Designer Jen Kao is at a crossroads. While she's still young and learning, she's also been around for long enough that the initial buzz around her talent has worn off. Instant celebrity wasn't in the cards for her, but with Fall 2013—arguably her strongest collection yet—she has an opportunity to make a real mark.
Inspired by the boiler suit, Kao mixed traditional workwear staples—Carhartt-esque field jackets, shearling collars—with more glamorous accents, such as zip-off elbow-length leather gloves. "It's my approach to modern-day dressing," said the designer a few days before the Saturday afternoon show. "A mix of dolly polish and modern strength."
When Kao kept close to that notion, she delivered big hits. A favorite was an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress in blush silk, piano wire-thin straps holding it up. That same silhouette delivered in black quilted leather: It's easy to imagine it becoming a must-have among art world scenesters. We also liked the Cruella de Vil-ish spotted fur, especially in the form of a straight pencil skirt. (With the models wearing a true red lip, you couldn't help but be reminded of the Disney villain.)
Kao could have edited out a few looks in the middle. A blue box-sleeve tee paired with a gold Lurex skirt was nothing special. But overall, it was an impressive effort, topped off with some strong-but-sensible pumps and delicate claw jewelry. Those juxtapositions—tough but girly, rough but pretty—summed up a job well done.