In New York, the number of designers who stage runway shows or presentations grows each season — there were 221 this year, to be exact — and the overabundance of information makes it increasingly difficult to identify a prevailing movement (not to mention keep one’s sanity). Apart from the frigid temperatures, the most memorable aspect of the a/w ’07-’08 collections was the struggle between two design camps. In one camp, many designers eschewed the voluminous layering that’s been a staple of New York collections for a few seasons now, instead opting for a renewed sense of minimalism. Others were not keen to let go of the dark and moody, refining the silhouette with ’20s-era draping and smooth embellishments.
As the city’s reliable pacesetter, Marc Jacobs knows that sometimes to move forward one must look to the past. In a nostalgic, spirited collection that hinted at art deco and ’70s elements, Jacobs’ past experimentation with layers was nowhere to be seen, and he refreshingly steered clear of fashion’s current love affair with futurism. Instead, Jacobs presented caricatures of chic Parisian women in svelte silhouettes, working with long, narrow coats and dusty-hued jackets; high-waisted satin trousers; narrow power suits with jackets marked by triangular hems and wide lapels; long pleated dresses; and blouses with exaggerated angular collars.
Triumphant as it was, Jacobs’ newfound sense of sobriety — reinforced by gloves and prim wide-brim hats — may have been too dainty for some. The antidote came from Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein, two design houses with storied pasts, in the form of pared-down urban dressing. Nicole and Michael Colovos, the designers behind Helmut Lang’s collection, did not show this season, but a trip to their showroom revealed autumnal offerings of tonal hues — blacks, many shades of gray, and whites. Wool dresses had, as one would expect, surprising details: shoulder pads peeked out, a series of pleats fanned like gills, and sweaters crocheted with rubberized yarn lent a cocoon-like structure. In a monochromatic — predominantly in shades of grays — outing, Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein paraded slick-coiffed models wearing wool coats with various funnel necks and chunky, knitted coal sweaters juxtaposed with pencil skirts; the last three sleek, floor-length dresses were not only reminiscent of ’90s vintage Calvin, but were also Costa’s way of asking his fans to forget his s/s ’07 blunder.
Erin Fetherston, a proponent of cute, girly minimalism, also had a gray story to tell, while Nicole Noselli and Daphne Gutierrez of Bruce used the color — in two long silk dresses with drawstring waists — to elegantly announce, "we’re back." The ladies of Bruce have made a name for themselves by combining form with function in a sober package — this season, they were joined by a slew of designers who approached their work with an architectural eye. Expert practitioner Narciso Rodriguez used his trademark piping to flatter body contours, and sewed rectangular panels into luxe coats that nipped both sides of the waist. However, Rodriguez showed a slight organic spirit in a black one-shouldered dress, which showcased a bodice zealously wrapped with black roping. Zero Maria Cornejo‘s pressed-wool dress had a triangular opening above the bosom — a subtle kind of seduction that set the tone of her collection — while Donna Karan‘s peek-a-boo effects came in bright colors that electrified her black satin frocks. Matthew Ames, only 27 years old and returning home after a couple of seasons in Paris, simplified his colorful palette while studying how geometric shapes and lines work with the body. Also from the City of Lights was L’Wren Scott, whose austere use of black and wine made her long and narrow silhouettes more sophisticated.
Much lauded for its techno-chic clothes is Naum, a recipient of the 2007 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award, along with Erin Fetherston, SANS, Tom Scott, Angel Chang, and Patrik Ervell. This autumn, the label’s oversized nylon parkas, bell-sleeved blouses, and slouchy trousers showed too many of the distended proportions that fashion seems to be outgrowing. Luckily, its high-waisted wool pants, jersey dresses, and the wool sculpture skirt had just the right hint of nowness. While one cannot deny the craftsmanship of Proenza Schouler‘s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, seen in their enveloping black chinoiserie coats and jackets, the boys’ dark collection of geometrically ruched dresses (vaguely reminiscent of Balenciaga), baggy wool trousers, and slouchy jackets was too anachronistic considering the narrower silhouette pushed by their s/s ’07 collection. Brian Reyes also used a darker palette, which was perhaps season appropriate, but the clothes lacked the designer’s former breeziness. And though the fabrics at Y3 looked rich again, the shows’ many baggy looks were too impractical for the label’s luxury sportsgear market. Brazilian wunderkind Alexandre Herchcovitch pushed his particular South American brand of deconstruction; although several pieces had inventive details — leaf-shaped vinyl appliquéd onto coats, peek-a-boo sleeves that wore like a shrug — the finished outfits required too much thought to wear. (One dress was literally a re-fashioned garbage bag — yikes!) And after an acclaimed s/s ’07 showing, Vera Wang misstepped with some of the same over-thinking issues, which was unusual considering her reputation as a designer who knows how to flatter a woman’s body. However, she did see a winner in the form of an evocative gray satin dress with arbitrary ruching near the bodice — the look was topped off by a red silk scarf worn on the model’s head. If Wang’s patrician women are having mixed feelings with their fall selections, then Thakoon‘s light-handed, feminine take on volume, especially in floral print dresses, will retain the company’s growing customer base of pretty young things — as will 3.1 Phillip Lim‘s easy, above-the-knee, waistless dresses.
Whenever there are two diametric positions, there will always be those who’ll take a diplomatic stance. Ralph Lauren has never been one to venture outside his comfort zone, and this season he touched on the metallic trend with a gold puffy vest, a military jacket, a copper motorcycle jacket, and a gown with a plunging neckline. Another 7th Avenue staple, Anne Klein, chose Isabel Toledo to resuscitate the house, and Toledo delivered with an eclectic mix of utilitarian plaid coats, loose-fitting satin dresses, a floral-printed dress and blouse, and a black-leather skirt suit. And then there were the new guard and rising — Derek Lam, Peter Som, and Doo.Ri — who are learning the formula for sellability. Though failing to live up to his past collections, Lam’s flattering, nipped-waist dresses — bias shoulder in blue chiffon and beautifully draped in beige — will sell. And while Som is not entirely a showman on the runway, you know his wares will look good on the racks. With a very palatable collection of signature draping techniques using chiffon and silk jersey, Doo.Ri proved worthy of the Perry Ellis Award for Emerging Talent and the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund Prize. Young label Vena Cava knows that its disheveled arrangements of khaki pants with slouchy blouses, as well as its none-too-prim tiered skirts and dresses, satiated its downtown followers, while Alexander Wang‘s ’80s-referenced collection will keep his free-spirited girls partying and the industry buzzing — several editors kept bringing up the name and collection as one of the week’s winners. Zac Posen has spent season after season perfecting his tailoring skills with menswear fabrics, but this time his ruching techniques with satin, chiffon, and silk fabrics produced winning frocks that should appeal to Oscar-nominated actresses. Speaking of red-carpet dresses, Oscar de la Renta unveiled choice selections in floor-sweeping velvet, spaghetti-strap silver, and ethereal chiffon. An antidote to de la Renta proved to be Peter Soronen; his Park Avenue clientele witnessed well-made, richly colored satin concoctions for that big night. And finally, the silk jersey and sequined gowns at Bill Blass courted more Hollywood superstars — in addition to current devotees Angelina Jolie and Janet Jackson.
Marc Jacobs a/w ’07-’08
Zero Maria Cornejo a/w ’07-’08
Naum a/w ’07-’08
Y3 a/w ’07-’08
Alexandre Herchcovitch a/w ’07-’08
Vera Wang a/w ’07-’08