Fashion week spectators have been dragged to some unprepossessing locations, but the blighted block where United Bamboo staged its show today might take the cake. Over there, an entrance ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel. Over here, the ass-end of a truck depot. Other than that, nothing except biting wind off the river. This, you couldn't help thinking, must be where hope goes to die.
And then hope was reborn: Upstairs, safe from the chill, Miho Aoki and Thuy Pham debuted a generally excellent Fall '11 collection. The inspiration was menswear, a theme developed through tailoring, plaids, and lots of wool suiting fabrics, and grappling with mannishness seems to have freed Pham and Aoki to work a little looser while still hewing to detail. Case in point: an absolutely must-have navy peacoat, cut square and inset with muscular panels of dun shearling. The coat had some of the winsomeness one expects from United Bamboo, and all of the finickiness regarding proportion and cut, but it felt totally unmannered. A few more examples: a long gray trenchcoat in nubby knit wool, a car coat in fuzzy plaid mohair, a short crepe jacket cheekily corset-laced in the back. If you've noticed a theme developing, good work—the outerwear was indeed impressive all around.
Pham explained after the show that the menswear inspiration, and the amount of tailoring it entailed, led him and Aoki to explore ways to soften their collection. Hence the emphasis on tailored knitwear (to wit, that nubby knit trench) and on draping. A couple of draped black dresses, though good on their own, felt out of place, but U.B.'s gently draped trousers looked exceptionally smart teamed with the brand's flat over-the-knee boots and cropped blazers. The look was mannish in inspiration, clearly, but this suit was all woman. Cheers to that.