With a simple dimming of the lights and the switching on of a projector, Veronique Branquinho transformed a downbeat Paris dance hall into a midnight woodlandstark trees silhouetted on the walls, will-o'-the-wisp mist rolling ankle-deep across the floor. Into that magical setting, she sent a new take on her reserved but strangely forceful vision of young, self-respecting womanhood. From the moment her first long-silhouetted girl began stepping her way through the mist in a wax-coated jacket, ankle-length jersey skirt, and high glossy boots, it was clear the audience was in for an experience out of the ordinary. "I wanted it to be strong but elegantand intimate," she said.
With covered-up primness a growing trend this season, Branquinho is firmly on the territory she began staking out with her first Victorian-influenced collection in 1997. Yet as high-necked and unrevealing as her clothes may befrom the turtleneck tweed blousons to the silk print long-sleeve shirt-dressesthere is nothing in the least bit dowdy about them. Instead, her look has the quiet sexual power of the girl who knows she needn't flicker so much as an eyelash to turn heads.
The hallmarks of Branquinho's clothes are part seventies Ali MacGraw, part Brontë heroine, and entirely Antwerp individualist: lanky lines, a slightly puff-sleeved shoulder line, wrap dresses, and accessories like long knitted scarves. For winter, she's also added sparkle to the look, in brown or cobalt sequinned skirts and vests. Balanced beautifully between romanticism and realism, this was a collection that sent the audience out chattering with admiration.