Can we have serenity now? After a loud, long period of sturm und drang in design, New York Fashion Week hailed the return of elegance, simplicity and rusticity.
Gone were the front-row celebrities at Marc Jacobs, the last traces of sequins and shoulder pads, the supremacy of neon.
And just as certain Wall Street institutions exited the scene not long ago, so too did fashion's infatuation with the eighties disappear.
So what do creative types do once a flashpoint is extinguished? They scatter, in one direction or another.
In the case of some of the city's young female designers, the 1970s proved an attractive era to mine, popping up in the flowing trousers and boho prints of Rachel Comey, the high necks and fishtailed skirts of Vena Cava and the frocks more peasant than prom queen at Erin Fetherston.
At the same time, the wonder boys of New York – Alexander Wang and Joseph Altuzarra – looked to the 1990s. While Wang's cropped turtlenecks, chokers and burgundy and ivy velvets recalled the decade's teen witches and Scream queens – are you there, Neve Campbell? – Altuzarra's dexterously buckled, slashed, corseted and whipstitched leathers displayed a tough, noirish sexiness not seen since Tom Ford enthralled French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld in 1995.
Perhaps the week's most lauded and laudable show was Marc Jacobs' timeless, nearly trend-free meditation on beauty. Sober yet warm, the show proved that, these days, simplicity is the real luxury.
In the 1980s, budding icon Madonna famously gave her take on materiality, a concept that Rodarte redefined this week by taking medium mixing to new levels of craftsmanship. One could almost imagine the Mulleavy sisters working away like the birds in Disney's Cinderella, whistling and twisting any old rags – floral bedsheets, torn negligees, shearling scraps - into the intricate, ball-worthy gowns they paraded down the runway. (If only those gowns sold for a song, too.)
Among the Canadians who showed in New York, onetime Torontonian (and former Flare magazine editor) Rita Liefhebber presented her sophomore collection in a lumberyard trailer open to the cold. Although she is known for her cool, body-con sportswear, she offered up rustic looser garments this time around. Sure, a couple of her twill dresses looked as though she had been dared to make a burlap sack look good, but never mind. One of the great revelations of the week was her use of glazed black velvet, which looks like leather but feels feather light.
Ports 1961, which is designed by Vancouver-born Tia Cibani, also embraced a rough-luxe aesthetic, melding materials such as tweed and neoprene, combining an organic palette with clean, contemporary lines.
And Jeremy Laing, who is based in Toronto, also went back to nature, eschewing the architectural experiments of past collections in favour of earthy colours (moss, redwood, mineral, flint) and prints suggestive of totem poles. “Canadian designers,” he said, “don't explore the country nearly enough.”
Laing's key pieces – leather and wool jackets with fur hoods or funnel necks – were much talked about. Conjuring rural resourcefulness rather than ostentation, his way of doing fur (evoking a fresh trap, patching it together) is the new way of doing fur.
Also in the fur department, Proenza Schouler worked jewel-hued skins over cropped blazers and rugby jackets, while Phillip Lim flipped the fur coat inside out, lining a shearling number with leather.
And at the Ohne Titel show, French Vogue's Roitfeld reportedly took a leather, fur and rib-knit bomber right off a model's back. Grrrr...
It’s a cliché because it’s true: As the economy looks up, hemlines come down. A romantic case in point: the diaphanous Marc Jacobs skirt above. Even the coolest girls – Alexa Chung for Madewell, the Vena Cava duo, the Olsens for their upmarket line The Row – showed ultraconservative skirting, either full and wholesome or dramatically floor-sweeping. Think of it as the long hello.
The sartorial equivalent of colour blocking, this week’s artful patchwork of materials in single pieces – such as the wool/fur numbers at both 3.1 Phillip Lim (above) and Jeremy Laing - mark a revived interest in fabric interplay. Some of the wilder mixes were proferred by Diane von Furstenberg, who paired chiffon with velvet and even chain mail
Vintage-savvy fashion interns have been scooping up nineties velveteen dresses for about a year; now, their bosses are paying attention. This week, Ralph Lauren, Joseph Altuzarra, Alexander Wang, Jill Stuart and Nanette Lepore (above) revealed major crushes on high-sheen velvet, which is reassuringly luxe but not as pricey as it looks. Soft, it seems, is the new sequined.
Sarah Nicole Prickett
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