Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brace yourselves...

Even though the Fall Winter 2009/2010 season has been under way since this past weekend, yesterday marked the beginning of the big New York shows, the shows that people wait up all night to see pictures and video of, the shows that serve as the unofficial start of the season on a broader scale, and the shows which...well....matter. Monday brought out collections from not one, but two heavy hitters, Donna Karan with her signature collection and Marc Jacobs with his. That's pretty much where the similarities end however since their collections, as per usual, couldn't have been more different.

Donna Karan

For me Donna Karan's collections are always among the few I anticipate seeing during New York Fashion Week. Even when she's resting on her laurels, and she's got plenty of them to rest on, she still manages to make feminine, sensual, chic clothes for feminine, sensual, chic women. You'd have to be crazy not to at least appreciate that she knows how to flatter a woman's body in ways that few of her male counterparts can. And it is admirable that her clothes usually seem aimed at grown women with less that perfect model physiques. On a personal note, I just think the woman is a master, or rather mistress, of draping. She creates dresses so fluid, so slinky and cut with just the right amount of skin on display that it's a wonder her gowns don't see more of the red-carpet. All of those actresses in their cliched mermaid gowns with rigid bustiers and diamonds pouring out their ears could learn a thing or twelve from the Queen of 7th Ave on how to look sexy and be comfortable at the same time. On top of having an amazing eye and hand for draping, she makes it look easy. Her gowns and dresses look like the fabric just sort of fell onto the body that way and is just barely staying in place. As someone who has seen her runway pieces up close however, I couldn't even begin to tell you how they're constructed, it's that complex. But you'd never know it looking at the clothes, they just sort of hang there perfectly on the hanger. So what if she's one of those designers who doesn't always give the world something new? If it looks that good, who needs newness? Her Spring Summer 09 collection was very fluid, very easy and it had a youthful, sporty feel to it even though the clothes were signature Donna. For Pre-Fall all signs indicated that she would be going more structured, more polished and more tough than is usually the case for her with shorter hemlines, thigh revealing slits and very fitted shapes. It's not always the case that a Pre-Fall collection is a good indication of what's to come, but in this case, it was actually pretty close.

For Fall/Winter 2009 Donna went for grown up sophistication that was one part 40's, one part 80's and one part now. The silhouette was almost always very long, lean in the bottom half with draped or tailored pencil skirts cut below the knee or to mid-thigh. Some of the draped versions wrapped in the back and while the models walked, a slit opened up to reveal a bit of leg (such a sexy touch, very seductive). The top half had a bit more volume to it, though the waist was always in focus. Karan caught onto the shoulder-pad trend that has been literally everywhere for what seems like an eternity (but in reality is only one or two seasons) and showed that, despite the popular belief that they're a tragic relic of the 80's that should never be brought back, they can actually look totally right for the here and now. Sharply tailored jackets and coats had a strong shoulder line, some with over-sized portrait collars that spread open over the decollete to show off the huge necklaces some of the girls were wearing, others with cowl necklines in fur. With some of these looks she put fur half-sleeves over the arm of the jacket, which I actually think was a great touch. It kept those looks from being too elegant since the fur had a sort of raw quality. But some of the most gorgeous things had to be the very softly draped, high neck, dolman sleeved tops in jersey. Karan draped them on a shoulder pad, which not only created a beautiful line, but gave a nice bit of structure to a top that otherwise would have been fairly shapeless. But the best part? The split running down the spine in the back. So subtle, but so sexy.

In the dress department, Karan didn't disappoint either. One of my favorites was a fluid high necked number in a really deep brown charmeuse worn with a leather belt at the waist. It was so simple and just looked, I hate to use such a banal word so many times in one review, but it looked chic. Of course this being a Donna Karan collection the best dresses were saved for last. A gorgeous gray number with a slash neck, dolman sleeves and draping coming off of one of the shoulder pads looked gorgeous from the front, and even better from the back. It went into a deep V and had a swag that draped into a train. Another stunner, in that same deep-brown-almost-prune color featured a softly draped cowl, long sleeves with cut out cold shoulders (a Karan signature) and flowing train that unfortunately must have gotten a little tangled on Jourdan Dunn's foot. But if you're not really planning on strutting a runway, then it's a gorgeous evening option. The last two looks featured strapless tops with flattened fan pleating spread out across the bust and hips and belted at the waist worn over simple fishtail skirts. The looks were gorgeous, but the color combinations were a little off to me. One paired a cognac top with a black skirt and the other paired a black top with that gorgeous deep brown. Were it me I might have paired the cognac top with the brown skirt and the black top with the black skirt...but it's a minor complaint on my part. All this time as the girls came out, a live pianist was accompanying the procession with renditions of Mr. Brightside by The Killers and Going Under by Evanescence (at least I think, still not too sure about that one). The choice in music really added to the elegance of the collection, and I imagine it must have been a nice change of pace for those in the audience who are normally subjected to remixes of the same songs that happen to be popular at the moment.

All in all, a really beautiful collection. It kind of made me think of Cukor's "The Women", a very glamorous, independent urban females looking fabulous at all times kind of spirit. Even though I would have hemmed some of the skirts a bit shorter, changed some of the shoes to something more streamlined and switched up those last two evening looks, it was still very beautiful and contained plenty of gorgeous pieces. So maybe I am a little disappointed that she didn't completely stay with the sharp, aggressive and youthful mood she captured for Pre-Fall, but I can at least say that I like the collection, particularly after seeing it in motion.

Marc Jacobs

Alright, so it may be a little early, but I'm gonna call it anyway. The most fun collection of the week is bound to be Marc Jacobs. For sheer ridiculous, silly, giddy, loud, in your face fashion, I doubt if Jacobs can be beat. For next fall he sent out a collection so trashy, so over the top and so-bad-it's-good that I kind of can't help but love it. It's like, cerebrally I know I shouldn't like it because it contains so much of what I've been hating about fashion for some time now, but I just can't help it, it's too infectious. Jacobs claimed that he was thinking about that time in the Mid-80's when the cool kids of Manhattan would dress to the nines, kill off the ozone layer with hair product and lacquer their faces with enough makeup to make most modern day drag queens look tasteful. Unusual for Jacobs his references were right out there for everyone to see. That got me thinking right there. He's one of those designers that is not only very vague about any specific references he was playing with, he's also very good at blending them. So the fact that his references were A) completely obvious and B) focused on something very specific is pretty significant. Clearly this collection was coming from the heart and he really didn't care what anyone thinks of it.

Some of the concerns (or rather complaints) I was seeing on the Fashion Spot, besides the obvious hatred of how retro and kitschy the collection was, was how out of touch with the times it is. It's no secret, everyone's going broke, some more quickly than others, and here Jacobs sent out a collection of extremely trendy, of-the-moment clothes when the commonly held belief is that safe, investment clothing is the right way to go right now. I beg to differ. I actually think Jacobs was smart not to go the route that so many designers undoubtably will this season. I don't claim to be some sort of expert when it comes to fashion buying, but my thinking is that the pieces that sit there on the rack and call to someone like any other guilty pleasure are the pieces that people will really want. It's no different than downing one too many drinks, eating junk food or having hot sex with the hot ex, they're all things that are triggered by some form of desire, and even though the voice in the back of your head tells you you shouldn't be doing it, you do it anyway. The decision you make isn't cerebral, and that's what is going to sell clothing in this economy.

Since my main concern isn't the economics of fashion, back to the collection. Let's start with color; every shade of super-bright day-glo marker you can imagine, Barbie pink, canary yellow, Kelly green, chemical blue, violet, gold and red all put in appearances, many in a single look. Fabrics as well were equally varied, wool, shiny velvet, taffeta, alpaca, lace, satin, lame, brocade, cashmere, all that and more. The show started out safe-ish, with gray punk inspired threads. The first look was an oversized cardigan lashed with zippers around the neckline that had a scarf pulled through one side was paired with pants that were simple in front, but had a half-kilt (Marc's wardrobe staple of choice lately) in the back. Then came an oversized sweater dress with the a zipper across the shoulder worn over patterned tights. And so out marched Marc Jacobs' gang of party people. A semi-transparent dress was covered with tiny circular mirrors that looked like studs from a distance, another combined tarty black lace with silk satin that was embellished with little round beads. A blood red sequined top was worn with a black, white and red striped pouf skirt and another dress was made of navy strips of satin that were falling apart to show off the pink underlayer. Just when you thought he was going to stay with the vaguely punky mood, he sent out some more glamor-tinged stuff. A yellow velvet top had a wavy off the shoulder neckline and was worn with gray tapered trousers and Guy Bourdin makeup. A minidress on Stam featured a similar neckline, just exaggerated to form some sort of yellow flower around the shoulders.

After this came the full on retinal assault of colors. A chemical blue jacket with cape sleeves had black piping around the edges and was worn with a velvet mini skirt in a darker shade of blue. A pink coat had shoulders that defy description, but let's just say they make Martin Margiela's of two years ago look tame by comparison. And so it went, a bright yellow coat/poncho hybrid, a green coat over a pink minidress, a purple hoodie dress over printed tights, an astrkhan poncho over green tapered pants, sweaters with boning in the waist, ruched taffeta party dresses in pink, plum and olive green, some with a zipper at the waist creating a ruched effect, multi-colored brocade jackets, stiff bubble shaped skirts in a blown up wallpaper pattern, and finally a black and white graphic print dress with poofy sleeves and skirt.

It was an insane parade of looks. No two were exactly the same, and from start to finish it didn't seem like there was one real flow to it. Besides the clear inspiration from the 80's, there wasn't a connecting thread from look #1 to look #60, and I actually think that was the point. Each one of the 60 models had a different hair and makeup look, and it really wouldn't be fair to talk about this show without mentioning the hair and makeup. There were huge pompadours, fried out perms, faux-hawks, crimped bobs, waves and spikes. Some girls even wore Flock of Seagulls inspired looks. And the makeup was just as eclectic, from heavy neon eyeshadow painted in wings across the eyes, blush that went from the forehead to the cheek, frosted blue, silver and purple lipstick, from Siouxsie Sioux to Debbie Harry and even Grace Jones, all of the icons of that era were represented. There was even one model made up to look like Tina Chow. Clearly Jacobs wanted each one of the models to look like an individual and wanted the whole show to be about different personalities, lot's of different people expressing themselves through style. So even if he didn't mean for the collection to feel a bit scattered and unfocused, I don't think it suffered because of that, in fact, it's probably what really made the collection.

Overall this wasn't his best collection in terms of originality or beauty, but I still love it despite that. I have a feeling a lot of people will be comparing it to last season's show, but as much as I loved that collection, I really don't think it's fair to compare the two. They're coming from two completely different places. It'd be like comparing Roberto Cavalli and Rick Owens (that's the fashion equivalent of apples and oranges). I also think a lot of people will look at this and immediately see costumes or retro fashions, and in truth the full looks are costumes, but if you zero in on the pieces, a bright wool overcoat, those fabulous zippered sweaters, a fun little party dress, the pants with the half-kilts, it really isn't so unwearable or even all that literally 80's. I mean yeah, the big shoulders are insane looking, but they don't make up the entire collection. And these pieces will no doubt be offered in more colors than just the neon that Jacobs showed on the runway. So really, what you're left with is fun, upbeat, vibrant clothes that would certainly lift the spirits of anyone wearing them come fall. But more than the clothes I really just love the spirit of this. It's so obvious that Marc and his team were having fun and wanted everyone else to as well. And when you compare this show to a lot of the other 80's inspired fashion that's been everywhere, this seems truly nostalgic, nostalgic for a time when fun reigned supreme and fashion wasn't burdened by worries of whether or not it would sell.

Check out the video. It's bound to put you in a good mood, for 10 minutes at least.

All photos from Style.com

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