This season, it seems like there are exponentially more street style snappers camped outside the shows and Lincoln Center than ever before – more photographers, certainly, than there are official ones at the end of the runway. Simply getting to the entrance of a collection is like running the gauntlet, even if the camera-people in question have zippo interest in you and simply want you out of the way so they can snap the woman behind in the pearl-encrusted evening gown at 10am. As a result, sometimes it’s hard to tell where the real fashion is: in the tents or outside.
And, in fact, on day three of the New York shows, what was actually on the catwalk was notably more controlled – even wearable – than what was on the street. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
After all, to catch the eyes of the street pack, the more outré and fashion-crazy you look, the better. While that may get you a web page, however, it doesn’t have much to do with what fashion is really for: to make your life easier by allowing you to put something on every morning that makes you feel good and smart and appropriate and powerful (or any permutation therein) and that then requires no more mental attention. At its best the message is less “look at me” than “look at what I am doing”.
Consider, for example, Diane von Furstenberg, where the designer went back to her “easy/sexy/functional” roots via a “new” wrap dress – snug on top, short and flared in the skirt – safari tunics over liquid trousers and silk, chiffon and jersey separates printed with everything from python skin to cork to an African sunset. Or consider Derek Lam, who matched oversize gingham or sheeny denim with crisp silhouettes in straight below-the-knee skirts, peplum tops and full-skirted day frocks to great success – though things got a bit dowdy with long strapless evening gowns covered by overly architectural, body-obliterating cropped boleros.
Or consider, for that matter, Victoria Beckham, where the eponymous designer expanded her version of accomplished, intelligent clothes yet again.
Though Ms Beckham began her fashion career with body-conscious power dresses, she has loosened up over the seasons and this time relaxed into a new chic via cropped Gaucho trousers under spaghetti strap tunics finished with a ruffle at the hips; short pleated white skirts half-hidden by a black jersey overlay that matched a halter or T-shirt top; and button-down shirts with transparent or geometric detailing. She says she was exploring “the merging of boy and girl sensibilities”. There was also some gender bending going on, but it was handled so nonchalantly (nonchalance being a somewhat new thing for her) it seemed simply cool. Even her little girl, Harper, sitting in the front row on her father’s lap, couldn’t steal the show from the clothes.
The sole exception to the understated rule, and the one that proved it, was Zac Posen, whose love of a fishtail satin red carpet gown apparently cannot be denied, even though he might be better served to follow the instinct that created the sweet pintucked chiffon tea dresses that opened his show (the former being exactly the sort of “statement’ gown the street-style paparazzi would love, but the latter a decidedly less clichéd proposition). Though admittedly there was a third way, as evinced by Opening Ceremony’s debut.
To be specific: designers Humberto Leon and Carol Lim dressed up their show in the bells and whistles that gets an entire audience madly instagramming – the models made their entrances in shiny sports cars, from Ferraris to Mercedes and Jaguars – but then offered up a collection that was a little bit street, a little bit Asian-ethnic, a little bit tailored and a little bit ironic kitsch; in other words, perfectly nice, but also pretty unoriginal.
This probably should not be a surprise, given that OC started life as a retail adventure. Successful independent retailers make their names by buying a little of this, a little of that and recombining brands in provocative, idiosyncratic ways on their shop floor. However, offered up in the context of the pseudo-car-show “happening” it recalled nothing so much as the ready-to-wear extravaganzas of the 1990s, when fashion first started to think of itself as pop culture. As my seatmate said while we were waiting for things to begin, “Been there, done that”.
Of course, Mr Leon and Ms Lim were not designing, or even selling, in those days (as it said on the programme, “Est. 2002”), so it’s possible that for them this seems like a new idea.
Ultimately, though, instead of seeming like a resolution to the outside-inside tension that marks today’s fashion week, it felt more like regression back to ye olden days. After all, there’s proof in the present that clothes can speak softly and still carry a big punch.