The autumn/winter 2013 womenswear season blew into New York with the blizzard. Half the audience was stranded in Europe, but the shows did go on. The schedule waits for no aeroplane.
Still there was paranoia as well as snowflakes in the air – how bad would it get? Would people be able to find transport home? Would someone break their four-inch Louboutins (and ankles) on the ice? All exacerbated by the Fear of Flu that is going around.
So it was interesting to see that as the shows got off the ground (bad pun intended), designers were thinking, largely, of toughened-up, highly constructed, covering. The better to combat whatever might be coming – climatically or otherwise.
“It’s really about power,” said Jason Wu, just after his repeat win as the designer of Michelle Obama’s inaugural gown – Mrs O being arguably power woman incarnate. Mr Wu was talking about his parade of strong-shouldered wool-and-velvet-and-fur trenches and toppers, corseted black and white dresses, snakeskin-meets-chiffon separates and rubberised lace, but he could easily have been describing autumn/winter’s general opening theme.
Prabal Gurung, for example, had army/navy on both the mind and catwalk, with olive green and sea blue peplumed jackets over skin tight cargo pants, silk and “imperial brocade” (think warlord embroidery) cocktail numbers squared-off to show some skin, and florals sporting a Napoleanic edge. It was very “brass and buckles and belts, oh my,” but minus the munchkin cuteness, which was a good thing.
Then there were Louis Goldin’s quilted, ribbed geometric knits (think thermal underwear goes to the Star Trek boardroom); Joseph Altuzarra’s brass-buttoned black and white and beige 1940s Blade Runner suiting, all padded hips (not necessarily a bad idea, though problematically bulbous in realisation), nipped-in waists, and broad shoulders, sometimes topped by a “poly-leather” bolero, sometimes fox or mink fur capped, always punctuated by shiny metallic buttons and just this side of kinky; and Alexander Wang’s oversize menswear silhouettes and fabrications.
From grey flannel Eisenhower coats (very Prada A/W 2007), the seams marled in mohair, belts dropped to criss-cross at the hips, to fuzzy alpaca jumpers and satin cigarette pants under deconstructed tailcoats-turned-skirts, it was a marked up-luxing for the brand. If the materials, especially fur and leather, and the vague couture references (sac-backs to the coats; throat-swathing shawl collars cowled behind) were a territorial nod to Mr Wang’s new gig as creative director of Balenciaga. They also had a distinguishing street-y vibe – in your face, people who said he was just a T-shirt designer.
Perhaps a more subtle reaction to sceptical whisperings (granted, they could make anyone paranoid, bad weather or not), however, is that of Victoria Beckham, who has simply kept her head down and honed her aesthetic season after season, in a polite but unrelenting “I’ll show you” subtext that edges forward with its own very controlled momentum.
This season that meant below-the-knee skirts with a slight loosening of her signature lean line paired with silk blouses open low to add a touch of salt; sleeveless neon yellow or electric blue menswear-inspired overcoats tied on the hip; long-sleeved drop-waisted 1960s geometric shifts in a collage of materials; and tuxedo jackets sliced at the sleeve into capes. It was adult and elegant, but not at all ice queen. Who needs sno-melt, when you’ve got the occasional flash of skin?