Ann Taylor Continues Its Marriage Of Cheap And Chic

…And not merely by saving us a trip to Mexico. That’s because creative director Lisa Axelson makes a point of going there at least once a year, and brings her inspirations stateside for the rest of us to enjoy. This year, Ms. Axelson went to Tulum, and incorporated both her “fantasy” and “reality” version of the Mexican woman into her whimsical yet practical summer 2011 collection, which previewed to the press this Thursday at Chelsea’s The Glass Houses.

The fantasy part comes by the name of Frieda Kahlo, who, in Ms. Axelson’s mind, “was the most extreme version of the modern woman. She took traditional Mexican costume to another level, and that fantasy inspired the layers and embroidery [in Axelson's collection]. ” Indeed, many of the looks we saw were accessorized with turquoise and coral scarves; some embroidered, some printed and fringed, others dotted with exotic sequins, but all as light as air and meant to be oh-so-casually draped around the neck.

As for the reality, “summer is a time where all of us want a sense of fun.” Axelson continued. “But how do you do that and remain office appropriate?” Because, Katie Holmes excepted, the typical Ann Taylor woman does go to the office on a regular basis. The solution is to relax the silhouettes, and to make the fabrics “more fluid, sensuous and sophisticated.”

That aesthetic is evident in a countless number of looks and pieces within the collection. Among those that prompted us to look more than twice were: a blush silk halter top embellished with two deep, reddish-pink flowers (a color combination that reminded us just a bit of Natalie Portman’s Golden Globes dress); a beige, linen tweed jacket and skirt paired with a brown sequined tank for just a touch of razzle-dazzle; and a white tulle flower dress paired with a coral statement necklance.

Which gets us to the jewelry and other accessories that lent even more to the exotic appeal of the collection. Handmade in antiqued gold, most of the necklaces and bracelets were laid out on a table covered in smooth cobblestones as a way of transporting us South of the Border. (For those who needed a touch more convincing, Coronas and margheritas were on hand). The majority of pieces were made of turquoise and coral, while others were made of jade lacquer and crystal. That said, the turquoise pieces impressed us the most. Particular stand outs included a turquoise coil snake bracelet, a turquoise drop-necklace complete with briolettes, and a turquoise necklace in the shape of a half moon.

Bright lizard clutches and belts, as well as textured lizard and leather wedges, were another highlight of the collection. We also got a sneak peak of the Ann Taylor bridal collection, which boasts just the type of dresses that would be perfect for a wedding elopment on the beach. You could get hitched in these dresses barefoot and totally get away with it.

Most importantly, the prices have stayed almost incredibly reasonable. The most expensive piece of jewelry is $128; the dresses top in the mid $100 range; and the bags and shoes highest price points are between $200-$250. For the fashion conscious woman who needs seasonal fill-ins that don’t max out her credit cards, Axelson’s collection should do the trick.

[Image via John Is In Motion.]

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