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Zero + Maria Cornejo Fall 2011 Collection — Architectural But Free-Spirited, Earthy But City Slick

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New York-based Chilean designer Maria Cornejo stayed true to her trademark modern but minimalist design aesthetic in the Fall 2011 collection of her Zero + Maria Cornejo line, which was inspired by eccentric, risk-taking fashion tastemakers — among them Paper magazine editor/co-founder Kim Hastreiter. But this isn’t some circus-like excursion filled with flamboyant, Simon-Doonan-meets-Anna-Piagi ensembles. The cuts are clean, the draping is soft and seductive, and the fabrics are sumptuous and rich, with silk, llama, alpaca, vegetable-dyed leather among them.

References to nature abounded, as with the gradient ochre, sunflower, tangerine, brown and copper hues captured in the sunset print used for pieces like the caftan-like, silk Koya Dress ($950 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), pictured second from top, which features blouse-y, 3/4-length sleeves; a flouncy above-the-knee hemline; and a deep V-shaped neckline. For a more conceptual interpretation of nature, check out the Feena Dress ($895 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), a loose-fitting, scoopneck number with slits along the top of the cap sleeves and a white-and-gray, crinkle fur print that recalls arctic wolves, polar bears, snow leopards, and old English sheepdogs, creating a fascinating optic effect and infusing the design with a sense of texture.

Moving away from the dress realm, one of the collection’s outerwear stunners is the Knit Pod ($895 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), a chunky, hooded, camel-colored pullover sweater with ribbed details along the lower hemline, neckline, and the wide, elbow-length sleeves. Made of luxury alpaca hand-knit in Bolivia, this cozy sweater plays with notions of volume, of the modern versus the folkloric, juxtaposing a shaggy fringe texture against angular cuts (as with the sleeves) and modern style staples (like the city-ready hood).

My fellow bookworms will appreciate the genius of the IQ Dress ($850 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), pictured at top, a sophisticated, off-the-shoulder, below-the-knee silk number with a tongue-in-cheek, glossy photograph-esque book print that reminds me of the rare, collectible tomes lining the shelves of Harvard’s Widener Library.

The cobalt blue Little O Dress ($795 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), pictured fourth from top, is equally smart, taking a simple sleeveless, boatneck silhouette and infusing it with an almost aquatic fluidity and a kinetic verve thanks to the side drape detail and the asymmetrical hemline.

Another standout offering, and one that speaks to the dominant trends of the season, is the Koya Coat ($1195 at ZeroMariaCornejo.com), pictured fifth from top, a cocoon-like coat that takes retro elements and updates them with sculptural cuts and details. Made of llama wool, the fiery red coat features a round neckline, hidden hook-and-eye closures along the center of the coat, voluminous sleeves that taper in as they move toward the elbow, and a rounded, petal-like hemline.

The way the collection contrasts soft and tough, clean and messy, streamlined and voluminous, light and dark, and pastoral and urban speaks to Cornejo’s unique perspective and reinforces why she has amassed such a fiercely loyal following.

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