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New York Fashion Week by Laurie Brookins

An Oscar de la Renta sketch for Fall 2013.

Fashion Week Highlights

For those who aren’t endlessly mired in a profound sense of their own fabulousness, Fashion Week in New York can seem a rather silly affair, saved only when punctuated by its moments of incredible beauty and artistry. Reveling in the latter while turning a blind eye to the former, well, that’s the trick these days, isn’t it?

“Designers are enamored with old Hollywood.”

—Laurie Brookins

Marc Jacobs' Sun Room

Fashion Week Highlights

Author: Laurie Brookins

For those who aren’t endlessly mired in a profound sense of their own fabulousness, Fashion Week in New York can seem a rather silly affair, saved only when punctuated by its moments of incredible beauty and artistry. Reveling in the latter while turning a blind eye to the former, well, that’s the trick these days, isn’t it?

As we witnessed the debut of the Fall 2013 collections over eight days in February, an awareness of this grand dichotomy seemed to be heightened, and that can only be a good thing. In the recent past we’ve endured an explosion of entitlement, from street-style photogs swirling into a frenzied scrum to shoot the growing phalanx of stylish-but-anonymous girls (many of whom have parlayed this questionable fame into the acquisition of gifted clothes) to the small army of bloggers who ardently believe 238 Tumblr followers should net them a front-row seat. In 2012 this sideshow had reached both a zenith and nadir in the fashion spectrum, but thankfully it seems the troops have waned, if only just a little. Perhaps a raging snowstorm named after a harmless orange fish had a little something to do with sweeping a bit of it away, but an optimist might believe the conversation has once again found its way back to the work. And quite often, the work was nothing less than sublime. Here, we look at some of New York Fashion Week’s most dazzling moments—worthy of spectacle, though notable for being decidedly different than a circus.

The Air in There: The mood is undeniably away from the body for Fall, with designers eschewing the skin-hugging scuba looks of Spring in favor of an exercise in volume control. Ralph Rucci sent out a couture-worthy collection that, among the hand-stitched feathers and sequins, included artful A-line minidresses over slim pants for an effect that was almost Poiret-esque. (We saw this dress-over-pants idea in several shows, with Rucci and Monique Lhuillier among those who best achieved its glam-hostess roots.) Vera Wang, meanwhile, used folds and draping to craft some luxe floral jacquards into her own personal journey of sculptural dressmaking.

But it was on Tuesday night when the fashion community held its breath, waiting for Oscar de la Renta to kick off: The legendary designer had invited John Galliano into his studio for a three-week residence, thus causing everyone to wonder what might happen when John met Oscar. (Just prior to the show, an insider said of Galliano, “He’s been in the studio every day, and he’s been extremely involved.”) The first few looks out confirmed the wonderment, a group of lush, peplum-accented suiting that undeniably evoked images of Dior shows past, though such a statement is a bit of a disservice to such a divine collaboration. De la Renta’s stunning fabrics and deft hand were much in evidence, including a floral ballgown that featured his beloved ikat print, while a beaded lime silk cocktail dress ballooned beautifully from its pleated back. You can easily envision one of his Park Avenue girls wearing it to a party at The Frick, and everyone admiring the artistry that had emerged from an exciting new relationship.

Dominatrix Chic: So many shows kicked off with black-leather looks, their peplum jackets festooned with strappy harnesses, you started to wonder how a whip might be fashioned into a serviceable little clutch. Fall is all about powerful, sexual girls, judging from all those noir looks walking down the runway. Leathers were put to widespread use: Jason’s Wu’s python-embossed cropped moto jacket was given a ladylike spin over a floaty white pleated skirt, while there was more of a military air at Prabal Gurung, who showed wonderfully structured jackets strapped up in those de rigueur harnesses (he added the detail, to great effect, to a navy satin evening gown, its high slit making her look all the more dangerous). At Herve Leger, corset-like belts crafted of leather straps cinched in the waists of those signature bandage dresses, while Joseph Altuzarra wrapped leather sensuously around the body, with zippers going this way and that for pure, delightful distraction.

The Silver Screen Beckons: Is it just that the New York shows take place so perilously close to the Oscars that has us thinking of these dresses with Hollywood also on our minds? No matter, but it seems more than a few designers are enamored with old Hollywood as a Fall inspiration. We were already crushing on Karlie Kloss, but never more so than when she took a red-eye from the Grammys Sunday night to be the first model out on Carolina Herrera’s runway at 10:30 a.m. Monday. Wearing Herrera’s graphic-print gown in peach and ivory, sweetly tied with a black bow at the neck, she looked every inch the Hollywood heroine Herrera had been envisioning for this collection. Its bias-cut gowns and slim shoulders were an ode to the days of Irene Dunne and Carole Lombard, while an ebony sequined blouse with a lush cowl neck that rose hood-like over the head had us thinking of Marlene Dietrich. Donna Karan, meanwhile, explored her signature stretch jersey to great effect, including a dove-gray gown that wrapped and flowed to stunning effect. And Gilles Mendel finished his show with a strong grouping of goddess gowns, their necklines twisted into Grecian-meets-modern splendor, the final two in another key fabric of the season, velvet. Oscar Night can’t get here fast enough.

A Lady Is Always Worth the Wait: Before it truly wreaked havoc on the Northeast, we were all making fun of a blizzard named Nemo, with memes and gifs gleefully tweeted out, often of an orange cartoon fish descending menacingly upon New York, but for some it was no laughing matter. Anticipating delays of fabrics and accessories caused by canceled flights, Marc Jacobs announced even as the storm was approaching Friday afternoon that he was switching his usual Monday-night slot to Thursday evening after everyone else had wrapped. Grumbles were heard from those due to be on flights to London the second the New York shows ended, but not once you saw Jacobs’ collection. In the Lexington Avenue armory Jacobs had hung a giant sun–noting later he was inspired by The Weather Project, an Olafur Eliasson exhibition he had visited at the Tate in London—with the lighting creating a sepia-tone effect that cast a gray pallor among audience members (not a kind thing to do to people on the eighth day of nonstop shows). His girls emerged from underneath that sun, each wearing identical shaggy wigs (designed by Redken rock star Guido Palau), the clothes a wonderful mix of retro-spun ladylike pieces: perfect pencil skirts, camel jackets, sequined minidresses, a bit of Mad Men Joan meets height-of-fame Neely O’Hara (seriously, all those sequined dresses at the end, especially a full-length silver stunner with a full open back, were among the standout looks of the week). And at just the moment when that yellow sun had you questioning your eyes in terms of color and fabrication, Jacobs had the house lights brought up and sent out these 55 girls all over again, allowing us to take in this tantalizing collection with clear eyes. All was forgiven as everyone exited the armory, agreeing that the best had indeed been saved for last.