The Financial Times



By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 13, 2013


 New York Fashion Week: Clouds on the horizon
Heavy grey storm clouds rumbled ominously over Manhattan’s skyline as the spring-summer collections drew to a close, though it seemed unlikely on Thursday that proceedings would play out in any fashion other than a predictable black and white.

And indeed, for Ralph Lauren, this was the case.

Over half of his Mod-infused runway was in monochrome: 60s knitted A-line shifts with oversized cotton collars, a tattersall three-piece trouser suit, and a procession of ottoman ribbed mini skirt sets were playful, yet without much of the lavish, colourful excess that has come to define the brand’s aesthetic – though when the hues finally did emerge (acid Crayola brights like lime green, sunshine yellow and a cobalt blue) they were eye-popping to the point of blinding.

This worked (just about) on a pared-down retro silhouette, but when applied to fussy voluminous eveningwear with frothy lashings of garish silk gazaar, seemed more like a lack of ideas.

Meanwhile, when it came to Francisco Costa’s latest collection for Calvin Klein, the opposite problem held true: too many ideas.

Despite being sharply tailored, opening looks such as a sheer panelled nylon T-shirt with micro-pleated silk skirt felt somewhat dated, while a black twill crepe bandeau with matching pencil midi bordered on 90s minimalist chic, yet also felt awkwardly sculpted, creating the sense of a slightly disjointed silhouette.

Pieces were vastly better when they focused on texture: a monochrome woven mesh dress with wide straps and a lightly feathered trim was an elegant and intelligent step up from yet another evening LBD, and a boxy black and white mosaic latticed jacket – or later, an ivory woven leather and silk racer vest teamed with a stiffened pleated skirt – gave the illusion of rich and varied patterns where, in fact, there were none.
And thus, the circus packed up and headed to JFK – many bypassing the last show by Marc Jacobs in order to decamp to London where the shows begin on Friday. It seems that, for now, New York’s fashion forecast inevitably remains the same – mild and sunny, with a slight chance of rain.



By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 13, 2013


NY Fashion Week: Brands that follow fashion, rather than create it
The fall of Lehman and the recession that came afterwards thrust brands with the ability to combine trend-savvy and price point into the spotlight and created an entirely new category, known as contemporary, that has been asserting its runway cred ever since.

So this season there was Tory Burch, mining a 1960s Riviera vein with botanical scarf prints on little shift dresses, silvery brocade bottoms with lacy tops; here was J Crew, doing much the same (possibly too much the same), with bright floral capris and sequinned hibiscus pants, Moroccan print T-shirts and lemon yellow duffel coats.

There was Rag & Bone, where cricket sweaters met satin skirts and leather midriff tops came under men’s jackets; here was 3.1 Phillip Lim, with easy trousers embroidered like the inside of a geode under neat, curving jackets.

And there was Theyskens Theory, tripping a bit on its own styling with biker shorts under long sheer split skirts – though the elongated layering of tank tops and skinny skirts and underskirts was effective – while here was Helmut Lang, taking a step up with elegant hip-slung skirts and curving collarless jackets, colour-clocked tone-on-tone slipdresses and a restrained asymmetry.

In other words, the clothes were mostly good, and certainly customer-friendly. But in the end, while these brands follow fashion – in fact, they follow it very closely – they don’t create it; their skill is in recognising what to remix for their own ends. And perhaps, like the move afoot to separate commercial and investment banks, fashion week should recognise the difference.



By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 13, 2013


New York Fashion Week: Designers hone their look

Five years ago, as New York Fashion Week began, Lehman Brothers began its fast slide into bankruptcy and as the shows progressed so did the sense that the consumer world as we knew it was about to change. The ensuing financial crisis altered not only the economics of fashion, especially fashion in Lehman’s home city, but also its aesthetic course, though perhaps not in ways anyone might have predicted. Or so was apparent from last week’s spring/summer womenswear season.

As consumer purse strings pulled tighter, designers have been forced to be more specific about identity; they need to tap into a sense of self in order to make “want” outweigh “need”. This has been most obvious in the more established houses, which hunkered down and honed their look, while some younger names are still struggling to carve out a specific point of view. Counter-intuitively, however, the years since 2008 have also seen the creative flowering of a new generation of New York designers who are transforming the city’s fashion landscape.

For proof, simply look to the catwalks.

It was a season of signature at Ralph Lauren, who has never met an era he couldn’t romanticise and this time turned to the 1960s, Beatlemania-style, with mod black and white minis and three-piece suiting (unfortunately complete with flower-bedecked black neckties), as well as cheeky neon shifts, before seguing into equally bright flounced and asymmetric evening wear without an edge of irony. And Marc Jacobs performed his usual channelling of pop culture to create a relentless parade of Victorian vampire dolls: martinet jackets (and their commercial sweatshirt equivalents) dripping with tassels and jet over matching long shorts, all in overblown wallpaper prints, followed by ankle-grazing dresses in the same mode, sequinned and jewelled and overwrought.
And so it went. Oscar de la Renta stayed in his own 24-carat groove, from a black and white polka dot bouclé lunching suit with lace tee and trim to an extraordinary peach pouf of a ball gown, taffeta over tulle; as did Carolina Herrera, who added a cool kinetic print twist to her layers of organdie; Vera Wang, who mixed performance gear with paint-splashed chiffon for a custom-built collection; and Reed Krakoff, whose architectural inclinations expressed themselves in precisely constructed blush-toned slipdresses, bonded satin skirts inset with voile and sleeveless wrap trench dresses.

Even Diane von Furstenberg stuck close to her 1970s-tinged homestyle in new look wrap dresses and tunics ’n’ trousers in a cool cork or graphic print, while Tommy Hilfiger went back to beach volleyball basics. Though such consistency is often criticised as boring, in fact it demonstrates a certain self-awareness; if you’ve got it, why not flaunt it again and again?

Besides, “consistent” is not a synonym for “exactly the same”, as Michael Kors demonstrated in a well calibrated shift from high-luxe sportswear separates to a new romance via swinging floral 1940s-esque dance dresses and slouchy Hepburn trousers. It takes finesse and great self-control to make these sorts of minor alchemical changes, which were also seen, albeit in a different sartorial vernacular, at Narciso Rodriguez, who expanded the confines of his own exact cutting by adding geometry and movement to slipdresses, miniskorts (skirt-shorts) and jackets.

Indeed, change for the sake of change can be a problem, as was clear at Donna Karan, where the woman who solved the problems of a professional wardrobe went in search of an ethnic scarf, and found instead scarf dresses, scarf skirts, and other pieces lacking in substance. If you are going to nudge a vision it’s best to do so in some recognisable way, even if it goes a little off-course, as it did for Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein. There, experiments with geometry and the body centred on a giant band that stood away from the body at the hips and mostly looked awkward (though Mr Costa’s exploration of texture, seen in two dresses woven from strips of snakeskin, were very good). Yet, they still had the minimalist structure endemic to the brand.

By contrast, it is increasingly hard to understand what Jason Wu (this season all slip dresses, lingerie details and safari jackets), or Prabal Gurung (who took a belly flop into a mix of Marilyn Monroe wiggle dresses, Pepto-Bismol colours and techno fabrics), represent. Derek Lam’s 1950s rigorously understated dresses are accomplished, but still look a bit too much like other people’s clothes, while Alexander Wang’s sporty-jokey-streety separates felt like they were done on autopilot – though one trenchcoat sliced like a cutaway was terrific.

As for Rodarte, whose undiluted creativity was a great hope of New York fashion, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy are beginning to seem lost in inspiration options: witness this season’s fringed bras, micro shorts and animal print satins, which supposedly sprang from the streets of LA, but felt mostly like un-elevated kitsch.

It’s probably no accident that these labels were founded post-2000: Wu in 2006; Gurung in 2009; Lam in 2002, Wang in 2007 and Rodarte in 2004. They are all businesses born in a recession (either the post-dotcom-bubble burst, or the Lehman crash) and though normally such young brands would have had the luxury of time to discover their points of view, the economic imperatives have dictated otherwise.

The irony is, for the designers who understood this, the situation created an enormous momentum: out of necessity they went from nothing to full-fledged vision in only a few years. It’s an accelerated evolution exemplified by Proenza Schouler (founded 2002), where designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez have always displayed a notably thought-through approach to dressing, evident this season in the way wide fluid culottes under curving jackets with mid-century modern hardware led to relaxed suiting, the seams and pocket picked out with chalk-drawn lines, which led to pleated skirts collaged with metallics, the whole marked by a kind of self-analytic chic.

And it can be seen in Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s The Row (established 2006), where the designers have perfected a Zen-like approach to urban dress, with crinkled georgette dresses under tailored jackets or over Indian embroidered separates in a subtle nod to the tension between home and away, and even, at the far other extreme, Thom Browne (women’s established 2007), whose Marie Antoinette-in-the-madhouse lace and pearl moulded corsetry, jackets and dresses threw commercialism to the winds.

As for Victoria Beckham and Joseph Altuzarra, they have a clarity of vision for their brands (both established 2008) that is definitive: the first with a streamlined modernity seen in skating skirts with pleats peeking out the side under body conscious tops or spaghetti strap tunics over tailored culottes; the second with a form of urban luxury that is all his own, from silks striped with mattress ticking and laced up the side to T-shirts-with-the draped satin skirts of a ball gown, albeit straight and to just below the knee.

Would they have the same lucidity without the recession? Perhaps. But they probably would not have felt quite the same pressing need to come up with their own solution to make order out of chaos in as beautiful a way as possible.

Like it or not, that’s the future.


By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 12, 2013


New York Fashion Week: Going nostalgic

In a city where the new guard is better known for its youthful downtown-inspired daywear than sumptuous, intricate attire more suited to an uptown ballroom, New York’s dedicated coterie of eveningwear experts were keen this week to show their potential heirs how dressed-up fashion should truly be done.

That said, many shows this season were underpinned by nostalgic personal paeans to the romance of lost youth – not just a glorification of a lofty professional heritage.

J Mendel’s show – inspired by Serge Gainsbourg’s cult 1971 tune “Cargo Culte” about a young lover who vanished in a aeroplane crash in a far flung corner of the South Pacific – took classic form-flattering silhouettes but gave them new life through playful use of sunset colours and texture blocking, albeit through an atelier’s lens.

A frothy, coral-hued plunging V-neck fishtail gown blossomed thanks to effective panel-blocking of graphic latticing and traditional lace, working to a similar effect on a basic white T-shirt paired with an elegant asymmetrical crepe de chine wrap skirt.

The point was that less can also mean more; restraint when it comes to heavy patterns and embellishments reveals the beauty of complex structure and design.

Meanwhile, Jenny Packham – a British import whose polished and pretty designs are often sported by the Duchess of Cambridge – continues to roll out elegant red carpet-style cocktail numbers that cascade with endless fussy beading and glistening paillettes. More interesting this season, however, were the pieces that took things slightly off the beaten track.

Looking to Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, a film about turn-of-the-century schoolgirls lost in the Australian outback, Ms Packham offered several billowing Edwardian gowns adorned with charming touches of both pioneer spirit and, occasionally, the 1970s. Initially these were genteel – think airy, creamy chiffon dresses with a pussy-bow halter neckline, or a dove-grey full pleated organza prairie skirt with a diaphanous pleated blouse. Things then got a little wilder via a silky fire-red flannel-checked creation with a gloriously languid skirt and sleeves – serving to remind Ms Packham as she looks forward that fortune often favours the brave.

On the subject of new paths, Naeem Khan (a staple of Michelle Obama’s State dinner wardrobe) is unveiling a bridal line this autumn. He closed his Lincoln Center show on Tuesday with a capped-sleeve ivory organza confection that had the audience gasping with delight. Elsewhere, the collection focused on dark enduring Latino beauty; ruched organza flamenco dresses, trumpet skirts and off-the shoulder peasant blouses – though a standout piece was a nude mesh gown adorned with pinot noir rose patterns in delicate Chantilly lace.

Finally, over at Ralph Rucci, in front of row upon row of the Charity gala set, the clothes on display revealed that this homegrown designer continues to be the closest thing New York has to an uptown couturier. Still, his inspiration also seemed to be slipping downtown at points, with hemlines coming up up up on a little white matte python slip, velvet apron dress or burnished bronze paillette shift with a squared-off chiffon neckline. Va-va-voom 1980s style pieces went confidently back to his roots: tapered organza cigarette pants were the stem of a terrific evening jacket of thick black roses, flowering in layered ruffles both upwards and outwards and showing a masterful control of volume. So did a strapless structured gown of undulating feathers called “The eyelash cage”, which, despite going 3D, still described a tight ultra-feminine silhouette.

These were clothes that were both experimental and true to a consistent brand DNA, and could well serve as a model for any designer of any age and genre, no matter what their aesthetic.


By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 12, 2013


 New York Fashion Week: runway report 5

The news that the most exciting feature of the new iPhone5c was . . . wait for it . . . colour! broke, appropriately enough, on Day 6 of New York Fashion Week. After all, the addition of tonal choice to the mobile accessory of fashion choice should, theoretically, serve to bring the two industries ever closer together (imagine it – I’m sure Apple has: you could get different coloured phones to match different coloured outfits!).

Yet in all the talk about the potential of wearables this and heat sensor that, amid the furore caused by the gimmicky appearance of Google Glass on the front row, one crucial way tech has already changed fashion has been overlooked.

To be specific: how it has affected not the fibres or sci-fi styling of clothing itself, but rather the choice of materials and colours and concepts that add up to a collection; the thought process that leads to the end-product. Or so was apparent in the New York shows.

Historically, after all, designers have found their seasonal narratives in the world around them: travel, art, film, and so on.

See, for example, Michael Kors, who for spring/summer said he was thinking of “summer romance, the 1940s, Katherine Hepburn”, and then translated that on the runway with a new fluidity in floral crepe tea dresses, skirts cut to swirl on the bias, flowers glinting with miniature paillettes; loose slouchy trousers and striped georgette blouses; tailored shorts with a real waist and a bit of a flare; and evening gowns with torsos shirred and gathered like maillots.

Or see Marchesa, where Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig referenced the Hollywood dream of the 1920s, ’30s and ’50s in their fairy tale collection of lace-and-rose gowns, pearl-draped mermaid dresses, and tiers of sparkling feather-dotted frills.

Even Reed Krakoff, who is more interested in structure than storytelling, begins with architecture, and feeds the concepts of material and construction into garments. This tends to make spring/summer a bit of a struggle for him, as the warmer months mitigate against the stronger fabrics that best serve his vision, and indeed, a focus on nude tones and flyaway fabrics, from voile to organdy and chiffon, rendered spring/summer’s slip-dresses (shirred on top like a leotard, cut longer and floatier below) overly insubstantial. A sleeveless steel bonded satin trenchcoat, a shot of citrine satin in skirts inset with a slash of white cotton voile, and a simply vee-neck “sweater” vest ribbed at the waist, fronted in coffee-coloured satin and backed in black nappa, were terrific. Still, there’s identifiable continuity in the thinking, either way.
By contrast, it was hard to know what to make of references as weirdly diverse as the “domesticity, mid-century modern furniture, Moroccan weaving [and] Arte Povera” that came courtesy of Proenza Schouler, for a simple reason: designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez do their inspiration-gathering on the virtual superhighway, where links between ideas are rarely linear.

Yet the result – three-tiered elongated shells and peplums and pencil skirts, all in a black and white bare branch print; swinging pleated skirts in off-centre combinations of metallics and matte shades under crossover tops; black cropped trousers and jackets with seams and creases picked out by chalk-drawn shadows – had a powerful originality that touched on time and place without ever getting stuck.

It’s not that this approach is necessarily better than the other (the growing enormity of Mr Kors’s business, and the fact Mr Krakoff and a group of investors just bought his brand from its former parent company, Coach, proves their approach works very well), but it seems to have liberated the designers to think in a different way – one in which it is possible to recognise where you want to go, as opposed to necessarily where you are, or where you have been. My guess is that’s a more essential change than anyone might have expected. It looks like the future, partly because it wears so well.



By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 11, 2013


New York Fashion Week: runway report 4

It’s a weird thing to wake up in the morning to newspapers full of news about Syria and thought-provoking pieces on chemical weapons, and then get ready to go to a fashion show; the two realities are so extreme it can be hard to hold both in your head at the same time.

On day five of New York Fashion Week, for example, the Rodarte show featured fringed hotpants and studded leather hip belts; gold lamé-and-black tiger-striped jackets; leopard satin skirts and illusion net embroidered with metallic scorpions at the waist – it was hard not to wonder who, exactly, those clothes were for. Sometimes this question is easier to answer than others.

At Wes Gordon, it was clear that the mid-calf lavender-and-lace crêpe skirts and dresses with not entirely peekaboo sides, the white menswear mini-shirt-dress visible under a sheer lemon yellow lace pencil skirt, and the tailored coats tossed just so over the shoulders were intended for just the sorts of customers – next-generation socialites Marina Rust and Lauren Dupont – in the designer’s front row. And at Oscar de la Renta, with whom Mr Gordon is often compared (in that “he’s a young Oscar de la Renta” way, though after Mr Gordon’s show it’s clear he’s not there yet), the double-face wool wrap coats lined in houndstooth, the black and white polka dot bouclé skirt suits with lace tees and the unabashedly luxe party dresses and gowns (from a traditional tiered column trimmed in pearls to an eye-popping neon green bridal pouf), were perfectly calibrated for an entire panoply of decorative needs.

But just because Vera Wang’s alliterative notes – “Artful and Architectural and Athletic” – seemed potentially over-egged (a little mesh here, a little paint splash there, circular seams all over) that didn’t mean her clothes were a mess: in fact, they were generally balanced and aerodynamic. There’s no question there’s an art gallerist (or a wannabe art angel) out there who wants nothing but to waft about in a water-colour-splashed chiffon slipdress over loose trousers, emanating a triple-A vibe.

And just because Rodarte’s play on down-and-dirty LA street style, from Hair metal to Rockabilly and Sunset strip – albeit rendered in the sort of luxury materials that can transform a garment up close – provoked mostly head scratching instead of foot stomping, doesn’t mean there isn’t, say, a lion tamer or ex-Disney star who would appreciate the aesthetic.

Still, when it comes to bra tops with beaded fringing, the market can’t be huge. Which is why it’s nice when, instead of trying to imagine who the customer is, you find yourself wondering who it isn’t.

Such was the case at Sophie Theallet, a designer who demonstrated she may be the pre-eminent colourist in New York by pairing burgundy and coral, turquoise and tangerine and fuchsia and mustard, all in neat, flippy day dresses, crisp cottons and silks that transcended age and personal politics to simply read as very, very pretty (though Theallet is clearly struggling, necessarily so, to diversify her silhouette). And such was the case at Narciso Rodriguez, whose ability to take the elements of strict tailoring and transform them into something other – softer, more interesting, more personal – explodes the limits of the form, and hence the customer base.

This season Rodriguez played with length, with hip-length jackets topping an adult equivalent of the skort: a short with a wraparound skirt on one side that suggested an ultra-mini, but wasn’t (hence solving the dual problem of “can you wear shorts to work?” and “can you wear minis?” Answer: no, but you can if it’s both at the same time). These also came slightly longer, while simple shift dresses turned out to be constructed from a complex geometry of seams and shapes, fabrications and shades, or over-embroidered to create a texture that suggested florals – but wasn’t. Look closely or you’d miss it.

They were smart clothes, bound for smart people – and who doesn’t want to be in that category? Especially when there are other, much more serious, things going on.



By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 11, 2013



New York Fashion Week: Do your own thing

Designers show off their more accessible lines

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”, so said Oscar Wilde and so did many of New York’s designers on Tuesday. There was, however, a sort of wry irony at play, given that most of the collections were more accessible lines of bigger, glossier global brands. In that context, what exactly was that self?

“I wanted to use this season to really show our customers the other side of my wardrobe – these are all clothes that I regularly wear,” said Victoria Beckham at an intimate downtown presentation of her second line, Victoria.
“I chose not to do a show because I wanted personally to explain exactly what my brand aesthetic is about and how it’s evolving, something that doesn’t always come across from pieces when they just come down the catwalk.”

Beckham’s focus in New York was on chic, feminine dresses, mostly in a poppy palette of sorbets that were more sophisticated and less conversational than in seasons past and packed particular punch with pretty textured prints on cotton jacquard mixes or stiffened crêpe de Chine.

Her sleight of hand when it comes to creating a flattering silhouette is fast becoming expert, be it playing with volume – evident in a cerulean blue, dropped-waist “cloud” dress with a full and romantic crinoline skirt – or with a more controlled finish, as seen in a duchesse satin mini-shift, with couture neck detailing and a bust bedecked with edgy, laser-cut flowers.

Others seemed to engage in a meander down memory lane, for example at Marc by Marc Jacobs, where the audience was given playful, pared-down updates of the cult US designer’s most recognisable stylistic smash hits.

Pyjamas got the nod via pastel-hued, loosely tailored satin trouser suits and silky blue patterned tanks with navy piping, as did other core MJ classics, including casual 1970s sportswear basics, slouchy, off-duty, androgynous tailoring and drop-waisted, bedazzling disco shifts, awash with sequinned stars and stripes and finished off with sneakers. It was undeniably sellable and slick, but ultimately the show felt a little stuck in yesteryear, unconcerned with growing up or moving on.
By contrast, J Crew took the opportunity to show industry insiders how it continues to live very much in the present. Jenna Lyons and her team pumped out more of the vibrant, playful mix’n’match separates that have underscored the brand’s commercial success in recent years, infusing them this season with waves of nautical beach chic. Breton-blocking was out in force in the shape of cropped jackets and tees teamed with Club Tropicana-esque sunset tapered shorts, while signature neon splashes found berth in languid tangerine silk kaftans, or were woven into cropped cigarette pants with geometric patterning that mirrored the structure of propped-up surfboards.

But when it came to unforced, easy style and crisp execution, Tory Burch’s latest collection proved the closest reflection of a designer truly comfortable in her own creative skin.

Taking inspiration from the late 1960s French Riviera and the gardens of Southampton, her sun-bleached, cinched cotton minidresses and structured peplum tops, embroidered with sprigs of unwinding flora, felt fresh, informal and summery. Later, shimmery silk maxi shifts printed with Queen Anne lace and sweeping linen halter dresses with jewelled coral appliqué radiated a glamorous informality ideal for those in search of insouciant Mediterranean evening wear – or just the opportunity to look as if they are.

Ms Burch has made a fortune from her charmingly clever take on the new age moneyed aesthetic and has been widely imitated by numerous rivals only too aware of her ability to set major trends.

“At first, it wasn’t a problem, but now it is a starting to become one. Everyone should be inspired by people but then also try to differentiate. But you should never just copy,” she said at the end of the show, justifiably territorial about a brand that is truly her own.


By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 10, 2013


New York Fashion Week: Keeping grounded

For any designer wanting to play a winning hand in the high stakes game that is today’s fashion business, flights of creative fancy must always be grounded by the practical realities of the ordinary woman and what she will actually wear. “Grounded” being the operative word.

Phillip Lim’s 3.1 spring collection, for example, was rooted (pun intended) to the most basic and elemental components of Mother Earth. “It’s a survey of raw landscapes, terrains, geode-formation,” he said before the show, which played out upon a sea of salt grains that transformed New York City’s vast post office sorting space into an ethereal urban desert.

The conceit worked best when Mr Lim used a predominantly mineral palette to breathe life and fluidity into stiff, starched separates; think molten lava-esque pattern undulations on boxy kimono-sleeved tops with jagged jacquard edgings, or a slick suede leather midi skirt with an oily foil finish.

As it happens, the mechanics of natural evolution was also at the heart of All Saints, the London-based brand in the process of bouncing back from bankruptcy, in the form of a mixed bunch of grungy floral lace shirtdresses, poppy red tapered pants and digi-print wardrobe staples mean to evoke “flora mortis”; the dark beauty of flowers in flux as they wilt and slowly die.

Over at Theyskens’ Theory, meanwhile, chic updates of tried and tested classics achieved a certain amount of lift-off: a long white collarless shirt dress that vaulted into elegant contemporary evening wear by way of its thickly embroidered sequin sheen; oversized tailored blazers; and fine jersey corsetry and layering.

More experimental offerings fell straight to earth, however, from uninspired silky slips in dusky sunrise palettes to clingy cropped neon long johns under slim fit city boy shorts. As options for the loyal Theory customer, it was hard to believe they would truly take wing.



By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 10, 2013



New York Fashion Week: runway report 3

On Tuesday New Yorkers go to the polls to vote in the mayoral primaries and on Monday, Day 4 of Fashion Week, it was hard to turn a corner without someone thrusting a “Di Blasio for Mayor” or “Quinn for Mayor” or “Thompson for Mayor” flyer in your hand (“Weiner for Mayor” was harder to come by). It’s transition time for the city, the end of the Bloomberg era and the start of something new: as yet unknown, but guaranteed, whatever happens, to be very different. Fashion is in much the same place.

The old guard – the houses with the same high global Q rating as the present mayor – are still performing at a high level, but it’s the new guard that are making the waves. Even if Tommy Hilfiger did set his collection on the California coast (complete with sand and dunes).

Despite the inspiration, the bright colour-blocked leather T-dresses, bomber jackets and quasi-athletic shorts just looked beached and though much was unquestionably commercial – especially if you imagine the neoprene trousers and pencil skirts actually zipped at the crotch, as opposed to open à la Jim Morrison as they were on the catwalk – they aren’t going to change the tide.

By contrast, at The Row, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen took their Zen-luxe and gave it a twist by setting urban against Eden, often literally in the same garment: a crinkled three-quarter length georgette dress with the stretchy ease of the Seychelles under a tailored blazer over a silk underskirt that just peeked out the bottom; the same georgette this time trapping an Indian-embroidered scarf top and skirt underneath; a shearling coat laser-cut into airy lace. As a play on youth and age, freedom and responsibility, and the push-pull of compromise, it was both understated – and a bit of a dare.

And so it went. Carolina Herrera produced a lighter-than-ever collection (literally so), based on the kinetic art movement and the work of Venezuelan artists Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesús Rafael Soto, that was marked by the use of layers of organza and offset geometric prints to create a blink-and-blink again optical effect. This was echoed in smart and simple silk Tee dresses traced by whorls of raked lines and extrapolated in the simplest cream top, its back billowing out like a train, over a rust-coloured skirt. But while the looks gave a lift to her trademark uptown cool, they didn’t challenge it.

Granted, that’s probably a relief for her customers, unlike Donna Karan’s odd foray off-signature-suiting piste into scarf dressing (scarf skirts, scarf jackets, scarf jumpsuits), all marked by a tribal geometric print or drapery and, save one terrific sharp leather jacket and some cool denim, all as unstructured as the idea. At least Maria Cornejo, as usual, had something stronger to grapple with: “I’m interested in finding a modern way to look at things that have already existed,” she noted, be it the curvilinear structure cut into a car coat made of neoprene, or a cropped top with a train over sweatpants all in sapphire lame, or one of the best black tie looks of the season, a strapless black wrap tunic over black and white nomad-ready trousers.

The real agent provocateur of the New York catwalks, however, is Thom Browne: one of the few designers willing to abandon the garment legacy of fashion entirely in favour of in-your-face creativity (or costumery, depending on your point of view). This puts him at odds with a chunk of the New York fashion establishment, which tends to take pride in its understanding of fashion as a business and also makes him the darling of a certain sector, which likes to think of fashion as art.

This season exemplified why, as headless mannequins hung from the ceiling amid small rooms done up like an asylum, complete with giant jars of “pills” (white M&Ms) and a flickering neon light. When the clothes appeared, they resembled nothing so much as a wardrobe for Marie Antoinette in the madhouse, an all white lace-and-latex-and-pearls extravaganza of exaggerated corsetry, ridged seams and extreme tailoring.
Mr Browne owes a huge debt to Alexander McQueen (the designer, not the brand), who paved the way for these kinds of immersive shows and many of the same shapes. And Mr Browne, like Mr McQueen before him, has learnt to insert some wearable pieces (sans styling) amid the extremes: in particular a silver lamé and lace dancing dress over a honeycomb petticoat and some beautifully cut safari-to-the-Petit-Trianon jackets.

In another fashion city (OK, London), these might not cause the same frisson they do in New York, but here, like them or not, there’s no denying they have enlivened the sartorial debate. And that is – as the slogans go – change worth voting for.


By: Elizabeth Paton

Date: September 9, 2013


New York Fashion Week: Sunday, busy Sunday

Sunday may mark the midpoint of New York Fashion Week, but for the majority of its nomadic participants, not surprisingly, it’s never a day of rest.

Every hour outside show venues – inevitably scattered across the length and breadth of Manhattan – crowds throng the pavements, beholden to a relentless schedule. Sometimes though, it’s worth it – and sometimes it’s really just about the famous faces that appear.

Both, happily, were the case at Edun, where a front row of legendary 1990s supermodels, including Christy Turlington Burns and Helena Christensen, had gathered alongside Chili Pepper frontman Anthony Kiedis and U2’s Bono (he co-owns the label alongside wife Ali Hewson) to watch the unveiling of an inaugural collection by new designer Danielle Sherman.

With a steady hand, Sherman guided the eco-luxe brand in a new aesthetic direction this season, using monochrome graphics, tribal-checked prints and woven criss-cross leathers in an opening procession of boxy Proenza-tinged separates for the stylish urban woman.
These looks then gave way to languid off-duty basics reflective of Edun’s ethnic roots; think gauzy layered tunics, or elegantly tailored split-seam maxi skirts with rich ochre piping – though no piece fully left the impression we were seeing anything entirely original to Sherman herself.

Over at Thakoon, however, the Thai-American designer was keen to take things back to basics – on his own terms. “I liked the idea of something more classic,” he said ahead of the show. “I’ve been whittling things down in the past few seasons.”

In practice, this meant barely-there 1930s-esque silky lingerie slips, creamy and embellished with fragmented bits of dangling diamanté or scraps of embroidered lace. Though feminine, these seemed fussy and almost tawdry; better were the edgier, more minimalist offerings, such as the multi-pleated “pleather” midi in a rosy digital print, or a laser-cut stand-away denim sheath with loose-fitting white slacks.

At Y-3 meanwhile, where baby-faced pop teen idol Justin Bieber held court amid hordes of identically clad minions, Yohji Yamamoto had joined forces with graphic artist Peter Sackville for the brand’s second 10-year anniversary collection.

Yamamoto called this season a new start, though really it was just more of the same, with a series of sports-infused classics designed for those in search of a trendy downtown uniform. Stark cubist shapes in a variety of materials were infused with the brand’s sharp slouchy street swagger and silhouette, as well as the Adidas three-stripe motif.

Occasionally playful new touches appeared: a tie-dye rainbow palette kicked off proceedings, woven into the side seams of rain macs or splattered across tapered knickerbockers, while a cerulean blue tapered waistcoat suit was unexpectedly layered up with a flirty white pannier skirt.

At DKNY – also celebrating a big anniversary (25 years in the business) – Donna Karan was clearly in the mood to have fun, too. This season the brand paid energetic homage to its home city, updating nostalgic 1990s style tropes such as baggy denim overalls, glaring brand logos, platform sneakers and the biker bandana print with a sexy contemporary twist.

Layering and texture blocking was used to particularly strong effect; think a starched white tee and netted underskirt that showcased a ruched and wrap-waisted rain-mac midi-skirt, coral and cobalt neoprene skater dresses or the closing series of plastic pastel-coloured mac dresses with billowing trains.

The eye-popping finale saw a strutting Rita Ora – the British singer recently crowned as the new campaign face of the brand – meet Karlie Kloss in front of a New York taxi on the runway. It was as though the worlds of the city outside, front row and catwalk suddenly collided as one to become a great big slightly self-conscious but thoroughly distracting party.


By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 9, 2013


 New York Fashion Week: runway report 2

This season, it seems like there are exponentially more street style snappers camped outside the shows and Lincoln Center than ever before – more photographers, certainly, than there are official ones at the end of the runway. Simply getting to the entrance of a collection is like running the gauntlet, even if the camera-people in question have zippo interest in you and simply want you out of the way so they can snap the woman behind in the pearl-encrusted evening gown at 10am. As a result, sometimes it’s hard to tell where the real fashion is: in the tents or outside.

And, in fact, on day three of the New York shows, what was actually on the catwalk was notably more controlled – even wearable – than what was on the street. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

After all, to catch the eyes of the street pack, the more outré and fashion-crazy you look, the better. While that may get you a web page, however, it doesn’t have much to do with what fashion is really for: to make your life easier by allowing you to put something on every morning that makes you feel good and smart and appropriate and powerful (or any permutation therein) and that then requires no more mental attention. At its best the message is less “look at me” than “look at what I am doing”.
Consider, for example, Diane von Furstenberg, where the designer went back to her “easy/sexy/functional” roots via a “new” wrap dress – snug on top, short and flared in the skirt – safari tunics over liquid trousers and silk, chiffon and jersey separates printed with everything from python skin to cork to an African sunset. Or consider Derek Lam, who matched oversize gingham or sheeny denim with crisp silhouettes in straight below-the-knee skirts, peplum tops and full-skirted day frocks to great success – though things got a bit dowdy with long strapless evening gowns covered by overly architectural, body-obliterating cropped boleros.

Or consider, for that matter, Victoria Beckham, where the eponymous designer expanded her version of accomplished, intelligent clothes yet again.

Though Ms Beckham began her fashion career with body-conscious power dresses, she has loosened up over the seasons and this time relaxed into a new chic via cropped Gaucho trousers under spaghetti strap tunics finished with a ruffle at the hips; short pleated white skirts half-hidden by a black jersey overlay that matched a halter or T-shirt top; and button-down shirts with transparent or geometric detailing. She says she was exploring “the merging of boy and girl sensibilities”. There was also some gender bending going on, but it was handled so nonchalantly (nonchalance being a somewhat new thing for her) it seemed simply cool. Even her little girl, Harper, sitting in the front row on her father’s lap, couldn’t steal the show from the clothes.

The sole exception to the understated rule, and the one that proved it, was Zac Posen, whose love of a fishtail satin red carpet gown apparently cannot be denied, even though he might be better served to follow the instinct that created the sweet pintucked chiffon tea dresses that opened his show (the former being exactly the sort of “statement’ gown the street-style paparazzi would love, but the latter a decidedly less clichéd proposition). Though admittedly there was a third way, as evinced by Opening Ceremony’s debut.

To be specific: designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim dressed up their show in the bells and whistles that gets an entire audience madly instagramming – the models made their entrances in shiny sports cars, from Ferraris to Mercedes and Jaguars – but then offered up a collection that was a little bit street, a little bit Asian-ethnic, a little bit tailored and a little bit ironic kitsch; in other words, perfectly nice, but also pretty unoriginal.

This probably should not be a surprise, given that OC started life as a retail adventure. Successful independent retailers make their names by buying a little of this, a little of that and recombining brands in provocative, idiosyncratic ways on their shop floor. However, offered up in the context of the pseudo-car-show “happening” it recalled nothing so much as the ready-to-wear extravaganzas of the 1990s, when fashion first started to think of itself as pop culture. As my seatmate said while we were waiting for things to begin, “Been there, done that”.

Of course, Mr Leon and Ms Lim were not designing, or even selling, in those days (as it said on the programme, “Est. 2002”), so it’s possible that for them this seems like a new idea.

Ultimately, though, instead of seeming like a resolution to the outside-inside tension that marks today’s fashion week, it felt more like regression back to ye olden days. After all, there’s proof in the present that clothes can speak softly and still carry a big punch.


By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 8, 2013


New York Fashion Week: runway report 1

The first two days of New York Fashion Week – that is to say, the first two days of the entire spring/summer 2014 season, which will run through London, Milan and Paris until October 3 – played out against the backdrop of the final days of the US Open (pun fully intended), and even though tennis and fashion have become ever more interdependent thanks to Vogue editor, tennis fan and FoF (friend of Federer) Anna Wintour, it was hard not to feel this time there was even more symbiosis than usual between the two.

(Yes, you’re looking at a tennis metaphor here. Bear with me.)

Over in Forest Hills, after all, as big stars like Andy Murray and Roger Federer flamed out before the semi-finals, Stanislas Wawrinka took the tennis world by surprise: though he didn’t make it to tomorrow’s finals, his epic 21-minute single game against Novak Djokovic earned him a standing ovation, and the acknowledgment that he had vaulted out of the great upper middle into the top ranks. Which is, after all, what every “promising” young designer dreams of during the collections.

So on days one and two did any perform a similar feat? Certainly, there were a lot of attempts to change the game.

Indeed, only one designer was really hanging back and playing it safe: Peter Som, whose swirling moiré print car coats, rough-edged linen short suits, and mix of neoprene and eyelet were very pretty, but lacked power. Jason Wu and Prabal Gurung, however, both attempted to mix things up, about-facing from last season’s respective looks of uptown power woman-seduction and military dominatrix in shows that, for Mr Wu, featured sheer fabrics with sequin overlays, lingerie and safari details and fluid suiting, all largely in various shades of cream (with some sea foam green and navy thrown in for good measure), and, for Gurung, “the elegant woman . . . in a modern context” as inspired by Bert Stern’s photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

In practice this meant classic 1950s skinny skirts, picture necklines and bustiers, but reimagined with a bad taste techno vibe that gave it a frisson of interest (with a nod to Miuccia Prada), thanks to Pepto-Bismol colours and fabrics with an oily sheen; clear PVC raincoats embroidered in metallic roses; and cotton day dresses that turned to reveal harnesses over skin at the back. It was weirdly mesmerising, but in the context of the designer’s past work, didn’t seem to display anything resembling a consistent point of view (or attack).

This is also a problem for Mr Wu, who is famous for making both Michelle Obama’s inaugural gowns (much tweeting post-show about how Mrs O wouldn’t be able to find her next dress here), but not necessarily revealing lots of skin. And while both designers can be commended for expanding their repertoire, if they don’t do this in the context of their own aesthetic identity, they’ll never be able to win the long game.

Yet even Alexander Wang, who arguably has already effected the great leap out of his peer group (at least employment-wise) by becoming creative director of Balenciaga as well as his own brand, was wrestling with some identity issues at his eponymous house: after opening with looks that cleverly used menswear shirting – complete with embroidered monogram – in classic womenswear tropes, from baby-doll dresses to tap pants and hipster pleated schoolgirl skirts, he segued into an “Alexander Wang” logo-a-gogo laser-cut into leather, embroidered on the corset waists of dresses, and worked into cropped lace tops like an endlessly repeating punch line. It had a juvenile edge, like the chiffon-and-cotton sweatshirts sporting the message “Parental advisory: explicit content” across the bust, and ultimately undermined the adult intelligence of a trench angled like a cutaway on the sides.

Whether Mr Wang can define two entirely different, yet specific, brand visions at the same time remains a question. It’s hard to keep each eye in a different court without sometimes resorting to the cheap shot.

At least Joseph Altuzarra, who is about to become Mr Wang’s semi-stablemate (on Friday Kering, Balenciaga’s parent company, announced they had taken a minority stake in the young brand) doesn’t have to think about any brand except his own, and perhaps as a result produced a collection that had both the specificity of a single silhouette – elongated and languorous, in three-quarter-length skirts, skinny trousers, cropped jackets and layered tops – and the surprise of finely calibrated juxtapositions: skinny-knit T-shirts with gold or silver satin skirts attached, the fabric swagged at the waist like a ball gown; silks that referenced both red, white and blue mattress ticking and pirates without ever losing their cool; and patchy faded denim printed on to tailored silks. Watching it zoom by it was hard not to think: Ace.


By: Vanessa Friedman

Date: September 5, 2013



New York Fashion Week: what to watch

Note: that headline does not say “who to watch”, nor does it say “what shows to watch” – it says “what to watch”, and by that, I do not mean what digital video channel, though they are unquestionably proliferating, but rather what’s important to consider during the next round of shows, which start – ahem – tomorrow. I guess a more colloquial way of putting it would be “what to watch for”. And when it comes to “what to watch for”, I have four main areas of focus: 1. How’s that dual Balenciaga/eponymous balancing act going for Alexander Wang? Which is to say, really, is there any more evidence that, contrary to recent beliefs developed in the post-Galliano implosion, one designer CAN serve two masters? Last season, Mr Wang’s own brand was rather tepidly received, while his French debut met with restrained rapture; the wisdom of the crowd said, “well, it was his first season, there was so much pressure, he would have had to focus more on his big-name job.” Now he’s well and fairly in it, however, and it’s fair to look at him as a test case for whether it is possible to pull off a trans-Atlantic twofer and prove that, in fact, it is not asking too much of any one creator. The answer will, it seems to me, help determine industry direction when it comes to designers.2. Will Opening Ceremony pave the way for retailers to become designers? Post-taking the creative director job at Kenzo, Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, the founders of destination retail space Opening Ceremony, are holding their own brand show for the first time this season. While they have always commissioned special projects and worked with designers on OC collaborations for their space (hence its fame), this is their first collection under their own name on the calendar, and it’s one of the most-anticipated shows (plus there’s a week-long pop-up shop). If they pull it off, it seems to me this will vault specialty retailers to yet another level, and potentially get retail names such as Kirna Zabete, Colette, and Ikram thinking along the same lines. 3. Will social media actually lead to show downsizing? In recent years general industry thinking has run along the lines of “social media is driving the show circus to get ever more circus-y,” as the need for collections to grab attention in the crowded digital space encourages the upsizing and entertainment-ising of the runway, and the celeb-packing of front rows. However, this season both Oscar de la Renta and Reed Krakoff have announced they are cutting their audience numbers significantly, while Billy Reid has abandoned plans for his usual 400-person men’s-and-women’s show, and will have a tiny men’s show, plus appointments for womenswear buyers. The thing is, the ODLR folks say, social media properly used actually means that a small internal core can have a very large external impact; close up and personal can reach millions. This is an inversion of the most recent equation, but one that makes a certain amount of sense to me. And the fact that a lot of people CAN’T get a ticket to a show will probably only make them more eager to see what they missed on mobile. 4. And finally: will all the hoo-ha about fashion’s social responsibility have any real affect? You know: will the models be older, less skinny, multi-racial; will there be a “Made in America” label in the clothes? Given that most designers don’t even seem to realise the shows take place over September 11 (and yes, I have a bee in my bonnet about this), not to mention history, I tend to doubt it, but you never know. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that. Anyway, that’s what’s going to be in the back of my thoughts this week. See you on the front row.