Generational change, papal and otherwise, was a conversational accessory on Monday of New York Fashion Week. The industry is still dominated by a handful of megabrands that became huge in the 1980s, while younger names can struggle to make themselves heard beyond Seventh Avenue. When the torch will be finally passed is a perennial question; Pope Benedict’s resignation just brought it to the fore once again (when you are waiting for shows to start, everything seems to come back to fashion).
In any case, the answer on day five of the A/W 2013 womenswear collections was “wait some more and see”. Another coincidence of timing had paired up assorted duos of old and new designers who happened to work from the same aesthetic catechism, and the juxtapositions made clear that while there are some wobbles, both up and down, the balance of power has yet to shift.
So, for example, at Carolina Herrera, the trademark elegance of one of fashion’s grande dammes was on display in not quite 50 shades of caramel, brown and tobacco, worked into fur-trimmed fluid tweed suits, dandelion prints and 1940s-esque gowns – slinky yet covered up, so a black sequinned shirt had long sleeves and a cowl hood, and was tucked into a black fishtail skirt curvy enough to make Joan Crawford proud. These clothes look grown up without also looking old, a balance 20-something Wes Gordon, who is making a name for himself as an uptown couturier with a rocker edge, hasn’t quite perfected, though his gold beaded trousers under a white cable knit and black peacoat, brocade trouser suits and neat white wool coat with shaggy goat’s hair trim came close. (The gold empire bustier over leather flares was too Dior for comfort and the black ballgown with gold panniers was just too too.)
Meanwhile, on the more Zen end of the scale, Donna Karan noted “you can only be who you are” (think of it as a fashion koan), which in practice meant a familiar parade of draped jersey stretched Venus de Milo tight over the waist and hips and paired with sheer leotards and billowing jersey capes, all in black and grey and rust, often leather-trimmed; aside from some shaggy yeti knits, very Donna, if not very new. One of the problems with being the establishment is your reference point is usually yourself, which can create the impression of stasis.
Still, running in place has a certain energy of its own, unlike the meditation-room-ready collection of The Row. Designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sometimes seem so keen to prove they are no longer the tween stars of yesteryear that they veer too far in the “mature” direction.
The thigh-skimming coats were elegantly Edwardian cool – and one oversize aran knit was terrific – but the more tricksy Japanese-meets-raj inspired obi folds and sari jacquards of asymmetric jackets and strapless dresses were unnecessarily complicated. It’s fine to adopt such age-neutral signatures as an elongated layered silhouette, but to express it as an ankle-length cashmere tunic trimmed in mink just looks frumpy. Serenity is one thing; a luxury schmatta another.
Admittedly, it’s hard to create your own doctrine, even if it’s a doctrine of dress, which is perhaps why Maria Cornejo said her collection was “all about paring down to what is essential”. For her, a teal-blue-black palette of printed geometric jacquards cropped trousers and car coats, easy leathers and her trademark curving cocoon-shapes.
Functional and intelligent, they also felt alive, as did the 18th century biker gear of Serkan Sarier, whose Brood line is in its infancy, but has a consistent originality. Combining a Venetian floral print and op-art polka dots on cotton faille garments that can be transformed by the use of embedded strings to raise or lengthen hems, he married the seemingly antithetical ideas of extreme romance and techno sportiness. As a result, like Ms Cornejo, he is developing a loyal fan base.
Or what is more generally called a devoted following.
For more from the runways visit www.ft.com/fashionweeks