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Alexis Mabille claimed the nineteenth-century Italian painter Giovanni Boldini as inspiration for his couture collection this season. Boldini’s fluid brushstrokes earned him the title the “Master of Swish.” In an effort to recreate a similar sense of movement on his clothes, Mabille reproduced those swishes here, hand-painting otherwise simple tapered pants with ombré effects (trust that no female sitter of Boldini’s ever wore trousers), as well as a pair of charming evening dresses with large white flowers. The draped folds of a couple of duchesse satin gowns suggested that Mabille had made a close study of the artist’s work—how the movement of Boldini’s brush created light and shadows. They were almost luminous. Other times Mabille’s evocations of the Victorian era came off with more of a thud. “It’s a play on the past, but twisted in a modern way,” the designer said. But try as he might, there’s no making leg-of-mutton sleeves look contemporary. It’s equally hard to conjure the living woman who wants to wear bows on each shoulder that extend beyond the crown of her head. Boldini was one of the most fashionable portrait painters of his day—only John Singer Sargent was more famous. If Mabille wants that kind of success, he’s going to have to learn when to say when.

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