Grabbing everyone’s attention has never been Alexander Wang’s problem. While other designers do adult playsuits and pray to get noticed, Wang invites Kanye and Nicki and the waitresses from Hooters. What could be simpler? Last night, at Pier 94, he closed out his show — and a decade in fashion — with a rapid-fire video of thousands of images of himself, then and now, played on a giant wall of screens the length of the runway, pumped out in a few minutes and ending with his name in block type, like General Motors. What more do you need to know? The clothes, like the career, went by in a blink, as they do for everyone. And outside in the VIP loading area, a mob of kids, waiting with phones raised for the first guests to exit, shouted, “Anna! Anna! Anna!”
In some ways, the video, which was created by Nate Brown, was the star of the evening.* Not only did it affirm the power of the image, but it also conveyed the energy and impatience of Wang. That’s his appeal. If you were to break down the video frame by frame, you’d see that the output is enormous while the impact of the designs is actually very slight. He is all flying hair streaking down the runway at the end of his shows. But the clothes? Vaguely urban sportswear.
Released from Balenciaga, where he probably didn’t belong in the first place, Wang can now focus on his own label. What I gleaned from his spring collection was a bit more polish and play in the details, like the long black leather fringe on the edges of an army jacket or the chunkiness of the jailhouse stripes on pants. In the main, the clothes grimly forecasted spring, with bandeau tops, net bomber jackets, and denim cutoffs (lined with cotton boxers) to keep things cool. But what I really appreciated about this show, what made it seem right in the moment, was the casting — all those snarly, scruffy, almost ugly (and fuck-you-for-thinking-so) girls.
Joseph Altuzarra started his career after his friend Wang, but in terms of pure design and sophistication he has progressed further. He also knows his mind — unlike many designers of his generation, who deviate so often they never develop a bankable style. In this show, with its emphasis on body-skimming dresses in lightweight fabrics, you can see links to Altuzarra’s previous collections, notably to one he did a couple of years ago when the Kering group invested in his company. The difference now is that he has stripped away many of the extra effects to get to a look that feels sexier, closer to the bone.
That look is unmistakably French — a summer blouse or dress in straw-colored or Windsor-blue linen, showing off the collarbone, holding the waist, with a deep side slit in the skirt. You sort of feel you’ve seen those dresses in a zillion French movies, on some babe in cheap sandals laughing over her Pernod at some charming lug head, yet they didn’t look nostalgic. Altuzarra made bras for a number of the outfits, to heighten the friendly striptease. Jumpsuits with rope toggle closures conveyed the same trim line and ease, and there were some fantastic hand-dyed prints in jungle green and Riviera blue that suggested tie-dye.
I wish, though, that Altuzarra would show in a space more intimate than the hangarlike Spring Studios and on models who bring more natural sex appeal and joy to the clothes. They deserve to be animated. That was also a problem for the designers of Baja East, Scott Studenberg and John Targon, who are finalists in the CFDA/Vogue Fund. Their poppy red suede hooded jackets, tie-dyed chiffon dresses, crocheted tops, and baggy waffle-knit pants completely capture the mood of the beach or the music festival. (The Berlin music and art scene happened to be an inspiration.) And Targon and Studenberg know when to quit with a shape, like a sarong skirt in a tie-dyed knit, and not stretch the idea to an absurdity. But in spite of the Stefan Beckman–designed backdrop and some pretty soulful clothes, the presentation itself was flat.
“You expect a young dress from a young brand,” said Fernando Garcia before the debut of Monse, the label he designs with Laura Kim. Garcia and Kim are veterans of Oscar de la Renta; Kim was the studio director there for many years. Garcia was referring specifically to a black-and-white striped satin minidress based on a man’s dress shirt, its sleeves wound and knotted into a bodice. Monse’s reinterpretation of the shirt was the basis for an excellent first collection. Underneath some of the minidresses were built-in shorts, while an airy little number in silver was secured at the back with a half-hidden strap. At Oscar, Kim and Garcia learned the foundations (and the secrets) of dressmaking. At Monse, they’re using only what they need to make a stripy satin dress stay in place on the body — and letting the rest go.
*An earlier version of this review mistakenly referred to Nate Brown as Nick Brown.