updated 25 Aug 2012, 23:15
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Ungaro goes back to roots after Lohan letdown
by Nick Vinocur

French brand Emanuel Ungaro went back to its roots on Monday with a spring collection of muted pastels and lacy evening wear as it tried to put an ill-fated venture with actress Lindsay Lohan behind it.

Like many fashion houses, Ungaro has struggled to find a credible voice since the retirement of its founder in 2005, cycling through a succession of designers and veering off-course last year when it hired the Hollywood star as artistic director.

That collaboration came to an end in March amid a hail of criticism after just one show, and on Monday everyone from new designer Giles Deacon to the brand's financial backers said they were keen to forget the past and look to the future.

"I think there is no use dwelling on what happened before," Marie Fournier, the brand's general director, told Reuters. "We are in front of a brand new page and bringing out the best of the brand - its sexiness, glamour and light touch."

The new collection, presented in a greenhouse in the center of Paris, signaled a return to form for Ungaro with plenty of daywear in soft, pastel colors as well as pantsuits which would not look out of place in a boardroom.

The collection responded to store directors who wanted clothes for real women, not starlets, said Deacon, a darling of British fashion who has headlined collections for houses including Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren.

"It's my interpretation of where I think Ungaro should be," the bespectacled designer told Reuters Television. "I think it has to have a timeless elegance as well."

Yet there was also an irreverent touch, with risque minidresses in see-through black lace, shimmering swimwear and ostrich feather headresses dyed green and pink.

Pailleted flower brooches and pearls set delicate evening dresses sparkling, and the odd fluorescent accent or laser cut detail brought the collection up to date.

Right direction

Ungaro owner Asim Abdullah, a Pakistani-born Internet entrepreneur who bought the French brand in 2005 for about US$85 million (S$111.4 million), said he was hopeful about its prospects thanks to the change in designers and a recent financial restructuring.

"What's important is that we have the right creative leadership," he said, standing near a circular grass runway.

"I definitely feel we're headed in the right direction now. Giles is good because he connects us back to the origin of the Ungaro brand but also gives us a fresh impulse."

Ungaro dropped designer Estrella Archs one season after she co-designed a collection with Lohan. Fashion critics widely panned their show, which featured buttock-revealing dresses and nipple stickers.

Thursday's garden party was less provocative -- a clear attempt to deliver buyers clothes that they could use and sell easily in stores, as opposed to headline-grabbing outfits which might fizzle on the shelves.

Buyers at the show said they welcomed simple items like a peach silk crepe jacket with a skirt embroidered with lace, and hinted that no matter what the economic context there would always be customers for such items.

"Austerity is everywhere," said an investment banker who asked not to be named. "The trick is to come with clothes that people will want enough to buy them, and I think they (Ungaro) has done it here."

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