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(ART ADV: Photos XNYT76-82 are being sent to NYT photo clients. Nonsubscribers can purchase one-time rights by calling: 1-888-603-1036 or 1-888-346-9867.)

(Fashion Review)

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK There was splendid irony in Alexander Wang's bon voyage collection, shown in the former ticketing hall of the Cunard Building in Lower Manhattan. He's off to France to design Balenciaga.

Cunard completed the building in 1921, when Coco Chanel and Jeanne Lanvin were hot, and Paul Poiret was broke. I was tempted to dig up some fashion columns from the era to refer to the type of drop-waist coats that Wang showed, but I didn't have time. Besides, anyone can Google those '20s styles: the draped blouse with a wide waistband, the plucky walking skirt, the tops with a twist in front. Even the wool socks that cuffed the models' shoes vaguely recalled stockings indecently rolled down to the ankles.

The amount of foggy, soupy gray in the show would have delighted James Cameron.

No, Wang picked the silliest, most hackneyed theme, and managed to make it work.

There were a few problems.

Like many designers of his generation, Wang has a gift for essentially Photoshopping two or three unrelated styles to make a look that feels contemporary. Paired with those sack coats and skirts were mohair hoodies. More forthright, and modern, were evening tops in white or black duchess satin with a banded waist; they were worn with tailored pants.

But all too often the effort to blend styles showed, or the results looked as leaden as the grays. Phoebe Philo may have also had her eye on those twist-front tops, last season, but in her case the results looked gracefully tossed off.

Another problem that Wang has perennially is fabrics. That's strange to say about a designer, but some fabrics and furs in this show looked as thick as upholstery. A light hand he does not have. And I thought it was a little bit funny when, at the end of the show, Wang bolted down the runway, taking the steps two at a time. If a woman in one of his coats tried that, she'd be overheating like a Model T.

Joseph Altuzarra has a better grasp of cutting and finishing a garment than his friend Wang does. And he generally knows what he wants to achieve with his designs this season, a tense, femme-fatale silhouette that relies on tailoring, hip pads and a graphic black-and-white scheme. In his hands, fur and leather (real and fake) looked luxurious and well finished.

But why complicate things? There was no obvious design value in cropped jackets worn over coats, which nobody would wear anyway. (Never mind what it does to your neck.) The amount of hardware was also distracting. He said his goal was to strip things down, but that's not how the clothes looked. He had the answers right in his hands beautiful coats, willowy dresses in leather and stretch chiffon and he chose to clench them into a fist. Or a fur mitt.

Despite some baroque prints that recalled Nicolas Ghesquiere's style at Balenciaga, Prabal Gurung restored levity to his label. The military tailoring, in olive cotton twill and navy wool, with nipped waists and charmeuse, recalled his early designs. Ukrainian folk-inspired patterns worked best as an unexpected trim on white silk cocktail dresses. Indeed, for day or night, Gurung's draped pieces were his strong suit, in part because they were so simply done.

If the Rag & Bone designers David Neville and Marcus Wainwright set out to make friendly clothes, without a lick of irony, they succeeded. What could be more familiar than a black tweed jacket in the style of Chanel? Or a pair of quilted black leather pants? This collection was more merchandised than designed, with a host of boyfriend sweaters in check patterns, oversize peacoats, and slim pants with knee patches, in case you fall off your stilettos. Oops. The designers showed loafers in bright shades of calf hair.

Despite the English trappings, as in a nice bunch of glen plaid pieces, Rag & Bone's top-heavy silhouette still had the inertial pull of Brooklyn's huddling hipsters.

Scott Sternberg's Band of Outsiders collection felt agreeably low-tech, meaning that despite Atari-inspired prints, the styles he presented were grounded, like big old sweaters and crepe de Chine dresses with a bluesy roadhouse flavor.

Victoria Beckham made a grab for those rounded, Marni-like shoulders in a collection that aimed to be polished (all these sleek, flat wool midis and stiff coats we've seen everywhere), but if it were any more restrained, it would be a prison matron's dream. Beckham needs to unbutton her collar.

Designers may not care that anyone is looking up from their iPhones long enough to actually see the details in collection, since many thrive on hype. But Louise Goldin's clothes merit attention.

You can see that Goldin, a London-trained designer who lives in New York, has the technical skills to resolve her ideas without labored results. This was clear in pleated skirts made from slivers of leather and fully fashioned knitting, or a gray wool coat with soft black leather bands at the cuffs opened with zippers. It surprised me to learn that her clothes were made in China from Italian yarns, not because the quality was so high (that's not news) but rather because she applied real techniques to her designs and got inventive, wearable fashion.

Finally, a shout-out to Yuming Weng, a master's candidate at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Designers always kill themselves to create 3-D effects, which nobody actually wears. All Weng did was inset a comet of contrasting wool into a dress and continue the shape around the back, with a small ridge of fabric barely visible above the comet for the 3-D effect. Her idea was modest and her execution perfect.

Asked which designers she admires, Weng shyly replied, "Margiela."