September 10, 2012 2:11 pm

New York Fashion Week: the first three days

Prabal Gurung, Joseph Altuzarra, Victoria Beckham show symmetry with multi-aspect political speech

There was a certain ironic symmetry to the fact New York Fashion Week began just after the Democratic convention ended last week – not because Michelle Obama has been such a champion of small American designers, but because President Barack Obama’s speech – part State of the Union address, part Romney-attack part rousing oration – was, structurally, something of a preview of what was to come at the weekend.

Which is to say, aside from Zac Posen and Tommy Hilfiger, who stuck very much to their usual party line (1940s dancing frocks and silver screen gowns for the first; a 1970s louche preppy red, white and blue Hamptons wardrobe for the second), collections were composed of a bit of this and a bit of that.

It was most obvious (and not so successful) at Prabal Gurung. An opening of slick tux-inspired streetwear (narrow trousers, chiffon shirts trailing at the back under structured jackets) gave way to signature silkscreens of wings, which became ever more elaborate, followed by sci-fi Scarlet O’Hara confections of ruffled chiffon and metal belts, culminating in a series of prom-like strapless dresses with dropped full skirts, feathers and diamanté. On their own, the various styles were fine, but together they were confusing. It’s hard to understand what this designer stands for.

This was also a problem at Jason Wu, who did an about-face from last season’s Chinese references to embrace a Helmut Newton-inspired series of black lace and leather separates, corset-cocktail dresses and harness-strapped tulle gowns. Lingerie likewise showed up at Peter Som amid a largely sugar-crystallised take on sportswear, a pop art-like pill print and rich lamé leopard exotica.

Diane von Furstenberg, meanwhile, combined bits of Rome, Marrakesh and Jaipur with surprisingly happy results. There were easy, draped jumpsuits, tulip skirts over skinny silk trousers, pearl-encrusted suiting and keyhole cut shells and shifts, all in bright shades of peach, orange, green, blue and yellow. Consistently, if less felicitously, Derek Lam married 1970s shades and plaids to slimmed-down millennial silhouettes, and boxy sweatshirt shapes to gold leather and macramé. Opposites kind of flirt.

The most effective message management, however, came courtesy of Joseph Altuzarra and Victoria Beckham, both of whom chose to create cohesion by containing different elements in a specific silhouette.

Altuzarra, for example, confined himself to a precise, narrow shape in pencil skirts, skinny trousers, sleeveless dresses and tops. He then shifted from pinstriped denim suiting to tailoring lightly swagged in fringe, then increasingly encrusted with gold and crystals until it all culminated in an Ottoman blue top wound around the neck and torso over a skirt glinting with diamanté in a yin-yang of maximalism and minimalism. It was an interesting line to walk.

For her part, Victoria Beckham stuck closely to her signature streamlined body-conscious look, but managed, nevertheless, to demonstrate its versatility with a broader view. The extended offering included mid-calf silk skirts and sundresses (still slim but in a more liquid line), skinny trousers with slick jackets, structured Joan Jet A-line skirts, decorously peekaboo cocktail numbers and even flat shoes. There was so much evident control, both physical and aesthetic, it made for a convincing statement about the flexibility of power.

Dressing. Power dressing. That’s what I meant.

Seamless transitions and a strong sense of fun

This season’s spring contemporary collections were designed for the urban woman on the move. They catered for the social style nomad; those seeking seamless transition from day to night or from one world – or realistically borough – to another, writes Elizabeth Paton.

Where they differed was in the destination of their inspiration.

Lacoste for example, looked to symbols of its heritage, taking its ubiquitous sports polo shirts and transforming them into a series of quirkily patterned mini-shifts and playsuits.

Meanwhile, DKNY chose to pay playful homage to its home city. Models pounded in straight from the Chelsea streets in a sleek yet decidedly sporty collection; tailored white and denim separates quickly gave way to swimsuits, skater skirts and mesh racer vests, with maxi skirts featuring thigh-skimming splits as Karan attempted to encapsulate the joie de vivre of the cosseted New York girl.

Rag & Bone ventured further afield, choosing to pay homage to the colliding worlds witnessed within the legendary Paris-Dakar car rally. Crisp white linen layers comprising skirts, shirts and oversized coats were married to cropped lime green leather biker jackets. A cornflower blue waisted dress with rolled up sleeves and kerchief points had the air of a mechanic’s overalls, while billowing and breezy cotton dresses coupled with hoods and bulky pockets looked fit to combat both Saharan desert heat and the city’s steamy, late summer streets awaiting the attendees outside effortlessly.

Edun, the eco-conscious label founded by U2 frontman Bono and wife Ali Hewson and with manufacturing in east Africa offered practical safari gear for a 21st century metropolis. Each utilitarian piece was offset with a touch of modern femininity; think sheer racer vests with cropped, silky combat trousers or orange and khaki mac dresses with panelling and zips that created scalloped necks and skirt pleats.

Helmut Lang took a turn away from its roots and the dark, edgy aesthetic it has favoured in previous seasons, heading instead towards aquatic athleticism with a colourful collection inspired by the sea. A blue boxy jacket with sea anemone swirls and wet-look pencil skirt was one route to Manhattan mermaid; patterned, straight shift dresses with shimmering diaphanous panels and hems another.

Meanwhile, Alexander Wang, so long the king of streamlined New York sports luxe, felt himself worlds apart from the rest of fashion week with his minimalist ode to dissection, laced with a space age twist.

Focused on the art of deconstruction, virtually every look featured “barely there” seams; invisible stitches unveiling reams of ordered inches, suspending starched tailored shirts and dresses away from the body in mid-air. Layering also provided contrast in a palette of blacks, whites and silvers throughout the show, which culminated in a blacked-out finale where the dresses shone out like fluoro glow sticks through the dark.

Yet sometimes the best journeys take you back to the beginning and not to somewhere new. Hence the pleasing sense at Yohji Yamamoto’s Y-3 10-year anniversary show with Adidas of returning to where the partnership had started in 2002. The famous triple stripe motif was emblazoned everywhere – not only on socks, visors and trainers but also on the monochrome double-breasted dresses and sporty chic shorts suits that opened the show. Celebratory bursts away from Yohji’s urban uniform came via bright floral prints in oranges, blues and pinks – suffused on to diaphanous windbreakers that were teamed with baggy low-slung shorts (with matching beanies for the boys).

It shone without airs or graces, stylistically simplistic yet with a strong sense of fun.

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