It’s a weird thing to wake up in the morning to newspapers full of news about Syria and thought-provoking pieces on chemical weapons, and then get ready to go to a fashion show; the two realities are so extreme it can be hard to hold both in your head at the same time.
On day five of New York Fashion Week, for example, the Rodarte show featured fringed hotpants and studded leather hip belts; gold lamé-and-black tiger-striped jackets; leopard satin skirts and illusion net embroidered with metallic scorpions at the waist – it was hard not to wonder who, exactly, those clothes were for. Sometimes this question is easier to answer than others.
At Wes Gordon, it was clear that the mid-calf lavender-and-lace crêpe skirts and dresses with not entirely peekaboo sides, the white menswear mini-shirt-dress visible under a sheer lemon yellow lace pencil skirt, and the tailored coats tossed just so over the shoulders were intended for just the sorts of customers – next-generation socialites Marina Rust and Lauren Dupont – in the designer’s front row. And at Oscar de la Renta, with whom Mr Gordon is often compared (in that “he’s a young Oscar de la Renta” way, though after Mr Gordon’s show it’s clear he’s not there yet), the double-face wool wrap coats lined in houndstooth, the black and white polka dot bouclé skirt suits with lace tees and the unabashedly luxe party dresses and gowns (from a traditional tiered column trimmed in pearls to an eye-popping neon green bridal pouf), were perfectly calibrated for an entire panoply of decorative needs.
But just because Vera Wang’s alliterative notes – “Artful and Architectural and Athletic” – seemed potentially over-egged (a little mesh here, a little paint splash there, circular seams all over) that didn’t mean her clothes were a mess: in fact, they were generally balanced and aerodynamic. There’s no question there’s an art gallerist (or a wannabe art angel) out there who wants nothing but to waft about in a water-colour-splashed chiffon slipdress over loose trousers, emanating a triple-A vibe.
And just because Rodarte’s play on down-and-dirty LA street style, from Hair metal to Rockabilly and Sunset strip – albeit rendered in the sort of luxury materials that can transform a garment up close – provoked mostly head scratching instead of foot stomping, doesn’t mean there isn’t, say, a lion tamer or ex-Disney star who would appreciate the aesthetic.
Still, when it comes to bra tops with beaded fringing, the market can’t be huge. Which is why it’s nice when, instead of trying to imagine who the customer is, you find yourself wondering who it isn’t.
Such was the case at Sophie Theallet, a designer who demonstrated she may be the pre-eminent colourist in New York by pairing burgundy and coral, turquoise and tangerine and fuchsia and mustard, all in neat, flippy day dresses, crisp cottons and silks that transcended age and personal politics to simply read as very, very pretty (though Theallet is clearly struggling, necessarily so, to diversify her silhouette). And such was the case at Narciso Rodriguez, whose ability to take the elements of strict tailoring and transform them into something other – softer, more interesting, more personal – explodes the limits of the form, and hence the customer base.
This season Rodriguez played with length, with hip-length jackets topping an adult equivalent of the skort: a short with a wraparound skirt on one side that suggested an ultra-mini, but wasn’t (hence solving the dual problem of “can you wear shorts to work?” and “can you wear minis?” Answer: no, but you can if it’s both at the same time). These also came slightly longer, while simple shift dresses turned out to be constructed from a complex geometry of seams and shapes, fabrications and shades, or over-embroidered to create a texture that suggested florals – but wasn’t. Look closely or you’d miss it.
They were smart clothes, bound for smart people – and who doesn’t want to be in that category? Especially when there are other, much more serious, things going on.