Telfar Clemens, the multitalented designer behind the label Telfar, has taken at least one page from the old-school fashion playbook on how to stage a show: Invite a lot people and make ‘em wait. I got on line last night at Irving Plaza around 7:20 p.m. At 8:15 p.m., with some hustle and help from some angels — not the feckless P.R. — I got in, and, of course, upstairs on the main floor, under the weak yellow glow of a pair of chandeliers, a moderate-size crowd waited, accepting free White Castle burgers from someone passing them in a box. Meanwhile, someone on social media was saying the scene at Telfar was CHAOS. And: “Anna is supposed to be here.”
While Telfar was silly in its ploys (“They’re rehearsing,” a P.R. said, explaining why no one was getting in), it was not chaotic. Over the next 45 minutes, the stage floor gradually filled up with kids in their Telfar kit. The balcony was jammed. (I never saw Anna Wintour.) Around 9:20 p.m., the DJ signaled the start of the show with what sounded like a very long, flatulent ship’s horn or perhaps a train whistle, a long rich sigh that cued ears already opened by Guthrie and Dylan to America. Clemens called his show “Country.” And the playwright Jeremy O. Harris supplied the voice-over monologue, which essentially took apart the “this-land-is-your-land romance (…country….CUNTtreeee, from which we now have the word ‘country,’ but you already knew that…)”.
Given that the stage was rather small and the audience was standing shoulder-to-shoulder, leaving no space for cat-walking models, I wondered how Clemens was going to pull a show off. The question was answered when the first model, at the edge of the stage, simply let his body go limp and was carried by two men (and possibly more) through the center of the crowd.
It was genius, a baptism by fashion. Or for fashion. Power to the fucking people! Each male and female model kind of tipped over at the edge of the stage and was conveyed through the crowd. Some fell backward. Some appeared to surf the crowd. Others appeared to be dunked. One musical artist, who had been performing, was still singing into his mic as he was borne away from the stage.
Under the circumstances, the clothes were not the main event. In the grainy light and bobbing heads, I caught glimpses of jeans with leather insets (like chaps), hoodies, blazers, and halter tops, generally in earthy hues. They were fine. Could Clemens have done a better job of executing his concept? No doubt. The lighting was abysmal. In videos I made during the show, the models almost appear to be entering the body of the crowd. There was also a sense of ritual sacrifice. Or was it joy? Perhaps both. The point is Clemens had the rare original idea in fashion, but he needed to do a better job working out the details and imagery.
With his megabucks, it isn’t surprising that Ralph Lauren’s spring 2019 show (he’s on the see-now-buy-now schedule; everyone else is mostly on the fall-delivery plan) was perfectly executed, down to the flavor of the coffee they serve in the newish Ralph’s Café, inside the Madison Avenue flagship. (Ralph’s son, David Lauren, said that many beans were tasted to get the right brew.) But Lauren shows in recent times haven’t always been flawless: When he switched schedules, the clothes lost a lot of their dreaminess.
He and the Polo army have since fixed the problem. Converting the store to a Parisian-flavored bistro, with banquettes and marble-top tables, he sent out a terrific collection that combined American nautical (lightly gold-trimmed navy blazers, white palazzo pants) with Hollywood (a crinkly gold dance dress, sleek black gowns or trousers, a liquid gold evening cape), presented with a Café Carlyle song list. The clothes were up-to-date and would appeal to a diverse audience.
Instructed by Lauren to smile, the models mostly did. And so did the early morning audience, touched by the hospitality, the attention to detail, and, perhaps above all, his ability to make you appreciate familiar things in a new way.