February 10, 2013 7:44 pm

New York womenswear: Fire and Ice

Contemporary sector evokes the downtown city girl – streetwise panache with a whimsical edge

It may have been below freezing on the opening weekend of the New York fashion shows, but the increasingly hot brands inhabiting the contemporary sector of the market found a way to warm things up, evoking the downtown city girl under the parka: chicly austere, brusquely utilitarian and unflinchingly cool.

Take Rag & Bone, whose pared back homage to early sixties air-travel took flight with a series of sharply tailored separates with minimalistic edge: boxy, textured bomber jackets, modish shift dresses and A-line “Flight” mini skirts trimmed with leather and prominent zips.

A subdued colour palette of greys, teals and charcoals created a sharp, no-nonsense feel, occasionally interspersed with flashes of neon and rich, eye-popping plums in a solid collection that further honed the brand’s casual urban aesthetic without breaking any new ground.

Edun also produced a slick, rocking collection. Designer Sharon Wauchob said her inspiration was updated youth-culture classics and this translated as a punk-tinged procession of second-skin drainpipe jeans, oversized biker jackets with contrasting lapels plus diaphanous, billowing blouses and tunics in tribal-infused checks and patterns.

Likewise, Yigal Azrouel sought to articulate his vision of “the modern woman” in the city with bold tailoring and engineered cut-outs, contrasting fabrics, furs and skins, while at Helmut Lang the recent “Black and White” Picasso exhibition at the Guggenheim had a formative influence on the predominantly monochrome, graphic-focused collection of creative directors Nicole and Michael Colovos.

Stark cubist shapes in a variety of materials, including glistening metallics and baby-soft leathers fused coherently with the brand’s self-defined ‘sharp-slouch’ swagger and silhouette – better, certainly, than the all-in-one coloured-leather looks. Still, the final triumvirate of shimmering beaded tunics in starched chiffons and liquid black silks encapsulated the endearing aesthetic of the Helmut Lang girl: a tough beauty with a softer, delicate side.

And indeed, alongside the streetwise panache there also exists a more whimsical edge – not necessarily an oxymoron – to many contemporary brands, as seen at Suno. There an appealingly playful charm was evident as the brand experimented with the idea of ‘modern armour’ and power dressing for the 21st century. Forget shoulder-pads and androgynous tailoring; a smart Suno girl goes into urban battle bearing bohemian florals, sweet checks and paisley prints, soldered convincingly into feminine shapes and fabrics by echoing the lines of placards and breastplates in a series of fresh blues, forest greens and sunshine yellows.

Such Little House on the Prairie colours were echoed in Band of Outsiders’ signature paean to prairie style, this time with a nod to the throwback Park Avenue princess and her strict 1940s silhouette, with peaked shoulders, draped necked tea dresses and oversized fur capes. And as for industry darlings Creatures of the Wind, they sent out a tongue-in-cheek collection called “Candy”, packed with patterned pieces in pinks, purples and oranges using boxy, often sports-inspired vintage shapes that conjured up a modern take on 1970s Americana.

Not that the sweetness was pure saccharine. “You know how candy doesn’t look like a real thing?” said Creatures co-designer Chris Peters during a preview. “It looks like plastic but there’s an appeal of this non-real thing to it?”

His creations with partner Shane Gabier held a similar brittle allure; beyond hand-painted motifs and sparkling crystal Swarovski stripes lay stringent, kooky silhouettes – not always to everyone’s tastes. Think boxy-collared jarringly-checked shirts with heavy khaki Japanese military skirts, or a vinyl finished black baseball jacket, teamed with a panelled jacquard midi bursting with a weird liquorice allsorts style print.

Amid the prevailing commercially driven “edgy downtown chic” aesthetic seen at virtually every other venue, the willingness to experiment and provoke by an ambitious young brand was welcomed; like a zingy cinnamon blast from a ‘Red Hot’ sweet – either loved or loathed – it gave the front rows a bit of refreshing sizzle to contemplate in the snow.

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