Monday, May 21, 2007

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May 18, 2007—At 16, James Perse was flogging hats to Deadheads. In the roughly two decades since, the son of Los Angeles fashion don Tommy Perse has built his own burgeoning empire of laid-back sportswear. Here, he talks about his New York men's store, which opened this week in the West Village.

What type of clientele are you attracting in New York versus L.A.?
In the Bleecker store, you get this young professional couple, the wife shopping, the husband sitting at the front reading a book. It's a more intellectual feeling than the West Coast. I think the market has lost touch [and lacks] places for people like that to go and get everyday basics. Whether they're 25 or 75, it's a classic customer, somebody who likes to be comfortable, more timeless.

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L.A. needs another denim outlet like it needs another underemployed actor—yet Diesel's new Melrose Place flagship still promises to stand out. Housed in a refurbished fin de siècle–era building, the 3,500-square-foot space was chosen to "express Diesel's design aesthetic more freely," says founder Renzo Rosso. Translation: exposed wood beams, austere cement floors, moody lighting, and towering Gothic front doors (recovered from a castle)—not to mention a denim wall that's embellished with hardware from the cockpit of an F-16.

Interior design isn't the only way Rosso & co. hope to distinguish themselves from Fred Segal, American Rag, and other local competition. On offer will be a prefall collection, tantissimo exclusives, and the brand's ultra-high-end Diesel Denim Gallery collection, which starts at $235 for a T-shirt and tops out at $3,945 for a shearling coat. And, while the area is already a celeb magnet, the store's May 30 opening party promises to increase the star wattage. "It's going to be like a block party barbecue that all the bad kids crash," promises the company. Sounds like an invitation to us.

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Designers played hardball this season, channeling as their muse a tough black-clad, strong-shouldered power babe. But it wasn't a case of all-out aggression. Even Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who sent a cadre of "metallic women" stalking down their runway, introduced some tulle-wrapped pieces amid the whips and chains. The Milanese duo weren't the only ones attracted to this sort of light layering: Thakoon Panichgul blunted the shine of sequins with the see-through fabric and Tuleh's Bryan Bradley applied it over a floral print. And a variation on the theme—fishing-net mesh—made appearances at Giles, Givenchy, and Nina Ricci. "Tulle is an amazing material because it indicates volume and transparency at the same time," said Jens Laugesen. "It's a great way of softening hard edges.

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Alberta Ferretti has joined the growing ranks of European designers showing their Resort collections in New York. Was it the success of her stateside Philosophy show in February that prompted the move? "It's the first market to understand the necessity of this season," said the designer after her show. But her arrival is about more than just dollar signs; there's the glamour quotient, too. The presence of Debra Messing, in town promoting her new series The Starter Wife, turned an unassuming showroom presentation into an event. If anyone harbors any lingering doubts about the legitimacy of this season, it's time to start believing.

As for the clothes, Ferretti worked that cruise favorite—a nautical motif—into striped sweaters and navy peacoats worn with cuffed walking shorts, polos paired with kicky pleated miniskirts, and crisp shirtdresses that showed off plenty of leg. Dresses—some with pleats, others with clever trompe l'oeil versions of the same—evoked Deauville in the 1920's without feeling the least bit retro. The inspiration was the seaside, but the results were chic enough for the city streets. When it came to eveningwear, there was little of the pouf and circumstance of the night before at Dior. Instead, Ferretti showed plenty of the signature soft chiffon dresses that have made her one of Hollywood's go-to red-carpet designers. "My favorite was the strapless nude style with the embroidery down the sides," said Messing. "I'd walk out with that today."