The audience applauded Pilati heartily, almost urgently, as he took his post-show victory lap, as if they were already feeling nostalgic him.
The new creative director, Waight Keller, peeled off the thick ponchos and woolen coats that shrouded the Paris label over seasons past to reveal light, girly looks that tap into the romantic, feminine charm that have historically been at the heart of the brand.
Drop-waisted apron dresses in ivory and tan crepe de chine were layered over linen blouses, while slouchy trousers and shorts were paired with boxy button-down shirts.
Everything was covered in pleats — tiny bicolor accordion pleats that shook seductively as the models walked and wider ones that gave the A-line skirts a school-girlish charm.
With Waight Keller's feather-light touch, the collection marked a return to the house's signature romantic roots — which her predecessor, Hannah MacGibbon, had sometimes smothered under thick woolen capes, leather paper bag-waisted pants and oversized shirts in thick chambray.
It was a strong debut from Waight Keller — a British designer formerly of knitwear label Pringle of Scotland — and a good sign for the label, which has struggled in recent years to duplicate the success it knew under two former designers turned fashion superstars, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo.
Still, it's possible that Waight Keller got a boost from circumstance, and that a last-ditch face-lift performed on the show venue helped enhance the light and airy feel of her debut collection: After guests at earlier shows in the same tent in Paris' Tuileries Garden came close to passing out from the heat inside, organizers striped the tent of its roof, allowing humidity out and the sunlight to come streaming in.
Rumor has it they made the welcome change after Vogue editor-in-cheif Anna Wintour threatened to boycott any future shows there.
After blowing through more designers than you can count on one hand in nearly as many years, and following the spectacular implosion of its partnership with starlet Lindsay Lohan, Ungaro has decided it's time to prioritize product over personality.
Instead of the dramatic but hard-to-sell looks that its last designer, the now-decamped Giles Deacon, served up over his two season-long tenure at the brand, Monday's collection was full of pretty, wearable cocktail dresses and pants in ravishing liquid silk prints.
It was not clear how much of the collection was Deacon's work, but it was a worker bee — and not an industry star — who ducked out Monday for a post-show bow. Press handlers for the label stressed that Jeanne Labib, a 29-year-old who hails from Giambattista Valli, has not succeeded Deacon as creative director, and is just "chief designer."
Weakened by the constant changes in the personnel and the collections — whose style and tone have fluctuated wildly from season to season — the label can only hope the new strategy proves the right one.
With its fetching cocktail dresses and hip-looking pants in teal silk, the collection was certainly a step in the right direction. Still, it must be said that there was little to distinguish it from the chic, urban fares that flood other runways worldwide, meaning that the label's the main challenge — reconstructing an instantly recognizable Ungaro look — is far from accomplished.
A signature style is something the Italian designer has in spades.
Each season, Valli manages to push his trademark look forward without really touching the shape of the short, boxy cocktail dresses he built his reputation on.
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