It used to be said in style circles that less was more. But that’s a dying notion these days. With so many labels, so much fashion information, and all the incessant celebrity style hype, it seems that we all can’t get enough of the scene and all it’s material trappings. And while some insiders are saying that the corporatization of fashion has sucked a lot of the fun out of it, keeping up with all that’s coming down runways, into stores, and onto peoples’ backs has become an intense and dizzying form of entertainment for all of us. It reached a fever pitch in New York this past week, as more and more designers fight to make their voices heard, and stay true to their own points of view.
“Staying focused,” said director Sofia Coppola, when I asked her how she thought her pal Marc Jacobs was managing to keep his cool these days. “That’s really what it’s all about for him.” The rumours about Marc Jacobs taking over the creative reigns at Dior created the week’s biggest buzz, and the design darling has never been hotter. Many felt his take on spring was one of the most striking—a kind of retro riff on saloon and chorus girls, that felt utterly new and modern. The girls coasted down a circular wooden runway, enhanced by strips of dressing room lights. Their fascinating mix of garments and accessories included cellophane organza dresses, little plastic cowgirl boots and dance-hall shoes, shiny fake crocodile coats , skirts, bags and shoes, in white, yellow, and aqua, lots of gingham print, and fringes everywhere. It was a witty and colourful tribute to pop Americana, and a real crowd pleaser.
Lazaro Fernandez and Jack McCullough at Proenza Schouler also never fail to charm with their interesting cuts, fabrications, disparate directions and fresh attitudes. They sent their clothes out to a tribal beat, on shag carpeting. And while it could have been Africa that informed their show with all the jungle motifs, tiger and zebra accents, raffia skirts and geometric prints, they claimed that continent had nothing to do with this exotic, campy trip they were on. Still, the orange eel A-line skirt was reminiscent of a Kenyan sunset.
Michael Kors made no bones about sending his customers off on a luxe African safari, or at least making sure they’d have the wardrobe for it. “I’m really looking to Africa for inspiration these days,” Kors told me pre-show. “I go to this fabulous lodge called Lebombo, in Kruger National Park. And it’s just the most amazing place.” Kors programme notes talked about “the rustic modernism of the place, the easy laid back attitude”. And his spring collection oozed just that. There were ponchos and capes and sarongs, in gorgeous tie-dye linen and cashmere; cargo pants and distressed sweaters; zebra print surfaced on a linen shift, and used to more dramatic effect on a chiffon caftan. Teak and olive tie-dye chiffon jersey columns gave easy evening gowns an earthy glow, and the lace up boots, sandals, and oversized bags will undoubtedly keep the Kors cash registers ringing
Africa is also always the focus of the Edun collection. Created by Ali Hewson and her rockstar hubby Bono, the label’s main raison d’etre is to stimulate the African economy and support its production facilities. The new collection, presented on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, attracted an impressive front row, from Bono, The Edge, and Sting to supermodel legends Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington.
Turlington said she doesn’t really come out to fashion shows anymore, but since it was 9/11, and she wanted to feel close to the fashion community that had been like family to her in the old days, the Edun show seemed a good fit. The clothes themselves were certainly worthy of all the attention: African folk prints and shades of raspberry and indigo surfaced in hand-dyed delights, including some great little sun dresses, rompers, and cropped drawstring pants. There was also experimentation with laser cut fabrics, and edgy detailing like strips of grommets down pant-legs.
Textile experimentation is often the name of the game for Canada’s own Jeremy Laing. Inspired by a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the fearless Hamilton native sent out a strong collection of louche and flowing garments designed for women to move in. Soft organic prints, some smudged, some with fine geometric lines, and myriad earthy tones came at us in a variety of interesting fabrications. From crepe jersey and crinkle chiffon to hammered satin, silk linen, and jacquard, Laing pushed the notion of sensuality and experimented with drape and flow. There were also great hits of spice colours in the mix, a trend that surfaced on several runways, including that of Thakoon, who was giving us a new dialogue between east and west. “I started out looking at the way cowboys dress, and studying some of those paisley bandanas,” he told me. “But then I realized that those paisley prints were really Indian in origin. So then it became this whole story about bringing the two worlds together.” From beautiful Indian beadwork on an easy, emerald silk shift dress, to cowgirl shirts featuring lace appliqués and panels of lively paisley prints to a long shimmering gold pioneer skirt, Thakoon dished out glamour in a spirited. Gold-toed tangerine and turquoise cowgirl boot shoes served as great punctuation marks for a collection that was filled with fun and optimism.
Optimism was also the order of the day at Tommy Hilfiger, who riffed on stripes and a pop art feel for his colourful story. Colour block caftans and stripes offered lots of options for relaxed weekend dressing, while he got down to business with burgundy leather suits that made bolder daywear statements. Tommy’s bright yellow silk evening jumpsuit popped on the catwalk, and the fun continued with colourful camouflage prints. Post show, Tommy introduced me to his 26 yr. old daughter Ally, who’s making waves with her own new label, NAHM. “What the most important thing that your dad taught you about fashion?” I asked her. “That it’s only fashion,” she replied. “There are much more important things in life, like friends and family. Fashion should really just be about fun.”
“It’s all about a return to elegance!” proclaimed Zac Posen, dashing through a backstage corridor at Lincoln Centre’s Avery Fisher Hall. After braving the divine but daunting Paris Fashion Weeks the past two seasons, Zac’s come home to New York, eager to show off what he’s learned. “Paris showed me who I could be in New York,” he reflected. The dresses, shown on the long outdoor terrace, were perfectly orchestrated confections of sensuality, masterful construction, and impressive detailing. There was an old screen siren feel to the looks, many which harkened back to a time when the female form was revered and celebrated and shown to its best advantage. The haute mode was also in evidence at Marchesa, where designers Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig riffed on an underwater fantasy, inspired by a deep-sea painting by Ilya Repin called “Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom”. The exquisite ethereal mood permeated the eclectic red carpet collection, which featured chiffon and translucent coloured mesh with eye-popping embroideries, some that looked like fish scales, and tentacles. Cascading fringes were used to magical effect, and gave the illusion of moving waters, while sculpted chiffon and tulle conjured visions of churning waves. Teal flowed into lilac, and the soft sea greens looked almost misty. Tulle extravaganzas were especially poetic, and the lilac hand pleated silk organza dress, with a tulle underskirt, that Karen Elson wore left us all breathless. “I just have to get on all the lists for the red carpet parties,” cooed Victoria Secret model Selita Ebanks. “I can’t wait to wear some of these amazing dresses!”
Oliver Theyskens’ Theory collection offered some pretty dresses too—a couple of serious ones at the show’s end that were modern and sculptural. And his embroidered tulle dresses also had a very modern edge. But if the drop crotch slouchy jeans he sent out are any indication of what’s ahead, I’m really pulling up my pants. Theykens’ super skinny girls may be able to get away with wearing just about anything, but this new approach for jeans just won’t cut it for most female bodies. Still, most of the Theory collection was fun and practical, with a few green iridescent garments that looked as though they could glow in the dark.
Oscar de la Renta attracted a diverse cross-generational front row to his show, from Justin Timberlake and Ashley Olsen to Barbara Walters and Valentino, and proved why he’s a master of American fashion and one of the last of the great couturiers. Big silk taffeta gowns opened the show, each with huge skirts—first marigold, then emerald, then tomato red. It was a bold beginning of a collection filled with some of the most romantic and colourful confections of the week. There were vibrant shades of daffodil, chartreuse and vermillion, poppy prints, lovely crochet pieces, a dress covered in blossom appliqués, and old fashioned white battenburg lace in the mix, with a variety of silhouettes that all looked easy to wear. The richness of textures was a strong story here, some of the looks, including Karlie Kloss in a cobalt blue crinkle chiffon tiered gown, strings of black onyx beads dripping down her chest, were totally dramatic. “I’ve been friends with Oscar for years,” Valentino told me on the way out. “He is a real gentlemen. But even more than that, he has really good taste.”
Another great American tastemaker is Narciso Rodriguez, though he operates in a much more fashion forward way. This time around, Narciso, who cited artist Kim Joon as inspiration, approached his work with an Asian eye, and we could see it in the resulting sense of geometrics, kimonos, and edgy cuts. But there was also some flow and romance from Narciso, and his silk velvet devoree dresses were incredibly sensual. There was also a studied sensuality in Ralph Rucci’s masterpiece presentation. The couture quality clothing that bears his “Chado” label was the ultimate in modern elegance, with clean lines, exquisitely detailed fabrications, feather wisps, and even a bit of a futuristic feel, with clear plastic panels set into beautifully crafted dresses and jackets. The minimalistic ‘infanta’ evening gowns were breathtaking, especially when we saw the glittering jewel-tone columns beneath their open backs. Whoopi Goldberg was blown away by all of the brilliance. “Almost like a religious experience, eh?” I asked her. “Yes. That’s it. Absolutely!”
But as far as we’ve come with modern and even futuristic inspirations in fashion, there’s always room for good old nostalgia. Anna Sui went back to the ‘40s via the ‘70s—the era when she first fell in love with vintage. Citing legendary illustrator Antonio Lopez as inspiration—he came to prominence in Paris in the ‘70s, when the vintage craze first took off—Sui’s wildly colourful and nostalgic looks were topped off with delightful headwear, and turbans were everywhere. Whimsical prints, oodles of accessories, and ankle socks worn with wedge sandals added to all the playfulness in this cheery collection that really was Anna at her best. Toronto’s Alice Practice of the band Crystal Castles, approved of the vintage vibe. “After all, we’ve got the best vintage shopping right at home, in Toronto!” she enthused. Lisa Marie Presley, a big Sui fan, and Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, were also among the appreciative musicians in Sui’s front row.
Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren brought back The Great Gatsby with his ‘20s nod to romance and the luxe life. From his pinstripe tailored cream suits and straw cloche hats to the pale pastel slinky satin evening gowns, many of which were teamed with matching marabou boas, Lauren’s airy and romantic take on the season seemed like a familiar, gentle relief after the week’s storm of so many mixed messages. Olivia Ward, who’d walked TIFF’s red carpet only days before, was a font row guest, and spoke to me afterwards about the strong connection between fashion and film. Judging from Lauren’s show—a style harbinger of the trends that are bound to arise with next year’s release of Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D re-make of The Great Gatsby—it’s a connection with great commercial potential.
And that, for better or worse, is at the crux of fashion’s quandary. With an uncertain economy and more labels than ever vying for customer attention, just which designer dreams will resonate with us next spring is anybody’s guess. One thing’s for certain though: There won’t be a lack of options. Hopefully, the cacophony of choices will not only encourage women to become better editors, but inspire designers to stick to their guns, and stay true to their personal mantras in what’s becoming an increasingly noisy arena.