Courtesy of reality TV, the Housewife has become a totem of contemporary pop culture. Jonathan Saunders returned his version to her heyday, with a mesmerizing collection that was strongly inflected by the Eisenhower years. Then he unhinged her, stranding her in Miami, much deeper into the valley of the dolls than Mad Men's January Jones. Maybe this was her kid sister July, with a flick of black eye liner and a slightly bouffant-ed ponytail to broadcast her bad-girl credentials.
Saunders' starting point, he claimed backstage, was his palette: the sugary shades of South Beach. The peach of a sunset, the aqua of a pool, the colors of citrus fruits were layered together in combinations that should have clashed except that they were rendered in the same sun-drenched, often ombréd tones, like the pink and orange skirt that was topped by a jacket the blue of a Miami sky. "The colors of pills," Saunders laughed.
True, the soundtrack had a torpid, narcotic buzz that went nicely with the notion of a zonked suburban Southern gal. But she wasn't really the star of this show. Instead, it was more about Saunders continuing to explore his fascination with the tension between the prim and the improper in womenswear. Though the word stuck in his craw, he insisted he was in search of "the ultra-feminine." His shapes were sundresses, negligees, camisoles, pinafores, pajamas, or conversely, boyfriend jackets and full skirts that fell, fifties prom-style, to just below the knee. The fabrics—pin-dotted cottons and jacquards and silks—were equally traditional ("old-fashioned" was the term he used). The prints, on the other hand, were mandala-complex and "fancy" (again, his word). Or they were baroque dévorélike swirls, which brought to mind the work of Morris Lapidus, architect of the Miami that Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack was so enamored of (and would have recognized in these clothes). One decorous version, in yellow curlicues, turned to reveal a back slit open to a little bow at the base of the spine. It was a small, controlled gesture that was supremely sexy. Equally so: a slightly oversize sweater slung over a slightly sheer skirt. Such moments suggested Saunders is most comfortable with sly impropriety. The primness of the virginal white closers literally paled by comparison.
But, restrained or racy, the key thing is the ever-more-accomplished craft with which Saunders is pursuing his vision. And it's connecting—the audience for tonight's show was full of women wearing his Fall collection.