Virtually unheard of in New York, the fashion crowd had gathered at the entrance of an expansive industrial space on the West Side Highway in readiness for one of the most anticipated NYFW shows of the season – on time. Once inside, talk seemed exclusively limited to speculation on what the quietly subversive Proenza Schouler, a label renowned for bridging convention with innovation, would be delivering for Autumn/Winter 11. And from the first look on the catwalk the audience, including gorgeous red-lipped Liv Tyler and Chloe Sevigny front row, were hooked. This season, design duo Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez focused intensively on textiles and complex construction techniques in an inspired collection that doubled as a history lesson on American arts and crafts.
“Last year, we went on a road-trip out west. We rented a car out in Santa Fe and drove out to New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming,” explained McCollough backstage following the show. “The experience really got us interested in Native American culture – its art, textiles and handicrafts. We liked the idea of creating clothing that took direction from Native American blankets – we also researched early American textiles and construction and included elements of both in our designs, but with a modern edge.” The collection, made up of graphic combinations of saturated colour against black, began with a laid-back statement look: an elegant black blazer over a yellow waxed-leather top, paired with wool jacquard Native American patterned trousers – and from there, grew rapidly in detail and intensity.
Models in minimal sandals weaved through the fluorescent-lit maze-like catwalk in elaborate two-tone macramé skirts with flapper-like fringing and lavish velvet hand-painted geometric print confections fit for the red-carpet. Embroidered multi-colour jacquard dresses, separates and bold cutaway all-over Navaho-inspired patterned dresses were key, as were innovative figure-hugging sheath dresses that were designed, McCollough noted, with spiral seams “Like double helix’s” to better adapt to the wearer’s form. Showcasing the label's experimental approach to textures, outerwear was particularly brave - shearling coats realised in patent crimson and mustard.
It was a gripping ‘On the Road’ sartorial-narrative that unfolded on the catwalk - an unexpected journey well-worth taking that renewed and transformed the Navajo trend, and will no doubt inspire new-found interest in American textile history, for the Autumn/Winter season ahead.
Last season, award-winning designer Anna Sui celebrated the twentieth anniversary of her brand with a dreamy and youthful spring collection – it was only fitting that to mark the next chapter, Sui would take things up a notch. Downplaying the sweetness and light of last season’s nouveau prairie-inspired wares, Autumn/Winter 11/12 saw a blaze of black and white mod-driven knit and print ensembles, as four models took to the catwalk at once. Radiant apple-green made an audacious pairing with navy in the patterned ponchos, dresses, stockings and skirts that followed the initial monochrome looks – and from here the luminous palette of cobalt, gold, raspberry and ivory, along with excessively detailed print, kept on rolling out. Polka-dots, florals and geometric patterns covered the exceptionally cute baby-doll looks in chiffon, crepe de chine, striking metallic jacquard and velvet – a pretty deft rendering of 60s styles (though eith a peculiarly Sui aesthetic spin) in authentic textiles. The ridiculously kawaii Japanese fan-club, or ‘dream team’ as Sui’s publicists described them, sitting up front in head-to-toe feminine-fun Sui outfits were contentedly cooing at every passing look – as were Karen Elson and Vanessa Hudgens, who couldn’t hold back smiles.
The 60s rock’n’roll soundtrack that played throughout afforded the trademark super-sweet shifts, drop-waisted and flattering A-line numbers on show a little edge – as did the introduction of boyish boxy shrunken blazers paired with knee-length shorts.
From the ultra-mod baby doll looks, Sui skillfully edged out of 60s and into the early 70s with the introduction of denim, patchwork, crochet and slouchy knit cardigans into the mix. While black dominated the opening of the show, white took over towards the end – with embellished flapper-inspired finale dresses that could have stepped out of Daisy Buchanan’s imagined wardrobe, paired with luxurious pale fox-fur coats.
Olivier Theysken’s THEORY
There was an undisturbed silence in the audience leading up to Olivier Theysken’s for Theory’s show, held inside a bare warehouse space in Chelsea. It was an interesting moment of reverence to witness: the usually raucous fashion set literally stopping still in preparation for Theysken’s wares to hit the runway – and when they did, it was hypnotic. To a monotonous beat, models stepped out in sculptural, rich-textured winter attire that at once appeared effortless and experimental. The look was decidedly European – tones (mushroom, aubergine, charcoal and olive) were muted and romantic, reminiscent of a misty winter garden, easy shapes in delicate fabrics were layered and outerwear appeared in countless styles. Oversized tailored mac’s and anorak’s, tweed trench’s, leather and luxurious fur jackets and boxy 50s-inspired overcoats were a few stand-outs that warmed the runway, along with rich cable-knit roll-neck sweaters guaranteed to cut the winter chill. This was a collection of ‘real’ winter pieces with some necessary trans-seasonal separates and dresses – a pragmatic, and Parisian, approach to tackling sub-zero temperatures.
There was an up-scale grunge aesthetic at play, evidenced through ankle-length sweeping skirts and dresses, delicate prints and sultry skin-exposing lace, fused with a Victoriana and Bloomsbury poetess attitude. Necklines were high and intimidating on a series of severe garments featuring cinched-waists and fitted bodices, while graceful floor-sweeping print and sheer organza gowns (provocatively revealing a lot of skin) hinted at bohemian grandeur. Theysken’s refined and poetic grunge-meets-Victoriana collection is yet another step up for Theory, a brand that while renowned for their simple and effective tailoring, has not been known for a ‘fashion’ point-of-view.
Taking in Altuzarra’s absorbing vision for AW 11, it was immediately evident that New York has finally found its answer to Christopher Kane. Like Kane, London’s star designer renowned for his chameleonic style, Joseph Altuzarra is all about shedding last season’s skin to reveal something altogether new and unexpected – and this season, with a collection skillfully fusing high and low, masculine and feminine, the young designer well and truly shined. The flawlessly executed vision was a real return to form following spring’s white and snakeskin fare, that while genuinely inventive, failed to impress to the extent of season’s prior where he had been hailed one of New York’s most exciting rising talents. For AW 11 however, the look was downright cool – reminiscent attitude-wise of the brilliantly cinematic, bondage and ‘cat-woman’-inspired black leather constructions of last winter. Combining, “the nonchalance and rebellious spirit of the nineties, with the glamour and sensuality of a Hollywood boudoir”, Altuzarra played on juxtoposition – particularly in the utilitarian outerwear garments featuring fur trims and linings paired with lingerie-inspired delicate draped and pleated dresses in muted hues of evergreen khaki, nude, rust and grey. The designer was also again exploring patchwork, one of his signature moves – but where the last two seasons saw unusual combinations of textures, colors and fabrications within a single garment, this season Altuzarra masterfully jumbled classic styles, prints and materials throughout the collection, resulting in a coherent whole. Reworked and deconstructed motorbike jackets, zippers and elongated, hanging straps were rife throughout in garments conceived principally in charcoal, black and burgundy, broken up with a classic, subtly re-imagined argyle print. Platform boots were black, knee-high and intimidating with fur menacingly jutting out along the tongue, heeled sandals appeared as white fur-balls and sparkly silver heels were on the humorously bizarre side featuring chunky white fur ankle straps. Textures were capitalized on – leathers and luxurious fur were heavily featured, as were traditionally masculine tweeds fashioned into provocative below-the-knee skirts with audacious thigh-high (or was it waist-high?) splits. But it was the supple floor-length ivory evening dresses heavy with embellishment and fringing that showcased a nuanced version of the Altuzarra woman, an imagined muse the designer said had this season, “traded in bold sexuality for a more sensual femininity.”
“We looked to the San Francisco craft movement this season, but approached in an ultra-modern way,” said Justin Thornton of Preen at New York’s Soho Grand Hotel, as he and wife Thea Bregazzi exclusively previewed their collection to VogueUK.com leading up to their catwalk presentation. “We loved the idea of replicating crude hand-embroidery, tapestry and appliqué – incorporating them into our designs and forging what we’ve called, ‘minimal craft’,” Bregazzi explained further, and she was spot on. For the first time, Preen introduced knitwear and art-and-crafty embellishment into their collection, but in the most intriguingly effective way – allowing their well-established future-vision to remain intact. Multi-hued angora cardigans and sweaters featured woodblock-style patterns in optimistic colour-ways that balanced vivid hues with the black and navy deconstructed suiting consistent throughout. Proportions were experimented with – hemlines were elongated, in line with the trend for spring, while single items gave the appearance of being several garments, sort of trompe l’oeill constructions if you will. Shirt-sleeves and collars – deceptively appearing to be part of a shirt beneath – protruded from overcoats and were affixed to necklines, jumpsuits appeared as matching trouser-and-shirt looks and tapered skirts with risqué thigh-high splits (“we love to show a bit of skin!” Bregazzi noted) were fitted with attached shirts. The effect was particularly pragmatic and modern – the sort of deceptively complex one-piece a woman-on-the-go could throw on, but appear to have labored over; perhaps this aesthetic pragmatism was the result of secondary inspiration within the collection - taste-maker Diana Vreeland.
There aren’t many labels that can successfully draw fans from both the downtown hipster clique and the uptown fashion-savvy set, and yet Preen consistently does just that with their fashion-forward, though essentially feminine and flattering, edgy-office-to-evening attire. It goes without saying that the beloved London label’s show at Chelsea’s Milk Studio’s was a resounding success – even front-row starlet, the rockin’ red-lipped Rose McGowan, was beaming as she looked on, no doubt making out her Preen AW11 wish-list.
“Show me something New York,” demanded DKNY’s graphic black and fluorescent hued invite this season, and show us something Donna Karan most certainly did. Inspired by “New York City modernists”, Karan’s outlook for winter 11 was a rousing study of graphic lines, punchy-pop colours and contrasting textures shown against a fluorescent light installation running the length of the wall reading, ‘Something New York’.
There are few New York designers that pull crowds like Donna Karan – and today the throbbing crowd of fashion-insiders were palpably moved by the designer’s latest, unapologetically vivacious, sartorial triumph. A rarity in the commercial American fashion sphere, Karan is revered for going against the grain and inciting, rather than syncing-with, pervading trends – and for winter, the now iconic designer yet again proved her knack for doing things her own way and still coming out on top. The look was a bold and edgy take on Mod-rocker 60s London, with a late 70s New York punk twist – quite the departure from the languid, lithe 70s silhouettes and subdued colourways we’ve been seeing so much of this NYFW.
The palette was all mod-rocking city – black, cream, navy and shades of gray, punctuated by brash hits of red-hot vermillion, pink, orange and blush. Stripes could not be tamed, and were the stars of the show: exuberant combinations of orange and tan, burnt and hot tangerine, red and pink, and everything in between on angora sweaters, mini-dresses and simple knits – refreshed and renewed in a context entirely removed from the ubiquitous Breton shirt. Shapes were simple and clean, flexible and ready to layer, tailoring was sharp and marked with fine detailing – garments were edged in black or pieced with contrast inserts of rib knit, leather or horizontal slashes of colour alongside a pattern-play of houndstooth, pinstripes and plaids. Outerwear was key – plush knit puffers, faux fur and shearlings and blazer-slash-overcoat-slash cape hybrids were standouts. But really, it was all about legs at DKNY for winter as sexy slivers of fabric made up itsy-bitsy skirts, mod-mini shifts, super–skinny trousers and new lean-flare trousers – fittingly topped with leather and felt pork-pie hats.
Inside New York’s elaborate French-revival Plaza Hotel’s plush ballroom (complete with baroque detailing and imposing chandeliers), a classical piano soundtrack calmed the restless throng awaiting Thakoon Panichgul’s catwalk presentation. Though, from the first jaw-dropping look on the catwalk – a Masai-plaid taffeta belted jacket paired with cobalt cigarette slacks and pleated waist skirt – the crowd, instantly placated, were all smiles. Daring colour and volume set the tone for a collection expertly mashing-up African tribal prints with classic tartans and checks, and sporty street-wear elements with tailoring. It was a brave vision, and Thakoon nailed it. The cross-cultural, cross-purpose fusion and exceptional print and textiles, reminiscent in spirit of avant-garde master Dries Van Noten, continued throughout the collection as deconstructed down puffa’s, tribal print wool asymmetric and draped silk dresses, gathered, tucked and pleated tunics and reworked blazers and coats hit the serpentine runway. From the opening vivid blue and red ensembles, the collection slowly merged into bold black and yellow in the form of floral batik rococo dresses, bustle skirts and blouses, and then as eye-catching tweed ensembles. Proportions were also observed – from high cinched and ruffled waists, to looser draped pieces sans waist-line, lean trousers to voluminous skirts, a variety of flattering silhouettes were experimented with. Thakoon’s streety, tribal, techno-wear for AW11 even took on a biker attitude late in the game, with a simple black cropped leather motor-bike jacket making an entrance alongside feminine re-workings of chunky black biker boots. All-in-all, a complicated, audacious and completely inspiring outlook for the season ahead.
BCBG Max Azria
While New York may be in the midst of one of its more bitter winters, that didn’t stop Max and Lubov Azria from sending out a resolutely optimistic – some might even say Spring-like – vision for the season ahead. Nowhere to be found were the tell-tale signs of an Autumn/Winter collection – wool, tweed and outerwear made way for breezy, diaphanous chiffon ensembles in rich, saturated hues and it was a sanguine approach that the star-studded front row, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kelly Rowland, and Ashanti, appeared to whole-heartedly endorse. Following on from the new length we saw on the runways for Spring/Summer, BCBG’s hemlines were dramatic – dresses cascaded to the floor or sat flatteringly at mid-calf. Silhouettes throughout were elongated – thin leather belts were slung low on hips and waistlines elegantly dropped in an interesting 1920s-cum-1970s fusion. Prints were minimal, and in keeping with the bold, complimentary colourways at play; navy, mustard, mocha, plum, burgundy and vivid orange made up the largely dress-oriented collection. Culottes, full pleated skirts, platform knee-high boots and turtleneck skivvies worn beneath dresses and blouses revealed the loosely 1970s theme, while geometric colour-blocking and layered, origami-like panelling on floor-length dresses gave the collection a requisite modern edge. Shearling coats and charcoal wool hooded jackets with faux-fur detailing were a nice departure from the light-as-air ensembles, and allowed the collection that all-important sense of Autumn/Winter pragmatism.
“Eccentric weekends in the American country,” inspired Jenny Kayne’s wonderfully off-beat and glamorous collection for Autumn/Winter11/12, that saw models take to the catwalk in mad Hamptons holiday attire. Textures were immediately at play, from sumptuous silk bias-cut slip dresses and pyjama-like trouser and button-down shirt ensembles to cosy, chunky wool robe and pea-coats, thermal-knit cardigans and cable sweaters, every garment on show screamed out to be touched. There was an over-all sense of ease and comfort throughout, largely due to the covetable velvet point-toe slippers (“straight from a glamorous grandma with love,” noted Kayne) and snug layers that took even the most dressy evening looks down a few notches, making them daywear appropriate. There was something of a cinematic overtone to the collection filled with beanies, lace mini-dresses and silk slips in sumptuous colour, that brought to mind quirky-charismatic heroines Grey Gardens’ Little Edie Beale and Margot of The Royal Tenenbaum’s. Costume-like creations that while dramatic, are just the type of subtly eccentric wares every girl secretly – or not so secretly – wants in her wardrobe. “Call your friends over, stoke the fire and turn the music up,” said Jenni Kayne of her looks for the season ahead, “you’re about to be the coolest girl in the middle of nowhere.” Suddenly, next winter isn’t looking so grim.
It was all about high-octane colour and texture at Luca Luca this season, as striking fur, leather, lace and silk jacquard creations in a rich autumnal palette hit the catwalk. Creative Director, Raul Melgoza, provided a confident outlook for next winter epitomised by show-stopping, ultra-modern outerwear including a plush olive leather and fox fur-trimmed cape, fuchsia flannel capelet coat and butterscotch poplin capelet trench. The trademark Luca Luca sleek, feminine silhoutte was evident throughout, though relatively new designer at the helm, Melgoza, made his indelible mark again this season with the tailored sportswear he’s become known for and that has seen the brand successfully enter a younger, more contemporary market in recent years. There was an element of the dramatic in the rich, and often happily-clashing, hues – mustard, burgundy, camel, fuchsia, orange and gorgeous straight-up hot pink were the most consistent throughout, while the flattering 50s inspired full swing and A-line skirts, reworked mac’s and pussy-bow blouses straddled the playful and practical – taking the ensembles seamlessly from day-to-night. Some of the most memorable garments however, were strictly evening. The floor-sweeping mustard skirt made up of what appeared as patched-together autumn leaves, elegant floor-length dresses featuring beading, embellishment and lace inserts and modern interpretations of classic war-time era gowns were really where Luca Luca shined.
‘Sweet Dreams xo Peter Som’ said the note inside the lime-hued m’n’ms filled goody-bag gracing the front row seats – and it was an apt indication of the sartorial sweetness that was to follow. The first look on the catwalk, a pitch-perfect navy wool twill pea coat paired with matching navy merino crew-neck sweater and slim navy trousers, signalled the pretty-as-a-picture vision Som had in mind for the season ahead. 50s-inspired hour-glass silhouettes in the form of flattering structured knee-length dresses and cinched-waist tailored jackets continued the all-out pretty vibe, yet there was more than just simple sweetness at play here. The model’s mussed, partial beehive dos, slightly odd point toe dual-colour low-heels and unusual fabric and colour combinations were the slightly-off elements that added another, interesting dimension to the collection. Khaki mink-lined parka set against flame-hued silk crepe top and jacquard trouser-skirt, sleek pewter sequin jersey trousers paired with a chunky chestnut check blazer and a bold navy wool twill and black fox-fur coat worn over a subdued winter floral print georgette dress were just some of the unexpected ensembles on show, endearingly like a debutante’s first attempt at a grown-up outfit, but approached in the most appealing way possible – of course, Som does have evening wear down to a fine art, his closing teal-blue scale-like sequin floor-length dress was as flawlessly glamorous as they come. It was a clever move to temper the First Lady-like confections with a subtly not-quite-right feel – it meant fashion-forward it-girls in the audience, like Skye Ferrera, could happily step out in Som’s pretty-but-edgy wares in months to come.
Ruffian’s design duo Brian Wolk and Claude Morais bridged playful femininity and cool androgyny with aplomb today, sending out a sophisticated but quirky collection of innovative suiting for Autumn/Winter 2011/12. The tailored black and white ensembles throughout played on historic Royal attire, with an all-important nod to rock’n’roll – late 70s punk-chic rock goddesses, like Deborah Harry, couldn’t help but spring to mind as possible inspirations. Citing Prince Edward VII of the late 1800s, and his request for “more comfortable dinner attire” as their influence this season, Wolk and Morais took the concept and ran with it, offering up reworked tuxedo’s in every form imaginable. Cropped black patent leather coats, cream double-breasted velvet blazers, severe pencil skirts and black satin jackets and matching stretch duchess satin trousers with a high 70s waistline all followed suit – often with dramatic Victorian ruff-collars in tow. Not to be pigeonholed, Ruffian closed the show on another note – and era – altogether, with flapper-inspired drop-waisted fringed dresses, a series of slim-fitting velvet cocktail numbers (this is New York, the land of the LBD after-all) and new romantic ruffle lace skirts – worn with contrastingly contemporary Lucite chunky heel sandals. The models’ eye-catching trompe l'oeil ‘tuxedo manicures’ (yes – the nails actually appeared to be miniature tuxedos), were an amusing touch to a well-edited collection.
There has been a lot of speculation surrounding Edun leading up to the newly resurrected label’s AW 11/12 presentation today. The ethical and environmental line, launched by Bono and wife Ali Hewson in 2005, fell into obscurity until mid last year when LVMH group partnered with the “small label with a big voice,” as Bono has describes it, taking it back into the spotlight. That said – the lights were well and truly dimmed at the catwalk show held in a cavernous warehouse space, where stumbling guests were having a difficult time finding their seats in the almost complete darkness. As the show opened, lights shone on loosely 70s-inspired sumptuously layered garments in earthy textures and tones. High-quality surfaces commanded attention; knits were cosy and woolly, leather supple, silk separates and dresses featuring delicate ruffles were light-as-air – all-in-all a very successful promotion for sustainable materials, which should be applauded. The autumnal palette throughout of ochre, charcoal, brown, black, olive and cream cemented the 70s feel – as did the cable-knit cardigan-coats, patterned knit sweater-vest mini-dresses, abstract-print silk jumpsuits, trouser and ultra-slim tailored button-down shirt ensembles and high-waisted ankle-length crochet skirts. It was a well-received return to form for the label, whose goal from the outset was to create a mainstream, yet ‘fair-trading’ fashion brand – going by their offerings for next season, it would seem they are well on their way.
Going against the pervading trend this season, Vivienne Tam bypassed the 70s aesthetic altogether with a collection inspired by, the designer explained, “duality”. While most collections have been sporting a longer hemline and lithe silhouettes this season, Tam’s approach was in complete opposition – tailored trousers were cropped at mid-calf, while dresses and skirts sat above the knee. Balancing new and old, as well as Eastern and Western culture, Tam said she was influenced by ancient Chinese traditions for Fall, citing the 66-year old ‘Kun Opera’ as a focal point, alongside the contrastingly avant-garde Guangzhou Opera House designed by starchitect, Zaha Hadid. Taking the elaborate costumes of the Kun as a starting off point, Tam’s designs featuring embroidery, lace, trompe l’oeil prints, crochet and three-dimensional circular appliqué echoed traditional handicraft techniques, translated into “everyday wear”. Towards the shows close, the relatively dark palette became a vivid black, red and gold – this combined with tassels, fringing and Mongolian fur made for an intentionally oriental-meets-occidental collection for the season ahead.
The vibe was decidedly pre-raphaelite at Erin Fetherston, where models had been given the goddess treatment – stepping out in romantic, draped and pleated dresses of principally black, gold and deep blush with elaborate head-band braid do’s. Fetherston fit right in, donning one of her Fall 11 designs with matching hair and wafting in and out of the presentation making adjustments to the models clothing, hair or stance all with a smile. While the clothing was in keeping with Fetherston’s ultra-feminine aesthetic, there was an appealing sense of ease and fun throughout the presentation, which downplayed the prim-and-proper looks on offer. The dozen models were laughing, posing animatedly for photographs, chatting and wandering around the space as the designer talked with guests. Appearing like a modern interpretation of a John William Waterhouse painting, the models – or muses – were caught somewhere in the middle of a goddess-slash-disco mash-up, and it worked. Taken out of the constrictively ‘lady-like’ context of this show, there was actually quite a variety of looks on offer. Mini black and lurex dresses with brilliant gold rope belt and tassles would command attention on any given evening, while a gorgeous long-sleeved black pleat dress echoing a 60s feel was the perfect sweet but off-beat cocktail number.
A New York favourite among what appeared to be an incredibly mixed crowd (Kanye West, Gossip Girls matriarch Kelly Rutherford and US Vogue’s Virginia Smith were an unlikely trio mingling in the bleachers), Tory Burch had not just one, but three catwalk shows to herald the new season - and with it, a new collection. The seemingly endless stream of people being herded at intervals into the Lincoln Centre Studio space, were privy to a successfully swinging 60s and 70s fusion. To a bumping hip-hop track, models stepped out in fluid, elongated cuts – a black lace sequined flared trouser and long-sleeved smock top ensemble summed up the overall aesthetic, as did retro red, navy and plaid wool outerwear in numerous styles with shearling hoods, red velvet confections and countless blouses and shifts with the all-important 60s signifier – the pussy bow. Sleek roll-neck sweaters, an item worn in almost every single Max Azria BCBG look for AW11, were also a mainstay throughout, signaling a potential future trend, while dressy tuxedo-front details – another modish signature – took simple button down shirts into a fashion context. The audience, many of whom were decked out in Burch’s shoes and bags, appeared in love (it is the Valentine season after-all) with Burch’s take on next winter, and supportive of her continuing evolution into becoming a definitive New York brand.
For Autumn/Winter 11/12, Carolina Herrera stuck to her guns and went all-out pretty. It was a collection of sophisticated daywear, dress-coats, outerwear and show-stopping gowns very much in keeping with her definitely feminine, yet empowered, take on fashion – and you have to love her for staying so unwavering true to her trademark aesthetic over the decades. The Venezuelan-born paragon of New York fashion, who founded her eponymous brand over 30 years ago, has made a career of knowing what she likes, and executing it in expert style. Renowned for her rich palette, prints and detailed hand-work (embroidery, beading and appliqué), Herrera consistently wins audiences over to her way of thinking – which is, simply put, that she wants to make women beautiful.
Herrera has said in the past that she grew up staring lovingly at glamour shots of silver-screen beauties, marveling at their elegance and personal style – and from today’s catwalk show at Lincoln Centre, it was clear that those early inspirations are still ringing true. There were numerous key looks on offer including Herrera’s signature white blouse and black slim-fitting slacks combination we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in various incarnations each season; striking cinched-waisted camel coat trimmed and backed in sable; steel gray organza layered bolero over cobalt moiré gown with red velvet belt; red and silver jacquard one-sleeve cocktail dress; bright azalea silk gown-fitted ever-so-snugly over the hips with dramatic ruffles emanating at the ankles. An interesting new addition this season came in the form of a voluminous regal sleeve – best exemplified on a one-shoulder cocktail dress where it demanded all the attention. Accessories were also eye-catching – there were practical, low-heeled embroidered sandals by Manolo Blahnik, felt brimmed and feathered hats by Albertus Swanepoel and embroidered and knotted gloves in autumnal hues.
You know what you’re going to get at a Betsey Johnson show – and that’s precisely what makes It such a draw-card each season. The original New York rock-chick of fashion is renowned for putting on one hell of a spectacle each fashion week, with presentations more akin to rock performances than runway shows – befitting her audacious rocker-billy wares. This season, Johnson’s show fell on Valentine’s Day – and she sure made the most of it. At the catwalk’s entrance a huge illuminated sign read, “He loves me not” – a fatalistic, though intentionally empowered message for the audience of brightly-dressed Betsey Johnson fans, while on the seats notes cheerfully read, “Hey Valentine!” The show, made up of two parts, first featured Johnson’s ‘Black Tag’ line, followed by the affordable, every item under $100, “Pink Patch” collection.
The lights were kept dimmed as the models took to the catwalk donning sharp Louise Brooks bobs and vivid red lipstick, wearing gothic-rockerbilly garb. The looks were reminiscent of Harajuku ‘Gothic Lolita’ girls: voluminous skirted dresses with fitted with layers of tulle beneath, 50s-inspired graphic leopard prints, velvet capes, Victoriana-style severe tailoring and bold florals and a whole lot of black lace. There were also a lot of 80s references – oversized cropped sweaters, biker jackets, faux fur stoles and coats, body-con zip-front mini-dresses and leopard print harem pants – and these continued, pushed to the extreme, into the ‘second act’. The Pink Patch, Johnson’s secondary line described by the designer as, “true blue Betsey,” was modeled this season by non-models, who had a blast in shocking fluoro and bright colours, over-the-top shapes and cartoon-like print. Johnson came out to join them, doing her signature move – a cartwheel, along the stage before being re-joined by models wearing frilly red bloomers and wielding mammoth roses complete with fake-spiders. It was good, silly sartorial fun for AW 11/12, and further cemented the renegade attitude Betsey Johnson has become known and loved for.
“She is dark, sultry and seductive,” Monique Lhouillier explained of her muse for AW 11/12, “a woman who knows how to get what she wants.” And it would seem that what Lhouillier’s woman wants, fashion-wise anyway, is to have it all – to be at once youthful, elegant and a little edgy. And this skillfully mixed-attitude is just what Lhouillier offered up in spades this season with a collection balancing opulent evening wear, youth-driven cocktail pieces, sophisticated daywear and casual-to-formal outerwear. The first look on the catwalk, a sexy cheetah-print taffeta seamed cocktail number, showcased Lhouilliers ability to reach a young, trend-oriented market, as did the subtly experimental puffa jacket, covetable any-occasion knitwear featuring cinched ruffled waists, muted-toned sequined sheath dresses, and superbly modern tailored skirt-suits. The consistent animal prints throughout were flirty and fun, but the lace confections were the uncontested highlight – elegant and sexy, Lhouillier showed a little skin with chantilly dresses and tops with bustier detailing, and beautiful blouson sleeves. It was an essentially Parisian fashion message to envision a woman as sexy and elegant, yet strong and taken seriously. The show-stoppers hit the catwalk towards the end, beginning with an intricate crystal and bead encrusted black top and continuing with a soft-blush sheer organza gown and wonderfully-eccentric Puffball ostrich-feather dresses – and really making a statement with a series of couture-like Valentines Day vermillion gowns in several elaborate incarnations that swept onto the catwalk, lavish fabric cascading to the floor. It really is quite a feat to so deftly marry two conflicting attitudes - and markets – and Lhouillier has achieved this, making both the youthful and the mature into, the designer notes, “the knock-out of the night.”
She may be renowned for elaborately embellished floor-sweeping gowns, but this season British designer Jenny Packham went an entirely different route – to the shock, and awe, of her audience. While last season, she pushed an unstudied sophistication and elegance with Twenties and Thirties-style intricately sequined and beaded floor-length gossamer gowns, for winter Packham brushed off the old-world charm she’s made her signature – sending out dramatically edgier, more youthful fare. The first look onto the catwalk was an ultra-modern version of what we’ve come to expect from Packham – a gold, asymmetrical draped floor-length confection. It was as though the designer was attempting to prepare her audience for the shock-of-the-new to follow, which came immediately afterwards in the form of a black and gold-flecked skin-tight one-piece – quite the departure from the ornate, ultra-feminine wedding dresses she’s best known for. The following looks in variations of black and gold, were short, sexy and revealing, heavily layered with sequins and beading – their were even sequined leggings on show (gasp!). Later, Packham’s new rendering of her trademark floor-length dresses, realised in gauzy steel, blush and nude, were at times body-skimming, sheer and seductive, then on occasion more accessible and fluid. The Jenny Packham signature romance – and bias-cut – was nowhere to be found, in its place was a brand new rock’n’roll glamour. It may not have been what we expected, but what can we say? Change really is as good as a holiday, after all.
New York’s Chelsea momentarily went French, as Sophie Theallet presented her new –markedly Parisian – vision for next winter at Milk Studios. The CFDA/Vogue fund winner and favourite of impeccably dressed First Lady, Michelle Obama, consistently draws the city’s fashion elite to her shows each season, perhaps because her artistic and off-beat Gallic style is such a breath of fresh air. With a signature aesthetic she describes as, “bohemian luxe seen through the eyes of a sophisticated couturier,” Theallet’s collections, that while often the product of complex construction techniques, suggest an ease and effortlessness – the result of ten years spent as right-hand designer to master couturier Azzedine Alaia no doubt.
Theallet’s vision for winter was an ode to Parisian charm. The opening look, a black knee-length silk pencil skirt paired with a supple cerise deep v-neck blouse complete with beatnik black beret and choker, was a taste of the tough-chic masculine-feminine wares to follow. Colours and fabrics were contemporary and direct – Theallet worked with a plush palette of red, tangerine, raspberry, charcoal, black, navy and brown, alongside fine wool, cotton twill and silk. As for key looks, there were a variety on offer: a wear-anywhere knee-length camel-hued full skirt teamed with sweet two-tone pink top jumped out, as did a knock-out red knee-length party dress, flattering v-neck inky-blue and sheer black chiffon silk dress and draped asymmetrical gold sheath dress. Menswear was also a reference point – a 1940s-inspired oversized tailored trouser and suit jacket made an entrance along with a double-breasted silk over-coat, and boxy mens-style overcoat cropped and paired with a gassamer slip of a skirt.
When you’re onto a good thing, it makes sense to stick with it. And that is precisely what designers behind Herve Leger, home of the body-con bandage dress, Max and Lubov Azria have been successfully doing over the years – attracting fans in countless it-girls, including DJ’s and girls-about-town Leigh Lezark and Harley Viera-Newton, (both sitting front-row, clad in skin-tight Herve Leger numbers), for their trademark body-con wares.
Autumn/Winter 11/12 in many respects was a tangible evolution of last season – the warm, golden and bare palette punctuated by all-black loosely bondage-inspired ensembles, introduction of metallic embellishment and the longer hemline. Yet, there were some notable, and welcome, changes to their winning formula – principally in the introduction of a new, and accessible, silhouette. Where the Azria’s are renowned for their severe figure-hugging, aero-dynamic aesthetic, this season flirty A-line and swing skirts, as well as dramatic floor-sweeping dresses, made an entrance– a smart move, and one that will no doubt attract a whole new clientele to the brand. Neutral tones of beige, bone and brown alongside shots of metalics, black and white dominated the collection that featured an abundance of gold and silver metal, and leather embellishment.
Rows of chunky gold chains were woven into bandage dresses, leather studs adorned entire skirts and houndstooth jacquard dresses and mini-skirts were covered with gold hardware – there were also metal zipper details everywhere, running the length of the back, and front, on numerous dresses. The look – especially the striking hounds-tooth pieces – had a mod-60s feel, but translated by the Azria’s in the most ultra-modern way. Mostly transeasonal fare, the winter items came in the form of calf-hair outerwear pieces – notably a knee-length coat, a brown calf-hair and bandage fusion and black calf-hair top. One of the closing looks, a commanding ivory and silver-metal floor-length dress, perfectly embodied the Azria’s muse for the season ahead, “Fearless and confident, she marches into the future, a modern ideal of feminine power.”
DIESEL Black Gold
“I wanted to make a collection that was exciting, and had a lot of diverse reference points,” explained designer at the helm of Diesel Black Gold, Sophia Kokosalaki, of her latest looks backstage following the show. “We’re at a time where designers are all being really minimal, I thought it would be interesting to create something more opulent and luxurious.” Kokosalaki tangibly introduced this concept of ‘luxury’ to Diesel’s high-end urban line through high-quality furs and leathers – and the designer was quick to point out that all materials, including goat hair, shearling and suede, were either ecologically sourced or faux.
For winter, Diesel Black Gold took on a military attitude, filtered through an antique lens. Focusing on details and textures, garments were crafted from aged leathers in olive, black, grey and aubergine resulting in a tough-chic, disheveled aesthetic – amplified by the models swampy hair and smoky eyes. Oversize leather patchwork and shearling coats, extreme flared leather and cow-hide trousers, snake-skin wrap skirt and corset-front leather dress all appeared as though lifted out of a trunk buried in the 1970s, while structured leather, heavy cotton and wool jackets and reworked blazers with cinched back-buckle fused vintage military cuts with modern construction. Kokosalaki’s reference’s may have been varied, but her complex vision for Diesel Black Gold made for a successfully “opulent” whole.
It was a celebration of “sporty decadence and pragmatic glamour” at Michael Kors for Autumn/Winter 11/12, where a particularly star-studded audience showed up in support of one of the industries finest to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his main-line. The front row was an intimidating spectacle: quintessential A-listers Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anjelica Huston and Bette Midler sat up front and centre – in fact, the buzz among the front row editors was that Midler had been serenading Kors, ukulele in tow, backstage prior to the show (we wish we had witnessed that!).
Long, lean monochrome lines, the very embodiment of Kors signature ‘elegant athleticism’, took to the runway to an up-beat 70s post-doowop soundtrack. Through the juxtaposition of sharp tailoring with languid 70s-era draping techniques, a new silhouette for winter emerged that was polished yet easy – a definitively Kors refined and simplified take on classic American luxury.
As though looking back on his label’s three-decade-long heritage, Kors sent out reworkings of his hottest-hits over the years in the form of high-waisted chiffon jersey blouson dresses and pant-suits, sleek bodysuits, gorgeous flannel masculine suiting and sultry figure-hugging gowns. Knotted fox-fur cropped jackets and bathrobe coats came in an array of tones – vivid red, blush, mauve, cream and cocao. The looks were delivered in striking block-colour, accentuating Kors’ taut, trim cuts and glamorous reimagining of classic all-American luxury-sportswear - a perfect close to Michael Kors first thirty years in fashion.
Taking direction this season from opulent European interiors and formal architecture, Ports 1961 Creative Director Fiona Cibani explored texture in a structured and subtly experimental collection for the season ahead. In a fittingly exclusive uptown venue, the new-look Ports collection – fit for fashion-forward up-town working girls – took to the carpeted runway, extending through a series of plush rooms. The stylishly unfussy collection featured lean silhouettes, made feminine through high belted waists that accentuated the bust and elongated the leg. There was also a conspicuously feminine take on masculine tailoring, revealed through structured trim suits, collared shirts buttoned up high, simple overcoats, strict pencil skirts that skimmed the legs and sculpted knee-length dresses. In contrast, the sheer knee-high socks and brightly hued nail-colours, added a hint of girlish fun.
Luxurious fabrics in vigorous tones of Bordeaux, pewter, navy, black and brown were unusual and commanding: tweeds had taken abstract inspiration from plasterwork, bonded jacquards with wax finish were reminiscent of wet stucco and laser-cut leather appliqué details were derived from baroque plaster lace-work. Overall, it was a concise and well-edited collection of practical but luxurious attire, and it was refreshing to note the lack of fancy frocks – Cibani stuck to daywear and the result was promising.
“This season, I looked at what Bill Blass was really all about,” explained designer at the helm, Jeffrey Monteiro, “I wanted to take the label back to its roots – but with a contemporary perspective”. For Autumn/Winter 11/12, the New York based designer, originally from Melbourne, Australia, echoed the clean and simple silhouettes, in typically masculine fabrics, that Blass fast made his trademark – and the result was a resounding success. “I chose Monkey Bar as the intimate venue for the presentation, because it is an uptown New York institution – much like Mr Bass’ himself.”
For the season ahead, Monteiro’s collection was an exercise in celebrating the heritage of the Bill Blass classic 60s-70s aesthetic, but with a fresh take that saw super-cool striped mod looks, glamorous evening wear and statement outerwear come together as a cohesive, and modern, whole. The contemporary revision of the Blass archive was realised in a spare, or “cleansed palette” as Monteiro described it, of straight black, white and red. A nonchalant, effortless sexiness was revealed through structured wares in several distinct styles: floor-length dress-coats and striking gowns, gorgeous 60s-inspired cocktail dresses featuring lace inserts and playfully risqué cut-out details and easy-to-layer knit, gaberdine twill (a particular highlight were the on-trend high-waisted flared trousers) and houndstooth and tweed skirts and cigarette pants. Following the bold, optimistic palette first seen for spring, and continuing for Autumn/Winter, the Bill Blass collection did not shy away from brights – brilliant crimson made its mark as a dramatic floor-length over-coat and as a series of formal, yet modish, gowns. It was a welcome homage to Bill Blass, who had famously rejected black as the go-to shade, stating, “When in doubt, wear red.” Who knows, it may just beat green to become the colour of the season.
Against the frenzied back-drop of projected flames, helicopters and blaring war-time sound effects, L.A.M.B’s latest looks took to the runway – modeled, once again this season, by peroxide-blonde lookalikes of it’s designer, the charismatic Gwen Stefani. Like Stefani herself, who seemingly has all the bases covered: a thriving music career, family life and multi-faceted clothing line – her label is similarly successful and diverse. For Autumn/Winter 11/12, the collection pitched every kind of look, for every kind of urban fun-loving gal. The collection’s jumping off point was decidedly military inspired, with rows of California-blonde ‘Soldier Girls’ decked out in wrap-trench coats in khaki boiled wool with leather harnesses, camouflage-floral hybrid print blouses, long maxi boiled-wool skirts with risqué thigh-high split and jodphur-like cuffed trousers.
Next up, to a rockin’ reggae beat, gorgeous Rasta-girls – or ‘Ragga Muffin Girls’ – with oversize caps made Navajo-prints sexier than ever, in the form of chiffon mini-shifts, sweater dresses, wool jackets and edgy-decadent maxi-dresses with flowing train. As the soundtrack went old-school London punk with Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’, so did the ‘London Girls’ - donning killer-cropped brunette do’s and 70s inspired leather motorcycle jackets, skin-tight leather trousers and fitted tartan pant-suits. The collection then swerved to ‘Buffalo Girls’, with Asian beauties walking to Malcolm McLaren’s famous tune in oversized, tailored menswear-inspired looks. Later, ‘Mod Girls’ hit the runway – gaudy leopard-print, polka dot and striped dresses, re-workings of striped baseball tees and bowler hats in tow. Finally, it was time for the show to come full circle with Stefani-like blonde ‘Glamour Girls’ taking to the runway in monochrome evening wear. The floor-length gowns on show were examples of the all-new LBD we’ve been seeing throughout NYFW, translated for Autumn/Winter as the LONG black dress… Of course, Stefani knows she’s got a varied audience, so she slipped a few little black dresses into the mix for good measure.
It was a vision of extreme disco-glamour once again at Halston for Autumn/Winter – 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 an imagined Studio 54, models appeared as 70s-era goddesses draped in sultry floor-length shimmering gowns – as lights dimmed intermittently, some of the gowns were even revealed to be constructed from ultra-modern glow-in-the-dark fabric. Describing the Halston girl as a “temptress", designer at the helm of Halston Heritage, Marios Schwab, cited Lauren Hutton's character in American Gigolo as among his inspirations for the new season. Schwab pushed this ‘temptress’ aesthetic with an alluring collection almost entirely consisting of dresses; Grecian-inspired chiffon floor-sweeping gowns, pleated and draped cocktail dresses, and all-over sequined creations in neutral hues featuring provocatively open backs, sides and midriffs.
Interestingly, for the first time since taking on the role of Creative Director at Halston Heritage three seasons ago, Schwab concentrated on daywear – and it was a successful move. A knotted chestnut-brown leather shirtdress was a stand-out of the day-to-night pieces, as was a chic ivory-wool hooded bathrobe-coat – the kind of dashing wear-anywhere winter warmer guaranteed to take any outfit up a notch.
While Schwab subtly adjusted his 70s focus this season to include more contemporary silhouettes and day-to-night wear, reminiscent of his London-based namesake line – there’s little doubt that it’s the classic, draped Halston ‘temptress’ gowns, in supple silk and chiffon, we’ll seeing on the red-carpet in months to come (Sarah Jessica Parker is president and chief creative officer of Halston Heritage, after all).