New York: runway report four

Tuesday’s womenswear shows finished just in time for everyone (OK, those of us who cared) to race back to their TVs/iPads/laptops to watch the State of the Union address, though it was a close shave; Narciso Rodriguez’s terrific exegesis on the state of the tuxedo suit did not end until 30 minutes before the president’s big address was scheduled to start. As a result, it took a while to get your head into the moment.

One second, there you were, engaging in fantasies of being the coolest grown-up at a black tie event thanks to Mr Rodriguez’s skinny cropped black trousers under shells sprouting asymmetric strings of “bone” embroidery like pearls gone gonzo; his not-nearly-as-simple-as-they-look dresses in laser bonded wool and jet embroidery; there you were thinking you could be the most elegant professional at any meeting, in navy trousers and tangerine shell and cognac jacket – and the next second, you were watching President Obama discuss climate change and infrastructure spending. Even though Mrs O is a fan of Mr Rodriguez, and the shades of tie on view (blue for the President, peachy-pink for the Speaker, lavender for the VP) are currently popular on the catwalks, the connections were pretty tangential.

But then, connections of all kinds were a little obscure on Tuesday, which featured more idiosyncratic collections than have been the norm thus far during New York Fashion Week.

Sometimes this was good, as with Rodarte’s tailored jackets over cropped trousers so low-slung that when shown with leotards cut waist-high they exposed an erogenous triangle of hip, which segued into jumpsuits with sheer backs embroidered in angel wings, which segued into sheer nighties with strategically placed diagonal ruffles – which gave way in turn to gowns that melded tie-dyed silk and tulle embroidered in beaded poppies topped by thick “foam” tabards. It wasn’t pretty, exactly, but it had a weirdly challenging seduction; the intimacy of a glance inside someone’s head.

On the other hand, sometimes the oddness was less felicitous, as with Vera Wang’s “exploration of classical dressmaking” (her words), which took the geometry of couture – egg shapes, peplums, drapery – and modernised it with a too-heavy hand, so the sides were carved out of a short sleeveless coat to expose an underdress, hips grew and grew via peplums and folds (hips, really? This is shaping up as one of the weirder trends for autumn/winter, and it’s hard to imagine that real women will think extra padding in this area is a good idea), and fox capes were clasped by thick, almost medieval, leather bands. Realised in multiple materials from guipure lace to metallic brocade, giant rose print jacquard and iridescent sequins, what started as intriguing ultimately became exhausting.

Meanwhile, Sophie Theallet’s parade of beautifully layered red-and-coffee coloured signature pleated skirts under sleeveless tops, grey-on-grey trousers and long, draped dresses confirmed her as a consummate sartorial colourist, but in their familiarity felt strangely insubstantial, and at Oscar de la Renta, schizophrenia reigned.

Audience members frittered away the time pre-show playing “find the Galliano”, looking for signs of the disgraced former Dior artistic director who had been given a three-week berth in Oscar’s design studio. Word was he was hiding backstage, but no matter: Mr Galliano’s presence was very much apparent in the collection, as the Galliano aesthetic – hyper-romance and subversion – bumped up against the De La Renta aesthetic – joyful richesse – in what proved less a co-ordinated dance than a collision.

So, very Galliano draped 1950s “cashgora” skirt suits nipped at the waist with a tiny belt or gathered and flounced at the back were followed by very Oscar organza embroidered cocktail dresses, and Kate Moss-ready velvet rocker trousers paired with sheer T-shirts under chiffon capes (Galliano-esque) had very little to do with an organza top and skirt covered in silver beading (Oscar-like). When it came to evening wear, a bubble-like mini “cocoon jacket” in multicoloured ikat jacquard stuck out among a sea of classic de la Renta infanta gowns with 24-carat embroidery.

Whatever the reason Mr de la Renta decided to bring Mr Galliano in, the end result didn’t make much sense at all. Maybe a State of the House address would have helped. It certainly would have clarified the agenda.

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