c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — As irritating as Thom Browne’s fashion is, it can’t be ignored. His spring collection is a perfect case in point.

In a room padded out to resemble a coffin or a cell, he kept his audience waiting while tinkling chimes played. A bare yellow bulb provided additional cheer. Personally, I was glad to have a padded wall to rest my head against because it was a long wait for Browne’s models, about 50 minutes.

Finally the parade appeared, led by nurse-attendants in white hourglass uniforms, snoods and hard red mouths and dark glasses that suggested they were used to giving ladies their pills. The first of those forlorn creatures had her lipstick smeared toward her chin and what looked like a small quill extending from a hole in her neck, just above her pearls.

She had on a blue-and-white outfit, the pattern of its sleeves and turned-up collar evoking the veins of a dried leaf. The rest of her sheath went to a china blur of appliquéd white lace on a classically blue and white checked ground.

The next 25 or so outfits were similarly composed, with puffed Elizabethan sleeves, extreme pintucking and volcanic mounds of lace erupting on the surface of a dress. Again, there was that blur of fabric; you couldn’t tell if it was pieced, appliquéd or painted.

It turned out to be all of the above, on an underpinning of latex.

Of course, this kind of haunting beauty was the terrain of Alexander McQueen and, to an extent, John Galliano. They were also much better showmen than Browne, and for that reason people were not seriously bothered that their clothes were often unwearable.

It seems to me that Browne did two noteworthy things. First, he created these fantastic compositions of color and texture; they can be refined over time. (He said about half of his fall 2013 outfits went into production. One of them, a lovely dress with a lavishly gathered waist, was worn Monday by Giovanna Battaglia, the W magazine editor.)

Second, every detail of his new collection — the curves and bumps, the erotic eruptions of fabrics, the animated pearls and the crazy hair — reflected an understanding of women. And it was layered with enthusiasm as well as compassion.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte were once hailed as outsiders in fashion for their unschooled methods. Their latest collection included cowboy hustler stuff: frilled denim hot pants and leopard dresses with fringe. You can picture Miley Cyrus rocking the look, but the sisters seem like tourists in the genre.

Olivier Theyskens, on the other hand, has a pedigree. He worked at Rochas and Nina Ricci before being brought to Theory by Andrew Rosen to show that a top designer could give a popular label an edge. And initially the idea worked. But increasingly Theyskens’ collections seem the work of an amateur.

His latest collection should have been left in the showroom. It consisted of ordinary separates — blazers, pencil skirts, knits, shorts, black chiffon pants — layered in a slim silhouette, often with a Rochas ruffle at the hem. Since Theyskens exhausted his idea quickly, he threw in some silly slip dresses in bright colors.

The whole thing was banal, with no thought or energy given to a new way of wearing layers, much less to design.

It seldom behooves audiences at intimate fashion shows to giggle or check their email. You’ll be caught on camera. Besides, it doesn’t seem professional, even if some designers, like Browne, are used to chuckles.

But there were many awkward moments during Donna Karan’s show Monday. Her artisanal collection of India-inspired prints, sun-baked colors and unconstructed shapes certainly didn’t lack conviction. Her show notes included three pages of explanation about the various elements, like the puffy caftan shirts and crushed leather hats. But you wondered why Karan took this chaotic path in the first place.

Not only did some of the over-accessorized outfits verge on costume, but the style was also a compromise of Karan’s principles: modernity, easy sensuality. And whereas Browne’s scrappy textures set your mind free, Karan seemed a little too pleased with her artisanal mission.

Phillip Lim’s collection was a lesson in geophysics, with prints and colors evoking the planet’s surface, and possibly its core. Anyway, there were many novel textures: cracked metallic suede in a lapis hue, wood-grain jacquards, tan and black splattered denim. But the shapes, including sleeveless blazers and polo shirts with wide pants, seemed familiar the world over.

Give Tory Burch the leisure classes in any modern age, and she will find the right mix of glamour and American nonchalance for her customer. For spring, she mined the late ’60s French Riviera and came up with a fresh collection of flower-embroidered shifts and printed jeans, lattice-cut white leather and some sweet dresses in linen burlap or canvas lightly finished with stones.