Every now and then, I feel really lucky to do what I do. Running to show after show and writing reviews until the early morning each day for the duration of fashion week can dull the senses to such a degree that I forget why it is I work in fashion – and why I ever wanted to critique it. Marc Jacobs mainline collection – which started bang on 8pm – instantly reminded me of the virtues of fashion. It was, in a word, beautiful. In fact, I'll give it a few more words; inspiring, free-spirited, uplifting and, well, just wonderful really. Beginning with the massive installation that formed the runway – a towering, serpentine shell of curved sheet-metal that the models weaved their way around and through (and that had more than a passing resemblance to artist Richard Serra’s amazing large-scale sculptures), the vibe was both earthy and disco-decadent. And this mood continued throughout the collection; in colour – terracotta, ochre, plum, gold; and form – lithe, elongated lines and high-waists to emphasise the statuesque quality of the models, who were decked out in countless multi-hued 70s-inspired ensembles.
Watching the blur of vivid block colour and impeccable form sail past me, it occurred to me that in this fleeting moment, I’ve seen something of perfection… And in the same way we are humbled in the presence of great art, it really is possible to fall into a fashion-inspired reverie involving, in this case, long-limbed Roxy Music-like vixens with frizzed out side parted hairdos in gold hot-pants, impossibly tall flared trousers and towering platform heels, brilliantly chichi gold knit dresses with appliqué palm trees, countless asymmetric hemlines, puffy and playful smocks and sheer, billowing jumpsuits paired with excessively wide-brimmed sun hats in a multitude of colours – and so, so much more. It was super-real, all-out unapologetic glamour at it’s best… It belonged in the realms of fantasy – and yet there on the catwalk, it was a momentary reality. Needless to say, Marc Jacobs Spring/Summer 11 was something of a highlight.
There was a lot to consider at Rodarte this season. From the nostalgic Seventies soundtrack, beginning with The Doors’ “The End” and graduating to Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin”, to the newly matured daywear featuring beautiful textures and all-over prints alongside contrasting sculptural and formless elements, it was difficult to form an immediate opinion on the Mulleavy sisters’ vision. And, that has to be a positive thing. Rarely is something complex digested easily. And if others in the Chelsea show-space where Rodarte’s collection for Spring/Summer 11 was unveiled felt vaguely bewildered by the spectacle of earthy, unusual and subtly Eastern-inspired print and form, it was impossible to gauge – the audience reaction was overwhelmingly upbeat. The insanely celebrity-filled front row, where Andre Leon Talley sat literally hugging Diane Von Furstenburg, Kim Gordon and Elijah Wood talked, and Anna Wintour and Serena Williams chatted away (amazing), looked on in awe – and for good reason. This was the first collection by the Mulleavy's that appeared purposely wearable, and though Rodarte’s past collections of dreamy, elaborately constructed dip-dyed chiffon dresses have been what I consider to be flawless (and would actually love to wear on a daily basis), this series of intricately embroidered, multi-layered garments for spring looked like something that could step off the catwalk and onto the street with relative ease. It wasn't all grown up though - among the toned-down denim-jacquard shorts, plaid linen trousers, and leather dresses and skirts in metallic and earthy hues were some audacious dresses that we have come to know and love Rodarte for, namely a textured gold, cinched waist number with chunks of metal about the waist.
Joseph Altuzarra’s follow-up to the cinematic sexy-macabre and meticulously tailored Edward Scissorhands-inspired collection he delivered for AW10, was arguably one of the most anticipated within the industry this season. And, going by a unanimously positive audience response (Carine Roitfeld and Andre Leon Talley were positively beaming), the young designer did not disappoint. Set to the tone of repetitive soundtrack vocals insisting, “I can change, I can change, I can change,” models hit the runway in Altuzarra’s resolutely clean, streamlined and principally white vision for Spring/Summer 11. And change Altuzarra most certainly did. In the place of last season’s strict corsetry detailing, moody palette and severe, patch-worked femme fatale leather ensembles came sleek white form-fitting jersey dresses with exaggerated bustiers and snakeskin detailing. The consistent use of snakeskin throughout – as embellishment or an entire garment, seemed an apt metaphor for Altuzarra’s own ability to successfully shed one skin, or aesthetic, for another. The feel was confident yet restrained; body-con dresses with asymmetric hemlines and deep v-necklines were alluring, yet not overtly sexy, and a futuristic aesthetic (which, if New York’s collections so far are anything to go by, is set to be a key trend for the season ahead) was subtly introduced through metallic silver incisions and rope-like fluorescent orange belts paired with structured navy sheath-dresses and nipped-waist blazers.
There are a handful of designers that pull the crowds in a major way each season in New York, and without a doubt, Alexander Wang is among them. Wang’s shows, always held in ridiculously expansive venues that never seem quite big enough for the multitudes he attracts, bridge a middle-ground between rock show and fashion show. The soundtrack (Die Antwood this time around) is turned right up, the front-row is filled with famous faces and it-girls dancing in their seats and directly after the show, there is a mob fighting their way backstage to presumably steal a glimpse of the designer himself. To an expectant and celebrity-studded crowd, which included Anna Wintour, Andre Leon Talley, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kim Gordon, Terence Koh, Erin Wasson, Terry Richardson and M.I.A among many others, Wang revealed his vision for Spring/Summer 11. In stark contrast to his Elvira-meets-Clueless crushed-velvet, deconstructed suiting and mini-backpack extravaganza of last season, Wang sent out an optimistic and futuristic collection of sexy-slouchy, sporty daywear conceived in chalk, terracotta and pastel green in unusually textured fabrics. Cottons were pebbled, boiled and washed, lapels and waistbands were silver-foiled and satin’s and chiffon’s featured messy ‘doodle’ prints. Models with clumpy hair that seemed at once swampy and tribal, and yet strangely Sci-Fi, emerged from a gigantic inflatable cloud-like installation at the opening of the catwalk – the silver lining of which appears to be Wang’s move away from 90s crushed-velvet and backpacks, in favour of the downtown-NYC unisex aesthetic that we had come to know him for.
Rag & Bone
Rag & Bone made it immediately clear this season that they are a brand continuing to expand – even outgrowing their status as one of New York’s most beloved purveyor’s of ‘luxury basics’. The label, created by two New York-based British expats, might have begun modestly as an excursion into wardrobe staples back in 2002, timeless garments that don’t buckle under the weight of fast-moving trends, but, evidenced by their collection for Spring/Summer 11, it has evolved into something altogether different. Alongside some great, understated everyday-wear (knitwear was on top form) was some stand-out (perhaps not for the right reasons) '90s backpacks, alternately black and white harnesses and Fifth Element-style bandage straps across busts and shoulders, and techno-sporty silver trousers that, no matter how you look at it, are not the kind of ‘essential’ item to blend into an existing wardrobe – or last long in it. The multi-hued palette and vivid print throughout the collection was also something new for the popular label, which not only continues to open new stores around Manhattan, but just acquired another floor in their expansive Meatpacking District loft – a space dedicated solely to footwear. Designers, Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, said backstage that SS/11 began, “with the idea of desert warfare... From Lawrence of Arabia and the British fighting in North Africa to modern, high technology warfare.” A major influence on the collection came from a collection of fighter pilot G-Suits from Russia, China and the USA. The designers said they aimed to balance the “hardness” of the aesthetic with a photographic print derived from a personal holiday snap taken on a recent holiday in Bequia. The image was cut up and put back together, scanned and printed onto chiffon, charmeuse and spandex – and looked amazing as knitwear pieces constructed from strips of the print fabric, knitted by hand.
At Jason Wu, Spring/Summer 2011 was a very ‘up-town’ experience. He may be a young designer, but his aesthetic borrows heavily from past eras, and where his peers are busily churning out more unisex, downtown cool fare, Wu is, somewhat bravely, focused on all-out-pretty womenswear fit for real-life dolls. Foor-sweeping chiffon gowns, button-down blouses, gathered tulip skirts and matchy-matchy tailored ensembles in technicolour violet, fuchsia, royal blue, ivory and lime took to the runway, with models wearing Jackie O-like oversized shades and noticeably clutching various styles of handbags. Focus was on footwear and bags as for the first time this season, Wu introduced accessories to his signature line – three styles of handbags and four styles of shoe, which all, of course, matched perfectly with the clothing. Following from last season, it was really the knitwear that stood out, perhaps because it was the most relaxed and understated and what one can imagine wanting to wear on a cool spring evening – his oversized wool blazers took the, at times, costume-like looks comfortably down a notch. Super-pretty, yes, and old-fashioned, certainly, but perhaps in the wake of slouchy trousers, boyfriend jeans and leisurewear as daywear, a bit of uptown preppiness isn’t such a bad thing after-all.
Simply put, it was Alaia meets scuba at Ohne Titel for Spring/Summer 2011. Designers Alexa Adams and Flora Gill, who keep successfully refining the identity of their brand each season, sent out a thoroughly confident and streamlined collection that harmoniously merged slick neo-prene with the experimental knitwear the duo have become known and loved for. The inclusion of smooth-leather look neo-prene may have been a new addition to Ohne Titel’s stable of unusual fabrications, but they worked it like pro’s. Forms were crisp, clean and minimal – many of the sleek, aero-dynamic body-suits and tank-tops even appearing like high-fashion wetsuits, well, wetsuits that double as chic day-to-night wear of course. The palette – precise, primary-hued and executed in strict blocks of colour, reflected the pared-back simplicity of the collection’s overall cut and silhouette, and was following on from the Bauhaus-like clarity of their designs last season. Taking inspiration from19th Century Japanese woodblock artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Adams and Gill took a 2-D approach to design, minimising volume and capitalising on graphic shapes – notably kimono-like jackets with wide sleeves and uncompromisingly skin-tight knit dresses and separates. Backstage Adams noted that the collection was a, “juxtaposition of a futuristic and natural aesthetic – our technical nylon-stitch knits set against traditional Japanese design elements. Spring/Summer 11 for us is structured, sexy and futuristic.”
Presented for the third season in the extensive surrounds of the Park Avenue Armory, it was a decadent rock’n’roll experience at Y-3, where the collection for Spring/Summer 2011 featured a live soundtrack provided by London-based band, The Duke Spirit. Walking the length of the wrap-around catwalk glamorously spot-lit, models were styled as alternately Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and even what appeared to be Billy Idol, sporting classic rock silhouettes. Taking inspiration from three decades of music history, Y-3’s looks for spring included lambskin leather motorcycle vests, reworked military jackets and tailored velour suits for men and women in a rigorously tight palette of black, white and red, with occasional bursts of green. Fusing sporty leisurewear with tailoring, the collection saw cropped tanks for women paired with flowing sarong and pleated skirts, and black leggings that erupted into ruffles at the knee. In classic Yamamoto form, Y-3 was all about experimenting with volume – pairing contrasting itty-bitty bandeau strap-like tops with flowing skirts or billowy trousers. Y-3 also paid homage to artist and musician Yoko Ono, printing a selection of Ono’s notorious text pieces on unisex t-shirts including, “Open Your Eyes, Open Your Door, Open Your Legs, Open Your Sides, Open Your Heart, Open Your Mouth.” There was a clear focus on footwear too – Y-3 updated their signature sporty women’s pump in myriad fabrics and hues, as well as launching a new ‘walk on air’ foldable-sole Kubo shoe. Currently in Tokyo wrapping up his ‘Femme’ collection showing in Paris in October, Mr Yamamoto left a personalised message on the show notes saying, “I’m a rocker at heart, but work must come first. See you all in Paris!”
There must be something in the air. Preen, like numerous brands this season, took a step away from heavily referential design (remember their consistently 90s fare of the last couple of seasons?) and dark hues, opting for a clean, super-neutral palette to set off minimal shapes. The collection felt effortlessly feminine, which was interesting considering that the majority of the clothing took its cues from mens tailoring – something that the London-based Preen team, designer duo Justin Thornton and Thea Bregazzi, have over the years successfully made their signature, and what has brought them such renown in the sportswear-obsessed USA. For spring, Preen was back on top form, delivering the ‘ultra-modern’ day-to-night wear they’re best known for – blazers, pant-suits, and trousers were reimagined with chic, elongated lines and waists were cinched with streamlined cummerbund-like bands, the most striking of which was a sleek mod-rocker suit in electric blue. Skin was revealed beneath tailored jackets and reworked waistcoats paired with bandeau tops (a constant in collections this season), while accessible and downright pretty 50s A-line silhouettes, in both the origami-like skirts and sleevesless knee-length dresses, and breezy floor-length Arabic-print dresses proved a seamless shift in Preen’s excursion into both the masculine and feminine. The move towards light, bright colours and simple, structured shapes for Spring/Summer 11, by Preen and numerous designers this season, is refreshing - I wonder if it is indicative of a global shift in mood and outlook for the new decade? After all the 2000's were all about terror and insecurity, why shouldn't the 'teens' be about optimism (at the very least where clothing is concerned)?
Awash in summery colour, models in sleek dresses and dos seemed to drift across the catwalk like a school of tropical fish for Prabal Gurung this season. To the hypnotic tune of The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, the young designer sent out multi-hued sculptural dresses with geometric blocks of colour, and red-carpet-ready floor-length numbers in silk crepe, chiffon, fine jersey and an ultra-streamlined ‘stretch-scuba’ fabric, which are sure to be coveted by his many celebrity fans. Following the initially vibrant pieces came a slew of bleached and neutral-hued pared-back dresses and separates, and a commanding high-collared knee-length spring coat. There were some interesting architectural forms on show – dresses with sinuous folds of fabric along the front, extreme hour-glass silhouettes, ostrich plume-like puffball skirts and flowing gowns with risqué asymmetric slivers of mesh that invested the otherwise quite conventional designs with youth and sex appeal. Like fellow New York label, Ohne Titel, Gurung conceives his super form-fitting garments in experimental materials; this season employing translucent technical mesh, stretch scuba, plastic paillette and rubberised jersey alongside natural fabrics – a smart move as it sets his namesake designs apart from the tailored confections he produced as Design Director of Bill Blass. This is just Gurung’s third season at the helm of his own line, and against the odds he has created a brand with an identity people are buying into, despite economic instability.
Band of Outsiders/ Boy by Scott Sternberg
Attending the Band of Outsiders and Boy presentations during NYFW is always an absolute highlight – unlike many catwalk shows where the clothing, like works of art, are to be analysed and admired, Sternberg’s wares are the kind you actually want to yank off the models and wear immediately. Designer Scott Sternberg, possibly because of his background as a Hollywood actors agent (which is why his campaigns consistently feature stars including Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Michelle Williams, Sarah Silverman and Bijou Philips), creates mise-en-scène installations that act as the perfect backdrop to his covetable and ultra-preppy mens (Band of Outsiders) and womenswear (Boy). For SS11, Sternberg created an impressive indoor set, complete with beach umbrellas, boarding school beds and desks, and a wall of antique window frames for a few dozen models to stand beside in old-school preppy-chic attire gone contemporary. The CFDA award-winning designer has one central aim for both his collections: to redefine and perfect sportswear basics – so it was no surprise to see a vast catalogue of chic blazers, seer-sucker shirts, cashmere sweaters, silk georgette tunic dresses, easy spring trench-coats and drawstring pants in classic colourways on show. Set against a nostalgic, summery backdrop, Sternberg’s collection brought to mind past eras – possibly as a reaction to his inspiration this season, the photographs of American photographer Paul Outerbridge, renowned for his ground-breaking images from the 30s.
A dark, industrial soundtrack set an ominous mood before the Donna Karan presentation got underway – so it came as something of a surprise when in opposition to the music, sanguine super-neutral hues took to the catwalk without reprieve. To the tune of the monotonous sounds came a slew of nude garments – a similarly monotonous theme that was broken only momentarily by a singular print. Even the troupe of models were uniformly neutral – all blonde, with scrubbed, waxy faces sans make-up. According to the program, Donna Karan was “embracing nature” this season, taking direction from the basic elements of wind, water and rocks – not a particularly tangible point of inspiration, but one that set this luminary New York designer on an absorbing new path. In sync with the minimal colourway, shapes were refined and volume minimised – lean and layered gossamer dresses, bias-cut skirts and slips, casual shirt shifts and softly structured outerwear in crinkled stretch-twill formed the basis of an ultra-modern, essentially feminine collection.
It was a vision of 70s Grecian glamour, pushed to the extreme, at Halston for spring – and what could be more apt for a fashion house coming out of a long slumber, than to return aesthetically to its heyday of four decades passed. Like stepping into a Roxy Music album cover, the models on display appeared like disco-era goddesses clothed elegantly in draped floor-length gowns and standing upon geometric classical-style stacked plinths, to a backdrop of tropical palm fronds. The deft young designer at the helm of Halston, Marios Scwab, was in attendance and doing the rounds; talking to fashion editors, journalists and even what appeared to be gushing fans. His point of inspiration this season? Simply put, ‘Wild orchids’ was the answer. Like flowers, the collection, almost entirely consisting of dresses, was conceived in striking colour – coral, golden yellow, mauve, ivory pale pink and camel, tied together with gold detailing. The open backs, sides and midriffs throughout added a contemporary and sensual feel to a collection that we will no doubt be seeing on the red-carpet in months to come.
Marc by Marc Jacobs
It’s difficult to attempt to critique a Marc by Marc Jacobs collection when seemingly everything sent down the runway is accessible, upbeat and just plain fun… I mean, really, where is the sport in denigrating that? It is that sense of uncomplicated fun running through his collections that is at the heart of Jacobs beloved diffusion brand, and the reason he has fans of every age bracket buying into his vision.
For spring, Jacobs delivered a collection that yet again, couldn’t help but please both press and consumers. In line with his mainline collection, Jacobs sent graceful Seventies silhouettes in bright, summery colour down the catwalk – beginning with a beachy multi-colour stripe tank dress paired with canvas sneaker wedges (which I haven't decide if I’m a fan of yet – there’s something about sneakers and high heels I feel should always remain separate). But where the Marc Jacobs collection was referential and disco-decadent, Marc by Marc’s opted for a more sporty, casual and contemporary aesthetic. There were over 60 looks on show, including a number of jumpsuits, which have surprisingly retained an on-trend status for a few seasons now, that were alternately loose and billowy, and structured and somewhat militaristic. Cute bonnet-style hats perfectly set off loose-fitting cotton-twill cape-like dresses and jackets, and youthful high-waisted mini-skirts and sweater ensembles were consistent throughout, but without a doubt it was the humble stripe, in striking, sumptuous colour, that stole the show.
3.1 Philip Lim
For spring, Philip Lim took a walk on the conceptual side with a collection that visibly shifted from his usual very sportswear-based aesthetic, into the realms of something a little riskier. With this collection, conceived in the neutral palette that has proven to be the key trend of the season, Lim toyed with the idea of puzzle-piece fragments of garments that sit together to become a unified whole. An interesting concept, and one that could easily have come across as too tricksy or clever, but at Lim’s deft hand was, as we’ve come to expect from the designer, refined and wearable. The various sections, made up of sheer organza in basic colourways, sat flat atop one another, paired with casual sweaters revealing buttoned-up collars beneath – a preppy-chic feature that continued throughout the collection. Luminous powder blue garments including mens-style tailored tuxedo trousers, basic shift dress and slouchy leather shorts, broke up the essentially nude palette, and chunky clog-like platform heels took the menswear tailoring-inspired ensembles from day-to-night. Lim’s continually understated, high-quality clothing never strays far from his original objective to create clothing that, in the designers own words, “stand for enhancement. I believe my designs should refine not define. Clothing should be smart, not in the sense of their aesthetic but in their functionality – they should be practical and effortless.”
Proenza Schouler’s alternately lady-like and cutting edge collection for Spring/Summer was an exercise in bridging tradition with modernity. The initial looks, tweedy Chanel-like jackets with prim-and-proper tailored knee-length skirts fit for Anna Wintour looked particularly grown-up; fast-forward a few looks, and textural luminous-coloured shibori-dyed dresses paired with edgy flat sandals to suit a cool, youthful Proenza girl took to the floor. The vivid palette largely made up of fluorescent hues, bold arty jewellery and striking sandal-boots anchored the looks in the now, and contrasted beautifully with the ancient Japanese dye technique experimented with throughout. Surface and colour were consistently at play; delicate ruffles adorned waists, necks and hemlines of supple chiffon slips, intricate scale-like sequin detailing embellished entire looks and luminous web-like guipure lace creations appeared at once like something out of the imagined future and distant past.
The effect overall was unusual, beautiful and ultimately inspiring. The ease with which the Proenza Schouler design duo, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, straddle the conventional and the innovative, is testament to their seemingly limitless imaginations and aptitude as designers. Their increasingly covetable accessories – the handbags, bold jewellery and footwear were absolute highlights this season, are also an indication of Proenza Schouler’s saleability as a brand.
Oscar de la Renta
With an aesthetic at once nostalgic and impossibly chic, Oscar de la Renta’s preternatural ability to make antiquated styles relevant in a modern context is continually inspiring – as are his presentations each season. As a terrible storm erupted outside before his Spring/Summer 11 presentation, de la Renta’s immaculate ensembles for the new season sailed onto the catwalk, appearing larger than life.
Though not outré in any way, de la Renta has the ability to create garments so irresistibly perfect and crafted with such couture-like precision, that they take on a super-real, costume-like quality. Such was the case with this collection for spring, starting with a Fifties-inspired nude silk-linen coat with embroidered yellow blooms about the hem, paired with a matching yellow ostrich tote brimming with flowers. From there, the collection quickly moved into rosey summery hues, floral prints and ultra-feminine dresses, all to the tune of old juke-box favourites ‘Only You’ and ‘The great pretender’. The Spanish influence de la Renta explored extensively last spring was subtly reintroduced through chantilly lace ruffles and detailing on pretty cocktail dresses and later, exquisite ball-gowns. Once the floor-sweeping dresses began to file out, there was no looking back. A flurry of dreamy chiffon, sculptural tulle, silk faille, crepe de chine and mille-feuille lace and organza ruffles drifted out in gowns of contrasting black and white, muted gold, peony pink and lime that brought to mind Audrey Hepburn’s fresh-faced Sabrina. While the extreme lady-like looks on the catwalk today may not be particularly wearable for those among us who don’t frequent gala events and balls, or have a trust-fund, it is always an incredible, strangely cinematic
experience to witness an Oscar de la Renta show – and not just because Anna Wintour, Andre Leon Talley, Grace Coddington and Sarah Jessica Parker are sitting front row. As our old friend Keats once noted, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
It’s impossible to not like designer Jeremy Scott – well, if you take fashion with a grain of salt that is. Whether or not his irreverent, in-your-face wares are your cup of tea, you have to admire the audacious attitude he imbues his designs with season after season, seemingly oblivious to whatever trends might be coursing through the collections outside of his own. For Spring/Summer 11, Scott payed homage to the do-it-yourself aesthetic of the late 70s-era New York punk scene. From the punk favourites mash-up sountrack, to the clothing resembling NY Bodega plastic shopping bags, the collection was eclectic and extreme. It was all quite ‘derelicte’ in fact, Mugatu would have been proud. Silky polyester tank tops and dresses began with ubiquitous New York logos ‘I love NY’, ‘Thank you for Shopping Here’, and soon graduated to ‘No Sales are Final’ and a rather unforgiving, ‘Fuck You’; there were even entire looks created from flattened aluminium cans. A none-too-subtle fetish vibe also surfaced – buff men wearing black leather crotchless chaps, and wearing tank tops with ‘Fetish’ emblazoned across the front got the point across, as did outré creations for ladies stepping out to screaming vocals, “some people say girls should be seen and not heard, well I say, up yours!” To close, Scott sent out his pièce de résistance – a severe, white bridal dress-cum-straightjacket complete with conical bustier, veil and chunky white leather boots… As the blushing, or perhaps bewildered, bride stepped backstage, out came the designer, decked out in angel wings and white leather crotchless shorts with fringing, taking in the applause of the thoroughly entertained crowd.