Paul Hardy @ Mercedes Benz Fashion Week

"Hello art lovers, stay right where you are."  Thus began designer Paul Hardy's 2005 Spring/Summer Collection last week at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week here in Los Angeles.

Well- art lovers, indeed. It seems the Canadian-based ready-to-wear designer was going for the kind who have an unusual affinity for chalk drawings.  Inspired by the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, the designer sent his models down the runway in amazingly imaginative and whimsical creations, that she herself would have adored. (Remember the "Jolly Holiday" ensemble? No? Rent it.)

While all of the looks had that touch of whimsy and charm we've come to expect from our favorite nanny-the tweed jackets, the folded chiffon collars that tie just so around the neck, the cozy knits- all in a subtle, neutral color palette- still others had her transported to a far off India of another era- where she has been wrapped in a breathtaking robin's egg blue, floor-length, silk taffetta, strapless gown, or orange silk harem pants paired with a saturated coral, hand-knit cardigan. Of this trip around the globe, the designer himself asks the viewer: "Could Mary Poppins' magical carpet bag have been made from a flying carpet?"

It is quite obvious that Hardy loves women:  He celebrates all that is feminine and romantic with this beautifully inspired collection. While strolling down the runway topped by strategically messy up-dos and the occasional straw hat tilted just to the side, each model looked like a something out of a dream. But as dreamy and free-spirited as these looks may be, each was based on a very traditional and sophisticated silhouette.

There were dresses in embroidered tulle- with many tucks and folds so intricate they were "reminiscent of an English rose garden." There were deconstructed tanks, skirts and dresses in muted neutrals-- along side beautifully tailored jackets left with raw and unfinished edges. There were sequin dresses and coats in gorgeous pastels with hip slung brown belts to toughen them up a bit.  There were tweeds and chiffons, of course, and there was layering. Lots of it.

Two personal favorites (Mr. Hardy, please take note), were a nude "rose garden" tulle bolero over a sequin shift, layered still over a cream cuffed pant (the juxtaposition of the fabrics and cuts here was absolutely striking!), and the far simpler, yet still playful, cream chiffon wrap dress with short pouf sleeves and covered in aqua and turquoise polka dots. As one fellow reveler noted, these looks moved between "the serious and the sublime," and while mostly muted, the designs celebrated color along with femininity.

There were soft greens and oranges, some beautiful pinks, and the aforementioned robin's egg blue. But it was the subtlety of the use of the tans, creams, nudes and whites that stood out so much. If Miss Poppins were to join Cinderella at that now infamous ball, she could have very likely worn something similar to Hardy's final look; a floor-length, nude strappy gown with a floral-ruffled tulle train-- straight out of a fairly tale.


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