September 11, 2012 10:31 am

New York Fashion Week: day four

The Row, Donna Karan and Carolina Herrera lighten the mood by creating style from little substances

Andy Murray may have been whacking the ball at Novak Djokovic on his way to winning his first US Open title on Monday in Flushing Meadow, and on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama may have been verbally whacking each other, but a few miles away in Manhattan, Day Four of New York Fashion Week was marked by a kinder, gentler mood. And not the sort George W. Bush had in mind when he coined the phrase.

From the graceful presentation of The Row, with its focus on shades of cream and coffee, its layering of paper-thin cotton tunics over sheer georgette underdresses over sheer georgette pleated trousers, and floor-length billowing organza silk satin coats over silk linen lounging trousers, to the airy curves of pastel-tinted paper linen in empire waisted halter dresses with bolero jackets and silk slips at Donna Karan, the message seemed to be “lighten up” – literally.

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Vanessa Friedman

Sometimes, granted, things got a bit too airy-fairy; too flesh-baring. Nude chiffon evening slips sprinkled with starry paillettes at Donna Karan were pretty but demanding, physique-wise; The Row sometimes risks drowning its point of view in floor-length fabric puddles. And sometimes they seemed a bit removed from reality (Donna Karan’s show haiku began: “Inspired by the awe of coming into the city/light reflected on buildings and glass/The atmosphere of a shifting, dappling sun and sky”). But then, it’s not so bad to have some respite from our current doom and gloom and battle lines. Or from having to return a 100-plus-mile-an-hour serve, for that matter.

Consider, for example, Carolina Herrera, who abandoned some of her recent sartorial stiffness and announced, in case no one got it from the three-quarter length crepe or chiffon dresses on the runway, all just skimming the body to flare at the leg and best in shades of mint and ice, that her collection was about “lightness and fluidity”. Or consider Maria Cornejo, where a black and navy “neo scuba” quasi-tailored beginning to her Zero Maria Cornejo line was progressively leavened by brown and white woodblock prints on cotton shirting until it culminated in a series of floaty white dresses in a natural weave that looked as easy as clouds.

And finally, consider Marc Jacobs, who put his own spin on the situation (he always does). After last season’s Mary Poppins-esque cartoonish Edwardiana came a palette cleanser, a collection to sweep the field clean. To wit: mod geometric stripes and squares of black and white or beige and white in a stripped-down silhouette of cropped shirts and jackets over hip-slung, below-the-knee pleated or pencil skirts, clinging T-shirt dresses and a finale of round-necked, short-sleeved, sequin-paved evening looks in the same patterns with pleated skirts inset with sheer chiffon.

This wasn’t the soft focus apparent in other collections, but it had a rigorous purity that meant you could fairly hear the whistle of the wind as it powered past. Ace.

From safe office chic to the realms of fantasy

Given that New York considers itself something of a trailblazer when it comes to defining contemporary sartorial cool, several of the city’s best known designers struggled to keep up when it came to setting the fashion agenda on Monday, writes Elizabeth Paton.

While Theyskens’ Theory offered some considered, artfully tailored pieces – think charcoal and boxy double-breasted blazers teamed with slimline cigarette trousers, or embroidered A-line jersey minidresses in neutral icy blues – most looks didn’t really push the boundaries far beyond those of chic office attire.

And Philip Lim, with his playful series of mixed and matched separates, comprising plaids with pretty florals, or denim patchworks and diaphanous panels, was enjoyable without being remarkable. Certainly no piece shone out as a step up or away from the designs we’ve seen from him countless times before.

Avant-garde Thom Browne simply decided to bypass chronological time altogether, entering into a wacky space almost beyond comprehension with his Bauhaus-inspired womenswear line of spawning conical dresses and tweed-chequered suits, limbs connected by glittering, bejewelled chains. A psychedelic backdrop of monochrome swirls and demonic ballet dancers served to remind that these designs, while attention grabbing, would hardly be of practical use and were best left to the realms of fantasy.

Contemporary fashion once meant a cool and definitive movement of clothing design distinctive of the present moment.

These three collections, while polished and self-assured, left me unsure where I was supposed to be.

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