For all the talk about the End of Seasons, and the need to make clothes for every possible climate at every possible time thanks to a combination of global client base and global warming, the autumn/winter collections are shaping up to be largely a response to cold-temperature climes. Blame it on the much-ballyhooed polar vortex (my personal choice, since it’s just so much fun to say), or the frosty relations between – well, fill in the blanks: Putin and Obama, Republicans and Democrats, Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton – or the recession-sparked complexities that have all of us overextended and looking for refuge – read into it, in other words, as much or as little as you want – but either way, the story on the runway has been largely about bundling up. Often literally.
Such was the case with Maria Cornejo’s terrific show for Zero + Maria Cornejo, where cream-coloured shaved shearling capes topped cashmere sweats for warmth without bulk; silver fox was counterbalanced by leather; and generous polonecks came in print knits. And where, given the sub-zero temperatures outside, many of the women in the audience looked as though they were moments away from snatching the clothes off the models in order to climb inside. Such was the case, in a much more kitschy and reductive way, at Tommy Hilfiger.
The eponymous designer called his show “American Explorer” and built a set that resembled nothing so much as a Vermont ski run, complete with snowy pines and chair lift, the better to frame sheepskin parkas, tartan shirtdresses, suede skirts and blanket evening gowns (ie, evening gowns made from what looked like blankets attached to a jewelled empire bodice), all of it accessorised with bobble hats and cabled socks straight from a Hallmark Christmas card. Inspiration is one thing, cliché another.
But so it went on Day Four, most oft betwixt and between the two. At Carolina Herrera, an entire dress came in broadtail; a double-faced wool coat was given alligator appliqués and sable collar; and the geometric print jacquard evening wear had a constructed quality. Zac Posen, he of strapless ball-gowns-that-ate-the-runway fame, branched out into radical (for him) covered-up tweed suiting. Even Donna Karan, celebrating her brand’s 30th anniversary with an ode to “iconic elements” that just so happened to reveal the body underneath – think neat belted jackets atop thigh-high suede boots and nothing else; bodysuits visible under sheer chiffon skirting; and evening wear that barely veiled the body, with a strategically placed velvet appliqué here; a double chiffon layer there – managed to transcend her own mythologising and throw in some feral fur in the form of long-haired shearling coats with gigantic cowl necks. So far, so understandable.
Then metaphor entered the equation. Or the atelier.
It began at The Row, where designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen created an almost monastic ode to swaddling, with oversize big-gauge knit “fur cashmere” sweaters and skirts, double face bathrobe coats and tunics and easy trousers, and nun-like crepe evening dresses that shielded the body more than sheathed it. It reached its apogee at Thom Browne, where the interior of a church – come in, take refuge – had been recreated complete with pews, crosses, incense and choral song.
Models walked at a dirge-like pace, weighed down by floor-length half capes – draped on side in front; on the other in back – that were seamed into strict body-covering dresses. The palette was grey on grey (brocade, velvet, fur and flannel) until it segued into 24-carat gold via a brief interval in black, and the shapes, save one odd miniskirt, were enveloping, from the exaggerated circular suiting, hips and sleeves curving out like flying saucers, to the high necks and long sleeves. Think Rei Kawakubo-meets-Alexander McQueen and you’ll get the idea. The difference is Mr Browne also has a cartoonish edge that at its best works as a leavening agent.
Indeed, it’s possible the reaction he’s going for with all this is simply “Holy Sh**”, as opposed to any implicit commentary on the Vatican bank, or safe havens, especially when it comes to his more original tailoring: skirts shaped like a lower-body version of a cutaway, seamed to stand away from themselves like a frame. After all, as his final look, a relatively simple shirtdress-with-train, albeit covered in tiny gold sequins, showed, he’s perfectly capable of delivering clothing, and not just concept, when he so chooses.
Either way, however, the message is clear: to every thing there is a season. Even, it would seem, fashion.