Forget tea leaves and tarot cards: on Wednesday in New York the fashion crowd was attempting to read the runway – not just because they are mostly coffee or green juice folks (though they are), but rather because the day before Michael Kors-the-company had released staggering third-quarter results, sending its stock price soaring (it is now trading at 34 times projected earnings), and thus the Michael Kors show offered a prime opportunity for scrutiny. What did he know that everyone else didn’t?
Apparently that what every woman wants is haute athletic wear: tux-cum-track serge pants in marigold with a rubberised strip up each side; quilted leather A-line skirts that also came in perforated electric blue felt; and rubberised cable knits – not to mention camouflage mink coats and LBDs with a bit of a lift: brightly coloured silk peplums that descended into billowing trains trailing behind.
“Urban life is moving faster and faster; you have to be an athlete to live in today’s world,” said the designer, by way of explanation pre-show. Fair enough; the proof will be in the sales, though since like-for-like sales were up 40 per cent, presumably he knows what he is talking about.
Perhaps the more abstract answer, however, lies in the consistency of his approach: whatever season it is, whatever is happening in the world, Mr Kors can be relied upon to focus on luxuriously straightforward separates. Though this can occasionally seem banal (and is often criticised) it is to Mr Kors’s credit that he stays true to himself and his vision, and lately everyone is, literally, buying into that.
Of course, to do this you need to be very clear on your own aesthetic identity – designer, know thyself! – a subject Reed Krakoff, in year three of his eponymous company, is still refining. This season he came closer than ever to distilling his work in a signature way, with rich shades – sapphire and deep grey and peridot – in richer materials (cashmere, satin, python, nappa, velvet) but grounded in wholly practical reference points: school uniforms, cut with the slight asymmetry of adult life.
So, for example, a navy ribbed sweater was topped by a navy alligator vest and worn over a sheeny brushed velvet skirt cut with a touch of asymmetry, and a leather V-neck dress with a dropped waist came under a perfectly tailored matching cashmere coat. Silks printed with tanzanite-shaded alligator “skin” were combined with cashmere knit and leather arm patches in a super-luxe sweatshirt, and a satin mac was lizard-embossed for texture.
The combination was intelligently alluring, and felt highly relevant – more so, certainly, than Marchesa’s 24-carat evening looks inspired by Goya’s “Portrait of Maria Teresa de Vallabriga”, aka a 17th century aristocrat. Duchesse satin coats swagged with floral embroidery; a black sheer gauze shirt over a corset and black trousers with a gold embroidered “flap” at the waist (that’s what they called it; it looked sort of like a cummerbund slung low); and an enormous strapless fuchsia ball gown have a limited audience, though to be fair, that audience, aka the red carpet/benefit ball-going/wannabe-principessas of the world, does exist.
It’s just that the nude tulle one-shouldered gown embroidered in flowers that fell in tiers to the ground seemed so much more broadly alluring in its (relative) simplicity. But then, often the clothes that look the simplest are anything but. This is a signature of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez at Proenza Schouler, who have a remarkable consistency of vision for themselves – and consistency of ambition, marked by the desire to take generic fashion clichés and render them startlingly new.
So what began as quite basic little black and white bouclé 1960s secretary suits became slightly oversized versions in ostrich skin, and then moved on to white ponyskin with black dots mixed with black ponyskin with white squiggles, which then mixed devoré leather knit tops with black and white ostrich feather skirts, concluding with two terrific shifts covered in what looked like vertical black or silver chain that acted as a scrim over a black and white lining rendering it fuzzy and indistinct.
And there was a point: there are no simple answers to anything. Even fashion. Even (especially) fashion success.