New York Fashion Week's Stunning Surplus

Even before New York Fashion Week began, the industry was buzzing about how designers would respond to the gloomy economic climate. Many pundits predicted that the collections would follow a daring route, while others forecasted a very safe season. In the end, the week yielded a mixed bag of designs. Although the collective reception was lukewarm, designers explored a range of approaches that included new proportional horizons, gender games and sexual charm.

In the postmodern fashion department, Marc Jacobs deliriously conflated decades and references—from YSL to grunge, Middle Eastern and ’80s—in an attempt to forge a strong silhouette by nipping and raising the waist as well as using pads to emphasize shoulders. Other designers, such as L’Wren Scott, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Narciso Rodriguez, and up-and-coming designer Koi Suwannagate joined Jacobs in raising the shoulders’ sartorial profile.

The most winning efforts were at Proenza Schouler and Calvin Klein, however. The boys at Proenza Schouler mined a very ’80s vein with outfits that featured voluptuous sleeves while incorporating plastic materials into their brand of American sportswear. Francisco Costa at Calvin Klein, manipulated silks in such an ethereal way that the necklines of dresses looked like precious sculptures that framed the models faces.

While the upper torso featured dramatic designs, the lower half of the body also received attention. In a chromatically rich outing, skirts were fiercely layered to produce wondrous textures of various fabrics at Jonathan Saunders, while Georgina Chapman at Marchesa unveiled her most glamorous collection to date with a regal full skirted gown wrapped in copious amounts of transparent black chiffon. In addition to her successful accessories line, Devi Kroell made a bulbous statement with strikingly large harem-inspired pants (a huge trend this season) and skirts, a look Jeremy Laing echoed with a mellifluously airy approach. These emerging designers weren’t alone in their Orietentalist inspiration—Doo.Ri and Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren were also inspired by the wardrobe of a Middle Eastern belly dancer.

Designers also used ethnic trousers to convey a gender-neutral look. The shorts that the pretty boys wore at Yigal Azrouël featured literal interpretations rendered in cotton and jersey, while Boy by Band of Outsiders made them as overalls, Karen Walker opted for plaid and denim fabrics worn with flat shoes and Daughters by Obedient and Sons chose grey linen with a high waist that elongated the body—all of which hinted at the harem pant’s forgiving silhouette.

In addition to these architectural shapes, many designers chose to convey feminine sexiness. Transparent chiffon gave a sense of immodesty to Sabyasachi’s texture-heavy outing, while 3.1 Philip Lim used camisoles to temper his use of print-on-print sheer silk layering. While Thakoon used a similar technique, he also showed a series of heart-fluttering dresses with tight pleats randomly distributed throughout the body. Ohne Titel, for example, made beaded nude tops that, from a distance, looked like tattoos, while Kai Kühne used geometric seaming for taut see-through blouses, Preen created sinuous contour lines with seams running throughout short dresses and German Gotham newcomer Macqua layered grosgrain ribbons over a jersey dress to create an optical illusion. Rodarte produced the most striking take on sex by combining the distinct aesthetics of chiffon, chains and leather in artfully constructed dresses.

With Lehman Brothers annihilated by the mortgage crisis and the global economy on shaky grounds, the fashion-consuming public is more fiscally prudent. So, were the New York spring/summer ’09 collections convincing enough to make us buy clothes? Well, unlike the Wall Street big wigs who fatally betted wrong, we’re placing our bets on the hands of time. For now, one thing’s for sure: there’s no recession of chic clothes.

—Robert Cordero

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