The current spate of designer departures from European houses has taught the fashion world a very important lesson: Know thy customer. Tom Ford at Gucci knew exactly what kind of woman he was dressing and succeeded. Julien Macdonald at Givenchy clearly didn't and failed. Does Lars Nilsson know who the Nina Ricci woman is? He certainly has the talent to rise to the occasion but he is also clearly still fine-tuning the answer to that question.
He isn't helped in this elusive search by the label's total lack of identity. Unlike those other moribund houses that have been given the kiss of life (with varying degrees of success), Nina Ricci, the fragrance aside, means absolutely nada. It had no defining moment in its past; it has no design icon that can be reworked for a modern audience; and, while it's French, it doesn't resonate with the kind of magical chic that some Parisian houses do.
These are not, of course, problems of Nilsson's making, but they add to the challenges he faces. Oddly, he seemed far surer of where to take the house last spring, when he showed a fine, focused color palette of brown, blue, yellow, and orange and a sophisticated mix of sharp suits, soft dresses, and sweet lingerie. This collection felt more muddled in its approach. Given Nilsson's strengths with color and decoration, it was inevitable that he would be drawn to the vintagey, just-pulled-it-out-of-my-closet, highly personal feel that is driving the season. The ruffled tweed jacket and cropped pants that opened the show worked, as did the billowing silk blouses; the tulle-veiled dresses worn with sparkly shawls didn't. And the cumbersome triangular shrugs were just odd from a designer who never normally does tricky. Perhaps next season will prove that old adage: Third time's a charm.