Monday, September 21, 2009

'Tis the season...

In a way New York Fashion Week is like Christmas; you have to open a bunch of gifts you didn't want and won't use before you get to a good one. That's really the best description I can come up with for it, lot's of filler with some moments of excitement. While that makes looking through the shows annoying, it also makes it possible to review the ones I like all at once.

Donna Karan

Last season Donna Karan presented one of her most perfect collections in years combining glamour and sensuality with modernity and authority...not that that's anything really new for her. She's always been about that. But included in the mix was a nostalgic kind of femininity, something really elegant and pulled together that brought her collection to a whole other level. I was definitely curious to see where she would go for spring. Donna, like many women, has two very different sides to her. One season she goes after the spirit of New York, delivering on the powerful female mantra she laid out in the 80s. The next she's following the Zen path towards serene sensuality with a distinctly Eastern feel. I can't recall a collection where she managed to fully blend her two opposing sides into the same collection...until now.

Inspired by the elements, specifically the sea and the breeze blowing off it, Karan maintained her tailored, hourglass silhouette from fall. The opening look said it all; a chalky gray nipped waist jacket with a wide portrait neckline worn with a simple pencil skirt in a lighter shade of gray. The pieces were typical Donna Karan staples, but with a twist. Below the latex ribbon tied waist on the jacket, random crinkles shaped the upper hips and added texture to the look. As it turned out texture and rippling crinkles would shape up to be the main focus of the collection. There were echoes of last spring's Prada collection in the focus on textured fabric treatments, though here the rumpled effect was used more sparingly and focused on one area of the garment. There was a strapless top in linen with tight crinkled texture at the waist worn over a pencil skirt in fabric that had the texture of crepe paper party streamers. Burlap jackets were left to fray around the edges which gave them the look of tweed. A gorgeous peach blouse reminded me of the dolman sleeved tops she showed last season. From the back though it was cutout to reveal the shoulders, and what appeared to be bat wing sleeves from the front weren't sleeves at all. And a fiery red tube dress with gray trim was shown under a matching sheer textured coat.

From there the collection continued on the way it started, though now the feminine tailoring was punctuated with the occasional soft, ethereal look. A flowy red and gray printed organza skirt which was worn with a simple fitted tank introduced an ethereal, almost balletic feel that balanced out the sexy urban tailoring. There were also chiffon or printed organza wrap dresses, one in an icy gray that was among my favorite pieces in the collection, a fantastic degrade washed leather jacket, softly draped goddess dresses that fell off the shoulder or wrapped tightly around the body, a drop-dead skirt suit in chalky white python and a simple full skirted white cotton shirtwaist-come-cocktail dress. Of course this being a Donna Karan collection there were a number of stunning, effortless looking evening dresses on display. My personal favorites were the asymmetrical white jersey toga with plunging neckline and the fiery red satin column with draped bust. Like I said last season I just don't get why Donna's gowns don't end up on more red carpets. They look like they'd be extremely comfortable, and they're stunningly gorgeous on top of that. Why any starlet would choose a frou-frou bulldozer of a gown over something sleek and sensuous is beyond me.

While I don't think the collection was as perfectly realized as her last (there was the addition of some unfortunate looking chapeaux, a criminal offense imo) it did a pretty good job of picking up where that one left off. And like I said, this collection was a great blend of Donna's two opposing sides. It was completely urbane; chic, sleek and practical, but the soothing grays and beiges combined with the rough textures that appeared throughout gave the collection an earthy quality that, I think anyway, provided a wonderful contrast. Donna's always been telling women that they can be it all - mother, executive, seductress and goddess - and this collection was a good reminder of that.

Marc Jacobs

In a way fashion trends work like a pendulum. At some point the pendulum swings out far enough that the only way it can go is in the other direction. As far as Marc Jacobs is concerned, last season fashion swung as far as it could go in the tough, studded, shoulder-padded, leather legging-ed, mini-skirted 80s redux that has dominated runways for a few seasons now, and the only logical thing to do was something else entirely. His logic isn't entirely off either. quoted him as saying that "it's not such an individual expression", the it in question being the predominant look of the moment. That would definitely explain his collection for next spring, because it couldn't be farther from what's going on right now. Combining what seemed like miles of swirling, pleated ruffles, lingerie, menswear and a touch of Zandra Rhodes' trippy bohemian spirit - all of which was styled in a bizarrely layered way - Jacobs sent out a collection which he claimed was inspired by the stage. There was a hint of kabuki in the model's whitened face makeup and burgundy bow lips, as well as the modified geta platforms that were worn with every outfit. Some looks were topped with ruffled Pierrot collars, while the layering of others suggested a dancer in rehearsal mode. Dresses in pastel pink or white came smothered in those swirling ruffles with pearl trim, while masculine pinstripe suiting fabric was softened with ruffles edging the lapel or trousers. One jacket in sapphire blue had a huge lamé ruffle forming a bib down the front. It was worn with matching shorts, which were worn over sheer chiffon track pants in a lighter shade of blue. An olive green military jacket was belted under the bust and worn over ruffled hotpants. Vintage-style bras were worn over crisp button downs or knit tops, and pencil skirts cut at mid-calf had mesh girdles built into the waist. There were pastel jacquard ankle length circle skirts, candy striped harem pants, and dresses or outfits in pastel colored plaid with ruffled trim. All of this was just in the first half of the show.

The second half of the show was what interested me more. Those ruffles that had appeared throughout the show were now shown in candy-colored metallic brocades and were used to completely cover some of the garments. Even though the clothes were girly to the point of being ridiculous, there was something almost humorous about them...not surprising given Marc's obsession with subversion. If anyone can make pastel ruffles just a little bit off, it's Marc. There were some beautiful chiffon dresses in pale mint, pink or white with layered hankerchief edges, a black skirt ensemble in a cutout fishscale pattern that was embroidered in sequins and trimmed with ruffles around the shoulders and cuffs, and a dress reminiscent of vintage Paco Rabanne was made of sequined red and burgundy ovals that were linked together. The last look was one of the most traditionally beautiful things in the collection; a white organza dress with delicate black spirals swirling across the bodice and skirt like wisps of smoke.

Honestly, I wish I could say I liked the collection more. I definitely get it, and the fact that it's so different from almost everything that's been going on for a while now is refreshing, but I just don't think this made for one of Marc's most compelling collections. More than anything it just doesn't move me, one way or another. Here's hoping that the Vuitton collection is more convincing.


Probably one of the best things about Rodarte's Spring 2010 collection was the fact that, despite the Mulleavy sisters' references, there was a lot that could be seen in the clothes. This season the sisters concocted a fairy tale about a girl who's burned alive and reincarnated as a condor forced to survive in a barren, apocalyptic world. From that tale though they created looks that called to mind everything from Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" and the warrior queen Boudicca to voodoo shamans and grunge. Every look in the 35 piece collection was shredded, frayed, patched and just generally destroyed to perfection. Given the inspiration the color palette was suitably dark, earthy and strong, ranging from burnt browns and tans, faded burgundy and plum, a few shots of chartreuse and black. Some fabrics were bleached or tie-dyed, while others were printed with a faded tartan and all of them were pieced together in the sisters' signature collage construction. Almost all of the looks were comprised of short dresses, with a few pairs of slashed and zipped cigarette pants thrown into the mix and a finale trio of gowns. Like last season that left me a little frustrated. I totally get the Rodarte aesthetic, and I can totally appreciate their approach to design, but I don't really understand why, for the past few seasons, they've been delivering collections that are comprised almost exclusively of dresses. They've done beautiful separates in the past that were no less special than their fantasy dresses and gowns. Just like last season I'm wondering why they didn't show them on the runway. I know that they have to have made them for retailers, so why not show them? The problem with showing one dress after the other, all of which use similar techniques and fabrics to achieve their effect, is that they appear extremely similar. Instead of noticing the subtle differences between each dress, most people will zero in on the similarities. Take the first three looks; each of them were short, comprised of a streaky tan skirt and a top that mixed gray plaid, a shot of chartreuse and a bit of mauvey tie-dye. Each of them was draped differently, but because they were shown one after the other they looked more similar than they did unique. The collection moved from those first mini dresses through to woven or crocheted patchwork tunics with fringe dragging on the floor, tops pieced together with thick bands of black separating each fabric, pieces made from swirling bands of leather with bits of skin peeking through, and finally a series of black dresses and gowns. If Rodarte's swirling, draped gowns with transparency on the torso have had an ethereal quality in the past, the ones shown this season were more menacing than goddess-like...not that that's a bad thing.

While the collection didn't disappoint me, I am reaching a point where I'd like to see something else from Laura and Kate. Don't get me wrong, I love what they do and I love their twisted view of femininity, but I think they're kind of selling themselves short by focusing on one very specific thing and reinterpreting it with each collection. Also, I want to see more of their separates front and center. Take their S/S 2008 Anime collection, which was really where they started exploring this more artistic approach to designing and was the collection that introduced both their streaky handpainted fabrics and cobwebby knits. But there was quite a bit of variety in the clothes, as well as in the fabrics and colors. I'm starting to miss that. I'm almost positive that if this collection had been shown last year I'd be over the moon for it, but since things are getting a little routine in Rodarte's alternate universe I think it's time to move forward.

Vera Wang

Vera Wang is one designer who I've always liked but never really loved. It's like, I can see where she's coming from and I find the results really beautiful, but it's never really been my thing...until now. I'm not sure what she did differently for Spring Summer 2010, but the things she's become known for came together in a completely fresh way. For the first time her collection was imbued with a bit of an edge, and that edge did the clothes a world of good. Working mainly in black and shades of gray with a few pieces in a periwinkle print, the overall look of the collection was ornate but worn with a street sensibility; think a black draped dress with a capelike sleeve worn with a chunky necklace and wicked black platform sandals, or a silver crinkled halter top paired with a puff of black tulle for the skirt worn with a jeweled chain belt slung around the hips. A crinkled black jacket was paired with a white blouse and black origami-folded mini skirt with an asymmetric hem. The look was very Vera, but with an almost goth feel to it that felt completely new for her.

One of my favorite looks was a dark navy sleeveless wrap tunic with tuxedo lapel worn over matching pajama pants. It would make such a sexy evening option for the artsy type who likes her elegance to be slightly askew. Overall the embellishment was kept to a minimum, which could be why this collection felt more hip than any of her past collections. The only real embellishment was the incredible jewelry done in collaboration with Philip Crangi. Seriously, from the dangling bibs of beaded spiderwebs to the chunky crystal flowers suspended from chain cuffs, the jewelry was to die for. Other than that though the only decoration on the clothes was the texture, swirls of tight pleating across a skirt, densely packed tulle ruffles covering the front of a mini dress, or a shoulder outlined with mongolian lamb fur.

Oddly enough what made this collection stand out for Vera was it's restraint. By streamlining the clothes, minimizing the details and condensing the lineup she really seemed to pull everything together better than she has in the past. The clothes also had a more youthful, sexy spirit which, balanced with the dark romance, feels contemporary. Sure, most of the clothes are in black or putty gray, but since so many other designers this spring and every spring douse their collections in super-bright color, I say that this collection is a welcome relief for the retinas.

Proenza Schouler

If Vera Wang's collection offered some relief from all things neon, the Proenza Schouler boys seemed to revel in it. Added to the intensely bright color were bold tropical prints, tie-dye and megawatt sequin embellishment. In type it sounds like the kind of thing that I'd hate on principle alone, but for some reason I have yet to figure out, I really liked it. The silhouette throughout was short, save for the two pants looks they showed. Some of the first looks paired sporty button down shirts with draped skirts that looked like jackets or sweatshirts if they were tied around the waist. There were two great shifts, one in cobalt and one in turquoise, that wrapped asymmetrically and buckled low on the hips. Shirtdresses in crisp white or tropical blue tie-dye had extended button plackets as if there was a second shirt wrapped around the bottom, and were shown layered over black and white tie-dye knits. There were a few intensely tie-dyed mini dresses with angular layered hems that had feather shaped paillettes peeking out from underneath. I have to say, I really like the clash of the casualness of a tie-dye tank top with the glitz of the sequins.

After those tie-dyed dresses was when they turned the color, print and sparkle up to 11. Tank dresses were beaded with iridescent bugle beads, trimmed with those feather paillettes and finished off with a bit of black chain mail. Tent dresses in purple or green came trimmed in a patchwork of beading, sequins and feathers that formed a print-like effect against the fabric. One of my favorite looks was a cobalt long sleeve top that looked a bit like a rash guard which was tucked into a jungle green beaded skirt. It was glammy and totally party ready, but just like with those tie-dye dresses it had a casual athleticism that worked as a perfect contrast to the sparkle. After a few looks that combined bikini tops with feather embroidered full skirts which I didn't really love, the boys sent out stiff silk mini shifts in multicolor prints that had the look of tropical fish. Some had ostrich feathers peeking out of the hems, others had plastic sequin fringe on the straps. The prints were absolutely incredible, and coming from someone who doesn't really like print or bright color, that's saying something.

Like I said, I have no idea why I like this collection as much as I do. Don't get me wrong, I've always appreciated Proenza collections, but I don't know that I've ever really loved one. I think it might be that this one is more over the top than their past collections, more fun and brash...I'm not sure. One thing's for certain though, if I were a skinny, leggy 20-something with a big enough credit line I would be all over those dresses.

all photos from

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