhinestone belts and halter tops that left nothing to the imagination. Puglisi is for rockers and porn stars only. But watch for other designers to follow his unique route to Seventh Avenue. A year ago, Puglisi hired a publicist to pitch his clothes to celebrities such as Madonna. She appears in his clothes in an Elle magazine photo spread this month that created advance buzz for his first show.

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Mark Montano sent his collection out with a bang. The gun-toting girls in his gangster-themed show modeled a jet-black, beaded mink corset and a black wool dress leaking strips of blood-red satin from bullet holes (shot, the designer said, with an actual gun). Much of it was fantasy wear, but Montano’s classically tailored pinstripe jacket sprinkled with silver stars would look drop-dead even on someone who doesn’t run with the fashion mob.

There were a few designers who staged simpler presentations. The most notable was Douglas Hobbs, a former partner of Miguel Adrover who had just $2,000 to spend on the presentation of his DUGG line. “I’m in the business to sell clothes, not image,” he said. His line, which featured halter tops made from neckties, bias-cut gray tuxedo pants with satin stripes around the leg rather than down the side, and versatile pinstripe no-button jacket, didn’t disappoint.

L.A.'s Magda Berliner brought her collection to New York for the first time, and it had the same edginess that has brought her attention back home. Mustached female models wore western-inspired reconstructed pieces, including a distressed rawhide halter top, a vintage, blue-gray lace sleeveless dress and a reversible mauve cashmere cardigan lined in vintage flower-print silk.

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David Rodriguez, also from L.A., mounted an installation with his clothes on mannequins instead of a runway show. His evening wear was crafted from baroque brocades, tapestries and damasks one might find in a Venetian palazzo. A burgundy hand-marbled flounce hem dress and a sapphire beaded feather top with matching trousers were executed beautifully. But a tapestry brocade coat looked a bit too much like curtains.

Alice Roi debuted a solid solo collection, her first, of countryside chic. A butter and navy-blue deer-print silk blouse with puffed sleeves looked smart and flirty, as did brown wool herringbone pants with a hip sash and a black-and-white Daumier print blazer. And her high-heeled L.L. Bean-style lace-up shoes are sure to be a hit with the preppy redux. At times, though, Roi could have exercised some restraint. A floor-length black-and-white bird print dress was complicated by a clumsy braided halter, and a silk blouse with pleated chiffon neck detail looked a bit clownish.


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