Usually, it's a worry when contemporary ready-to-wear designers begin quoting from the rarefied world of haute couture past - especially a designer as young (both in age and, usually, outlook) as Jason Wu. This season, we got that inevitable sinking feeling as his show played out in a stuffy, fabric-draped salon suffused with shocking pink and peppered with brittle lacquer chairs, with programme notes quoting the late Irving Penn as inspiration. Wu cultivated something of a split personality in tackling this theme - his daywear tugged items from Penn's own personal wardrobe out for another airing, while for evening he looked to the glacial elegance of Penn's model, muse and wife Lisa Fonssagrives. A mixed bag, then, and certainly a mixed success. The reappropriated menswear looked spot-on and eminently real: oversized tailoring in tweed, mohair and wool in mixes of subtle off-colours like an aged dye-transfer print - mottled green, navy and grey - the whole lot tossed over great mannish button-down oxford shirts, chunky knitwear and ribbed wool librarian tights. Lest this all sound too bull-dyke butch, Wu played with flirty texture to keep it feminine, tufting fowl feathers into short skirts, washing mohair for scarves and t-shirts and flecking lapels with metallic boucle tweed. When he got 'conceptual' with (presumably) photographic-inspired gelatine and platinum-prints, it looked a little messy, but on the whole, it was unpretentious and desirable. These two phrases, however, could not be applied to the pastel eveningwear, where Wu somehow got bogged down in those Penn images of saccharine fifties frou-frou - and rather than reinterpreting, simply rehashed piecemeal. Cue chunky, clunky babydolls drunkenly sprouting ostrich fronds, and eminently difficult pannier frocks - lace wrapped, chiffon swathed and more often than not clumsily bulky. Half-hearted attempts to modernise these silhouettes through asymmetric 'hand drapery' that ended up simply misshapen and lumpen quickly collapsed into restrictive couture cliches reminiscent of Disney princesses and Barbie dolls. Wu's final half-dozen figure-gripping frocks, dragging trains of pellucid silk like the funereal shrouds of couture houses past, had about as much relevance to the life of contemporary women. The old adage rings true for Wu - far better to stick to the day job.
Wu somehow got bogged down in those Penn images of saccharine fifties frou-frou - and rather than reinterpreting, simply rehashed piecemeal.