September 12, 2013 10:27 am

New York Fashion Week: runway report 5

The news that the most exciting feature of the new iPhone5c was . . . wait for it . . . colour! broke, appropriately enough, on Day 6 of New York Fashion Week. After all, the addition of tonal choice to the mobile accessory of fashion choice should, theoretically, serve to bring the two industries ever closer together (imagine it – I’m sure Apple has: you could get different coloured phones to match different coloured outfits!).

Yet in all the talk about the potential of wearables this and heat sensor that, amid the furore caused by the gimmicky appearance of Google Glass on the front row, one crucial way tech has already changed fashion has been overlooked.

To be specific: how it has affected not the fibres or sci-fi styling of clothing itself, but rather the choice of materials and colours and concepts that add up to a collection; the thought process that leads to the end-product. Or so was apparent in the New York shows.

Historically, after all, designers have found their seasonal narratives in the world around them: travel, art, film, and so on.

See, for example, Michael Kors, who for spring/summer said he was thinking of “summer romance, the 1940s, Katherine Hepburn”, and then translated that on the runway with a new fluidity in floral crepe tea dresses, skirts cut to swirl on the bias, flowers glinting with miniature paillettes; loose slouchy trousers and striped georgette blouses; tailored shorts with a real waist and a bit of a flare; and evening gowns with torsos shirred and gathered like maillots.

Models walk the runway at the Marchesa fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 at The New York Public Library on September 11, 2013 in New York City©Getty

Marchesa's fairy tale collection

Or see Marchesa, where Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig referenced the Hollywood dream of the 1920s, ’30s and ’50s in their fairy tale collection of lace-and-rose gowns, pearl-draped mermaid dresses, and tiers of sparkling feather-dotted frills.

Even Reed Krakoff, who is more interested in structure than storytelling, begins with architecture, and feeds the concepts of material and construction into garments. This tends to make spring/summer a bit of a struggle for him, as the warmer months mitigate against the stronger fabrics that best serve his vision, and indeed, a focus on nude tones and flyaway fabrics, from voile to organdy and chiffon, rendered spring/summer’s slip-dresses (shirred on top like a leotard, cut longer and floatier below) overly insubstantial. A sleeveless steel bonded satin trenchcoat, a shot of citrine satin in skirts inset with a slash of white cotton voile, and a simply vee-neck “sweater” vest ribbed at the waist, fronted in coffee-coloured satin and backed in black nappa, were terrific. Still, there’s identifiable continuity in the thinking, either way.

Models present fashion by Proenza Schouler during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 collection on September 11, 2013 in New York©AFP

Collection from Proenza Schouler

By contrast, it was hard to know what to make of references as weirdly diverse as the “domesticity, mid-century modern furniture, Moroccan weaving [and] Arte Povera” that came courtesy of Proenza Schouler, for a simple reason: designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez do their inspiration-gathering on the virtual superhighway, where links between ideas are rarely linear.

Yet the result – three-tiered elongated shells and peplums and pencil skirts, all in a black and white bare branch print; swinging pleated skirts in off-centre combinations of metallics and matte shades under crossover tops; black cropped trousers and jackets with seams and creases picked out by chalk-drawn shadows – had a powerful originality that touched on time and place without ever getting stuck.

It’s not that this approach is necessarily better than the other (the growing enormity of Mr Kors’s business, and the fact Mr Krakoff and a group of investors just bought his brand from its former parent company, Coach, proves their approach works very well), but it seems to have liberated the designers to think in a different way – one in which it is possible to recognise where you want to go, as opposed to necessarily where you are, or where you have been. My guess is that’s a more essential change than anyone might have expected. It looks like the future, partly because it wears so well.

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