The glaring juxtapositions that unfold inside the tent at Bryant Park during New York fashion week are so awesome and hilarious it’s hard not to laugh. Well, snicker really. Look to the right and there’s a blonde bobble head in shiny black leggings and a plaid shirt teetering by on six-inch stilts. Look to the left and you have a portly security guard in a cheap black suit, utterly indifferent to Oscar de la von Furstenberg and confused by people who wear their sunglasses indoors. For every ironically-coiffed fashion blogger there’s a maintenance person with the same haircut. Girls and guys barely out of adolescence posture in outrageous getups that include capes and sequined bowties, while uttering things like “I told my assistant to RSVP me and my mom.” It’s comedic gold.
It was with this sense of lightheartedness that I dove into fashion week this season. Maybe it’s because I’m so psyched to be back in New York or maybe my happy pills are kicking in, but there are a lot of things that could’ve ignited the rage that lies not-so-dormantly within and yet, I giggle. For starters the flight that I had already checked in to and boarded on Thursday was cancelled due to strong winds. Grr. When I went to reschedule for the next day I could only get a flight into Newark. Grr grr. The flight Friday was delayed and I missed my first show. Grr grr grr. Then I was turned away from two shows because the rooms were over capacity, despite having an invitation and a seat assignment. Grr grr grr…you get the point. And yet, I giggle.
The Erin Featherston show tonight was certainly good for a few laughs. Not that the clothes weren’t lovely or covetable, but the circus-inspired music got me going (Frankly, it just reminded me of the spirited tune that plays through Homer Simpson’s head when he’s pretending to listen to Marge as she warns him not to do something wacky and illegal). So, I say bravo to Ms. Featherston for eliciting thoughts of Homer Simpson during her otherwise sophisticated presentation of crystal-embellished cocktail dresses, ladylike brocade coats with bow-accented closures, whimsical bell-shaped mini skirts and elegant cropped tuxedo-inspired jackets. She seemed to draw from old school Parisian couture, over exaggerating classic themes like girly bows (in the models’ hair, and a very large and sequined one on the front of a delicate black swing jacket), polka dots (black-on-black on evening coats and dresses), and crinolined skirts that bounded merrily down the runway. The hair and makeup seemed Belle Epoque-influenced with smoky eyes, a classic red lip, and mounds of hair crimped, teased and pinned loosely at the nape of the neck. It was a beautifully conceived and executed show. Who’s laughing now, huh?
The mob scene at the Miss Sixty show was somewhat laughable, except when the Nazi working the entrance yelled at me because I didn’t bring my invitation. Nor was it funny when I got into an argument with the tanorexic who insisted that she was the rightful occupant of seat number G 5 C. Flight won out over fight. I was tired of listening to her bitch, so I switched seats. You have to hand it to the publicity people at Miss Sixty, though. Never before have I seen so many people get so worked up over a show that belongs on a “walk-off” finale of America’s Next Top Model. True to form, the show consisted of directional Euro style in the vein of acid-washed cropped Harem jeans, long faux-fur stoles, printed jumpsuits with exaggerated ‘80s “power suit” shoulders and a flirty tiered mini dress in comic book-bright blue, yellow and red. Certainly not a collection for the faint-hearted, but legions of edgy youngsters will surely be clamouring for these goods. And they’ll be eating my dust as I race past them toward the gorgeous mid-calf and knee-high boots in rich aubergine and navy suede. The famous faces on the runway (Sasha Pivovarova, Jessica Stam) were a nice complement to the famous faces in the front row (Mischa Barton, Minka Kelly, Kristen Bell), who all happily bopped away to The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” Stam, for her part, giggled a little every time she passed by a scruffy stranger in the front row. Either he’s one helluva funny guy or she’s in on the joke too…
DAY TWO: Rock ‘N’ Roll City
When I was in grade 5 my favourite song was “We Built This City” by Starship. I should probably be ashamed to admit that, but I’m not. I realize now that it was my subconscious prepping me for the F/W 09 shows — who knew that my subconscious was so prescient?! Designers this season are building their collections on rock ‘n’ roll and it’s bloody cool…Starship reference notwithstanding. Despite having painfully uncool celebrity attendees like the Hilton sisters at her show, Jill Stuart blew the top off the New York Public Library yesterday. If Nico, Francoise Hardy and early Madonna had a clothes-swapping party it would probably look a lot like this collection. Black lace mini dresses, tiered ruffled frocks, loose knits, skinny pants, Goth/Victorian blouses, cropped tuxedo jackets with tails and crushed velvet in a palette of black, white, gray and aubergine came together to form a rock ‘n’ roll dream…yes, an AC/DC reference is more apropos here. Add powerfully cool accents like loose-knit fringed fingerless gloves, jaunty fedoras and piled on necklaces (a la Givenchy F/W 08) and Stuart has a hit on her hands. And hopefully on my back next season.
Just like the old adage “chicks love ABBA” (not me, mind you), so do chicks love Justin Timberlake (again, not me). So the cluster crush to get into the William Rast show came as no surprise. American and French Vogue both represented with their big guns, with Anna Wintour and Carine Roitfeld, both in the front row. The liner notes to the show stated that William Rast was presenting “New America.” Now, whether JT and his pal Trace Ayala were making reference to the new First Family or the state of the economy is not clear, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing President Obama in a studded biker jacket anytime soon, nor will those on the unemployment line be lining up to pay for these clothes, but I sort of get what they’re driving at. To the beat of “Route 66” and a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” (which I suspect was remixed by the ex-‘N Synch-er himself), fresh-faced models came down the runway in reinterpreted American classics — i.e. blue jeans and t-shirts. No, I’m oversimplifying things. An array of biker jackets in seemingly butter-soft leather and fabric combinations, embellished with fringe, studs or grommets were truly beautiful, and yes, pretty cool. One model came out in an oversized knit wrap with embroidered embellishments fastened at the shoulder that was reminiscent of Navajo Indian styles. A fabulous chubby fur vest paired with a fringed blouse and denim mini skirt is what I imagine blonde bombshells wear in Austin, while the vintage t-shirts updated via crazily exaggerated ’80s shoulder pads will likely be all over the streets of Brooklyn. As for the black acid wash jeans, well, I’m thinking that’s more Detroit territory.
I also interviewed Wichy Hassan, the creative director of Miss Sixty, and he shed some light on the collection. “The inspiration for F/W 09 was very positive and I drew from the mood of the ’80s, a decade of happiness and positivity,” he said. “Fashion is still a dream. The Miss Sixty woman doesn’t buy clothes because she needs them, she buys them because she enjoys fashion. I design clothes because I try to give her glamour for one night.” And who doesn’t need a night of glamour every now and again. Right?
DAY THREE: On The Edge
Fashion week stalwarts like Betsey Johnson and Vera Wang may have opted out of showing this season, but where the venerable designers left off, today’s denim labels are picking up. Case in point: Diesel Black Gold. And boy oh boy was it ever a well attended show: Kate Bosworth, Nicole Richie, French Vogue editrix Carine Roitfeld, Roisin Murphy and everyone’s favourite pompadour’d fashion reporter Suzy Menkes. Taking its cues from the current Diesel Fuel For Life fragrance campaign, the collection was an artful display of the melancholic joys of deconstruction, with slouchy jeans, slinky lingerie-inspired slip dresses, minimalist heavy wool coats, cropped tuxedo jackets (clearly, the one item everyone MUST have next fall), beaded drop-waist dresses, and layers, layers and more layers. The overall look mimicked the rebellious androgyny of the 1920s, made all the more evident by models’ massively teased out and unruly hair accented with mesh bandeaus, pale faces, heavily kohl’d eyes and deep red lips. Throw in the jazz trio putting their spin on such classic nose-thumbing anthems as “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and it made derelicte look like yesterday’s trucker hat.
Whatever will the young starlets and infantile socialites who flock to Max Azria for his flirty it-girl cocktail dresses do next fall? Gone were his girly references of the past, replaced this time with a modern and sophisticated take on women’s clothing. Grecian-inspired draping, asymmetrical hemlines, one-shouldered dresses and sharp belted vests that all spelled out a new urban warrior uniform. Naturally there was also a sprinkling of lace minidresses that will work just fine for dinner at The Ivy, but his gunmetal gray one-shouldered jersey dress was far more interesting. As were the daringly modern dresses with exaggeratedly padded shoulders and ominous beaded embellishments layered over second-skin black body stockings. Sure, take away the body stocking and you’re left with a beautiful gown, but edge was the word of the day at Max Azria. And it was good.
Meanwhile edge was the last thing on the mind of Tibi designer Amy Smilovic. A bright palette of peacock blue, canary yellow and bubblegum pink spelled confusion for this collection. Made up largely of silk/satin dresses of all hem lengths, ethnic embellishments and brash prints were splashed all over with no regard for subtlety. While the humour and retro reference was evident in pieces like a peacock-printed silk jumpsuit, and models’ ’60s-inspired bright blue eyeshadow and loose Brigitte Bardot hair pulled into a messy ponytail, the collection overall mostly missed the mark. Smilovic should have stuck with more substantial pieces like a blue blazer trimmed with a double ruffle at the bottom and a fun bright pink coat with a single ruffled lapel. Not edgy per se, but more palatable than the rest.
DAY FOUR: Fresh and Styled
Young! Modern! Flirty! Fun! These were the exclamatory statements that the models seemed to make at the 3.1 Phillip Lim show. Sentiments made all the more powerful thanks to a live set courtesy of of-the-moment hipster songstress Lissy Trullie and her band. Despite the so-hip-it-hurts beats (a move so typical of New York cool kids desperate to prove they’ve got their finger on the pulse of coolness, their ear firmly affixed to the ground of cooliosity), it was what we’ve all come to expect from Lim. That is to say, a lovely modern collection of distinct and wearable clothes for the stylish set, and which won’t set you back on mortgage payments. Is it any wonder la Wintour and Kanye West were front and centre? Ok, I was a bit confused by Kanye too, but hey, apparently he’s stylish. With a deliberate nod to ‘60s Mods, Lim sent out an array of gorgeous cropped jackets with tails, Sgt. Pepper-inspired toppers (take note Coldplay, this is how the trend is meant to be worn), embroidered cocoon coats, slim-fit cropped flares in metallic stripes and a gorgeous beaded flapper-like dress that I personally hope to see on Natalie Portman on a red carpet near me. Ruffled statement blouses, slouchy men’s trousers and flirty, ruched cocktail dresses kept the collection from looking too retro. But it was hard not to love the models’ Beatles-inspired bowl cuts, exaggerated lashes and pale lips. Oh, and those custom-designed Louboutins weren’t bad either.
Alexandre Herchcovitch is from Sao Paulo, so it’s not surprising that his collection would be chaotic with a capital K. A mish mash of prints and colours were reminiscent of what I imagine to be a whole lotta traffic interspersed with impromptu samba showcases and capoeira competitions. Clearly, I’ve never been to Brazil. Circus-bright red and purple striped tights and skirts (with sequins!) were jarring, as was a Victor Victoria hybrid top, but when those crazily-hued stripes gave way to off-black and gold knotted cocktail dresses, the result was fabulously disco-tastic indeed. A long black one-buttoned tuxedo jacket, satin-y black Harem pants, and seemingly simple coats with a surprise printed chiffon panel in the back showed Herchovitch’s ability to finely tailor any garment, regardless how off kilter. But then no one has ever gravitated to this designer for conventional garb.
Because, as a famous beer campaign once affirmed for me, I am Canadian, I simply couldn’t miss the Mackage show. Neither could a lot of other people. And so indifferent to my heritage was the PR girl she insisted that I did not RSVP, thus I had no seat assignment and would have to watch the show from the standing section. Well, as fate would have it, they needed warm tooshies to fill the empty seats and I was more than up to the task. As stern-looking models with high ponytails and delicate netting across their faces stomped down the runway, I was firstly impressed by how Elisa Dahan and Eran Elfassy dealt with the common conundrum: what should the models wear under their outerwear to preserve their decency but which won’t take away from the coats themselves? Because three-quarter length black leggings just ain’t gonna cut it anymore. Instead they paraded out in slashed tights with knee-high flared leather legwarmers. Sounds weird, looked cool. Supple leather jackets, both motocross and bomber styled, in brown, black and forest green, and with cleaner lines than we’re used to seeing, got the show off to a roaring start. Fur-trimmed parkas and anoraks in high-gloss nylon were Tremblant-chic, while a slick evening coat with leather lapels and a lace-printed cape-like number with a short, layered sleeve prove why our homegrown homies are so popular the continent over.
That’s it from me at the tents. I’m heading back home to draw up my Fall ‘09 wishlist and plot an elaborate bank heist to fund my desires.
Key highlights from New York Fashion Week
• Models at several shows took their shoes off mid-runway because they were having too much difficulty walking. M. Louboutin take note: six-inch stilettos are Not. Practical. In fact, they’re kinda mean.
• A model on the Hervé Leger by Max Azria show bailed on the runway. But she got a rousing round of applause à la Carrie Bradshaw once she picked herself up and giggled all the way back.
• Anna Wintour is a lot taller (and no thinner) than I thought she would be. Which makes it even scarier to stand next to her. Guess I’ll just have to wear stilts when I start working at Vogue…
• Suzy Menkes, who for reasons unclear even to me I have a bit of an infatuation with, used the port-a-potties at the tents the other day. I mean, I know that when you gotta go, you gotta go, but even I couldn’t stand the stench that was emanating from there by Day Five. I popped over to the Pax on the corner to use the loo.
• It hurts to crane your neck all the way up to look at America’s Next Top Model’s Miss J, because he’s that tall.
• Kate Bosworth and Carine Roitfeld could stand to eat an organic cheeseburger with frites every now and again. I’m just sayin’.
• A few pieces to infuse into your wardrobe next season or risk being ostracized by your stylish friends (Just kidding. I judge for so many other reasons, but I would never hold your clothes against you):
1) A cropped tuxedo jacket with tails
2) A one-shouldered dress, preferably with grown-up ruffles
3) A skinny black one-button suit
4) Slouchy men’s trousers and a statement blouse
5) Shoulder pads. Yes, I went there. Yikes!
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter