Like its namesake city, New York Fashion Week is the ultimate style battleground. Here, old-guard editors fight to keep front-row seats from new-Establishment bloggers, the week's main (and massive) Lincoln Center catwalk dukes it out with the more intimate MILK studios in Chelsea and designers, numbering almost 300 this season, jockey for the attention of the media, stuck in the trenches in between.
It makes sense then that uniform dressing permeated the fall 2013 collections, which showed from Feb. 7 to 14, reinforcing this idea of combat. Literal references to the military commanded attention at Prabal Gurung (whose show featured peplumed officers in bootcamp green), Michael Kors (proffering luxe mink camouflage) and Ralph Lauren (in a sartorial ode to revolutionary Russia).
Some designers were more aggressive with the notion, conjuring bike gangs in their efforts to mark their territory. Twisted up motorcycle jackets at Jeremy Laing (in gold lamé), Rag & Bone (in elongated lengths) and Diesel Black Gold (with deconstructed skirts) were equal parts Sons of Anarchy and artist Richard Prince's Motorcycle Girlfriends series (albeit with more clothes).
Another who used uniforms as fodder: Tommy Hilfiger, the city's front-line purveyor of prep, created a boarding-school fantasy at the Park Avenue Armory. Pleated skirts, Prince of Wales checks and retro bookbags made an appearance, as did leather knee socks (indicative of a schoolgirl fetish if there ever was one).
An industry stalwart, Hilfiger wasn't the only designer riffing on youthful nostalgia. Multiple evocations of the 1980s video game Tetris stacked up: via tweeds and jacquards at Calla and Zero+Maria Cornejo respectively, with pixelated prints at Jonathan Simkhai and through Band of Outsiders' Atari Pong graphics.
On the subject of prints, roses proved sweetest and the most manipulated throughout the week. They were drippy on Karen Walker's printed tees and trippy at Rodarte when paired with tie-dye on dresses. They got the collage treatment at Vera Wang, who cut up and fabric-blocked her floral jacquards. Oscar de la Renta, whose show was the buzziest thanks to rumours of a John Galliano residency, did them best on a voluminous cocktail dress. (Galliano's name was absent from the show notes, but his influence was felt throughout especially in a series of highlighter-hued bias dresses.)
Apart from the Galliano gossip, Alexander Wang was the week's big story. Very soon, the 29-year-old New Yorker will be presenting his first season for Balenciaga in Paris. His hometown show, as a consequence, seemed a deliberate display of maturity. Gone, for instance, were the downtown-raver references from last season; in their place were silky, sophisticated numbers underneath cocoon coats, a Cristobal Balenciaga trademark.
Those signature forms popped up elsewhere, too. At Lacoste, they were seen in the sloped and pleated shoulders on stiff, double-faced pique fabrics. At Donna Karan, rounded fur capes formed half-circles around a model's shoulders. At the debut of Spanish prêtà– couture label Delpozo, the brand's creative director, Josep Font, fittingly paid homage to his fellow countryman with curved seams everywhere. Even Proenza Schouler, whose designers, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, are prone to digital references (as in their Tumblr-inspired collection last season), grew up and into shapes and exposed seams that married the spirit of Balenciaga with the clean practicality of Celine. As Micah Cameron, The Bay's fashion director, pointed out, the Madison Avenue store that the duo opened last year has had a profound effect on the way they design.
In a lot of cases, it felt like some designers were belatedly auditioning for Wang's new role. If, for whatever reason, it doesn't work out for young Alex at Balenciaga, there's at least a wide pool of talent from which to choose a replacement.