New York Fashion Week’s subdued events afforded the industry a moment to reflect on the state of fashion in these dark economic times. Considering the havoc of the past six months, this is a timely, and, in many ways, a necessary meditative activity. In turn, the runways reveled in introspection, offering a tension between sartorial practicality and fantastical escapism.
With an uncanny ability to consistently define the right fashion feeling of the times, Marc Jacobs showed a vibrant ’80s-infused collection, which hinted at the various and opposing trends of the season in the form of textured fabrics, the color black, bright bold colors, big shoulders, geometric details, workwear attires and glamorous wares. Each model had a different look, donning outlandish hair and chromatically vivid makeup with the same outré measure. Jacobs is giving womens’ closets more choices come fall if their budgets are willing, while also imparting a general message of optimism.
Still, this is the toughest retail environment of a generation, and designers have strategically gravitated toward dark colors. Alexander Wang paraded a strong outing of black garments, including tailored jackets with strong shoulders, lusciously textured furs, tough leather jackets and sexy taut dresses with geometric, skin-baring cut-outs. Ohne Titel also took the dark route, using steel, dark brown and varying shades of black. The comparatively leaner silhouettes varied from taught trousers with slits about the knee to distressed leather jackets and randomly layered knit body con dresses, sexily amplified by thigh-high leather boots.
Phi had the same racy energy, just as Rag & Bone’s Ninja-inspired collection yielded downcast shades of anthracite, midnight blues and occasionally grays. Meanwhile, Doo.Ri’s delicate use of jersey took a moody turn with a gravitational effect that seemed to drag the fabric down. This architectural look also found its way into Francisco Costa’s collection for Calvin Klein, which included oversized, asymmetrical panels in coats and rigid uneven hems in dresses. Zero Maria Cornejo was all about organic feeling, using clothes as a kind of style armor for the economic times. The runway featured models with darkened eyes, wearing brooding layers in wool capes as coats, dresses with Samurai-like details, dark gray shearling wrap coats and draping knits with modified, batwing sleeves.
While newer labels fought to find grounding, blue chip brands seemed to understad the demands of the recessionary times. While her contemporaries wanted to celebrate in textured and metallic gold ensembles (perhaps a Prada effect stemming from last season), Donna Karan’s tailored jackets, coats and sweaters with brawny shoulders and wool skirts and pants in conservative cuts sent a message of productivity. Oscar De La Renta’s shades of gold were paired with leopard prints, fur and velvet, or whole outifits seen in two silk cocktail dresses. Carolina Herrera tempered such ostentation by using a tarnished shade closer to copper. While Ralph Lauren’s chic, tweed workwear would please Karan, the upbeat outing was peppered with gold accents such as fringe beading on dresses, embroidery on tulle skirts, lace halter tops, vests and as a winsome cocktail dress.
With such glittery glamour, it’s no surprise the younger designers are following suit. Jason Wu, who has been receiving a lot of Michelle Obama love (the infamous inauguration dress and the cover of the March issue of Vogue), used that precious yellow shade for circular embellishments in one First Lady-friendly jacket and a chiffon dresses. Proenza Schouler, the hot label by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, not only produced the best, most well-tailored outerwear this season, but also used velvets in tight tops and silk dresses to achieve a decayed, yet fresh look.
Sometimes the best way to show happiness is to just wear your heart on your sleeve—with a bit of color. Isaac Mizrahi used bright shades in colorful Tartan dress and cheeky items such as handbags and hair accessories, while Jonathan Saunders looked to the retro-future with bright hues of red-orange, teal and yellow as well as structurally rigid wares, geometric cut-outs and panels. Rodarte took this upbeat road with an amalgam of textures such as velvet, crocodile, chiffon and fur, in a series of outfits fit for an intergalactic odyssey. Even with this conceptual aesthetic, Natalie Portman’s fuschia Rodarte dress at last night’s Oscars proved that the Mulleavy sisters can make contemporary clothes too.
Escapism isn’t the only way to deal with the gloomy climate. To the contrary, some labels advocated for real clothes in real time. Preen’s textural and wonderfully executed collection yielded a green coat that had sleeves with an impressive wing span. The London-based label’s body-hugging dresses in ice cream colors registered a kind of nowness akin to Narciso Rodriguez’s bodycon numbers in peach and lemon. Meanwhile, Thakoon’s yellow, orange and purple tinted fur coats harkened back to the glory days of conspicuousness, and his sweet dresses and wearable separates in muted shades had the right amount of effervescence to make for practical, bankable buys.
While practical, dark clothes are solid staples for a predictably slow-paced retail season, those who are over the depressive atmosphere can indulge in optimistic wares. The question is simply a matter of mood.