Yesterday’s round of New York Fashion Week shows rated top honors for absurdity, with rare moments of sanity. The most embarrassing scene was outside Diane von Furstenberg’s store and corporate offices on W. 14th Street, where several dozen photographers and gawkers stood in the cold watching the guests through the plate glass, like bugs in a bottle. Not that there is anything unusual about such a scene in New York. But what did they think was happening inside that warranted potential frostbite and certain disappointment? Von Furstenberg was upstairs in a kind of staged club lounge area. When I dropped by, the designer was dancing with some models, including the giantess Karlie Kloss, to “We Are Family,” the 1979 Sister Sledge hit, while a throng of photographers and guests took their picture. Not many things are funnier than five or six supers pretend-dancing on a small platform.
Not many fashion shows can live up to the splendor of Manhattan real estate, either. A few hours earlier, in an unfinished penthouse in a building in the Financial District marketed as “luxury collectible” apartments, a new label, Sies Marjan, held its debut show. The setting, with enormous arched windows overlooking the city, was dramatic — selected to impress — but something less pretentious would have been better for a debut.
Sies Marjan is a New York brand whose backers, Howard and Nancy Marks, initially invested in Ralph Rucci before partnering with designer Sander Lak last year. Before Sies Marjan, Lak worked for Dries Van Noten in Antwerp, and so inevitably there were overtones of Dries in the wispy dresses, slouchy pants, and the few (too few) cocooning coats. Time will tell if Lak really has something special up his sleeve, but in general we’ve seen too many collections based on diaphanous layers (typically called “poetic” in press handouts). Also, I was struck by the many lightweight fabrics and Easter-egg hues, which seemed more spring than fall.
More than usual during Fashion Week, I find myself questioning the sincerity of everything. I think the fashion-buying public does know the difference between things that are authentic — whatever the aesthetic — and those which are largely concerned with driving traffic on social media. To many people in and out of the industry, fashion is now this big, exciting pop-culture phenomenon, and I suppose it is all that, but I also see how rapidly people — bright, young, engaged people — can become disinterested in it. Because fashion doesn’t speak to them in a normal, straightforward way.
The objective of Public School, for instance, seemed to be a post-apocalyptic vision — dark layers and heavy boots half-unbuckled, as if the wearer had to swim across the Hudson. But how often have we seen that runway story line? Actually, many of the clothes presented by the label’s designers, Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow, were pretty good. I kept adding items to a list — side-fringed jeans, teddy-bear coats, an oversize hoodie/tunic, a simple cotton skirt lightly gathered at the waist. What if Chow and Osborne just skipped the spooky theatrics?
My back hairs were also up at Hood by Air, a collection I loved last season for its bold, free-form cutting and casting. Although I appreciated Shayne Oliver’s experiments with volume and scale, using what looked like leather and vinyl (and often cotton), some of the ideas just seemed engulfed by the material. Oliver also alluded to travel, with backpacks and at times the torsos of models wrapped with the plastic used in airports to seal bags and cargo. There was also a long, channeled parka that looked like it could be converted into a sleeping bag or pup tent.
Of course I thought of the Syrian refugee crisis — the images of people covered with thermal blankets and holding their belongings. But then, at almost the same time, a man was scampering up and down the runway, and also into the stands, in the kind of over-the-knee patent-leather boots made famous by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. So my circuits kind of blew at that point. I could relate, though, when a pair of models came out wearing bodysuits with the word “bitch” in small type on the chest. Given how things are going, New York Fashion Week is making a lot of us its bitch.
At least Prabal Gurung offered something true and beautiful. Although he characterized his collection as “magical realism,” it seemed grounded in perfectly done clothes that lots of women would love to wear. The graphic, hand-knitted tunics that opened the show were a new twist for Gurung, but the best part were the dresses — a kind of assault of dresses in deep forest or cherry satin and velvet, with a few tiny buttons on a shoulder or back left undone.