This ought to be a very good Spring for Victoria Bartlett. For the past year or so, the influence of her line, VPL, has been glimpsed in hints and snatches, as other designers began to assimilate Bartlett's sui generis vision into their own collections. Any time you saw a pair of high-waist underpants worn alone, or caught sight of a bandeau bra and a wink of skin below a cutout top, you couldn't help but think of VPL. This season, the line's influence is really making its presence felt: Overlap layering; visible underpinnings; transparent and skin-colored fabrics; asymmetry; athletics-inspired silhouettes; loose, long draping; bolts of neon against neutrals; construction in conversation with anatomy. These are some of VPL's key motifs, and they are starting to emerge as a lingua franca of Spring '11.
Bartlett, for her part, isn't budging. Her show today explored the signature VPL themes from a new angle: the idea of suspension. The concept was executed more and less literally. Suspenders, halters, and apronlike construction hung garments just off the body; elsewhere, draping created a similar anti-gravitational effect. The look was especially appealing on open-back knits, trapeze dresses, draped jersey pants that ought to fly at retail, and a standout hood-less parka. Tailoring got a workout, too. One of the strongest looks was a flared, short-sleeve jacket of silver linen, paired with matching peg-leg pants.
Though the collection hit the VPL trademarks hard, it also developed the brand's vocabulary in terms of fabrication and print. Bartlett has generally been pretty sparing with print, but this time she went for it, putting squiggles and sketches inspired by the Egyptian artist Ghada Amer on leggings and bras and applying an eye-searing abstract pattern to skirts and dresses. Then there was the jacquard, hand-painted and then hand-woven and turned into a structured bodysuit and trapeze-shape apron top. The jacquard exemplified the ways that Bartlett has been building a textural richness into her line over the past few outings. She explored other kinds of textures in her finale, a selection of showpieces hand-knit or made of sheer, hand-stitched organza. It's nice to see her playing with earthier fabrications, and more delicate ones.
As usual, it's worth remarking on the accessory collaborations. Again, Bartlett turned out several winning pairs of shoes with L.D. Tuttle, and lots of cool statement jewelry with Lizzie Fortunato, Orly Genger, and Alyssa Norton. (Bartlett is a generous collaborator.) But the really new accessory on her runway came courtesy of Bartlett's longtime partner-in-crime, Brian Crumley. Working with a glass blower, he created backward-facing necklaces that sat on the top of the spine, supporting the neck. They were truly weird, and truly beautiful.