"My clothes are about joy," Duro Olowu
said during his presentation at Milk Studios Sunday night. It was a superfluous declaration, because the clothes had already spoken for him, especially as they were shown on a multicultural posse of models rounded up by the legendary Bethann Hardison. The exuberance of Olowu's clashing patterns overwhelmed the fact that nothing matched—or everything did, even when it was a long, Lurex-stranded cardigan belted over a block-printed gown. He was born in Nigeria, so it's a predictable misconception that Olowu's graphic sense has everything to do with Africa, but his Fall collection made it obvious that the designer's signature print (he called it his "market print") could equally be an Art Deco woodcut, or something from the school of Sonia Delaunay. And when he bias-cut that print into a languid tea dress, he perfectly captured the attitude of the striking beauties in James Van Der Zee's photographs of Harlem in the thirties.
Van Der Zee was one of the collection's touchstones for Olowu. His others were the Mexican superstar María Félix, and the style of South American gauchos, which would explain the wide-legged culotte suit in a sugary tweed. Less influence-prone were a billowing tiered dress (OK, it did recall Kenzo at his best), or a coat collaged from strips of printed velvet. The designer described it as his "coat of many colors," which meant it was quintessential Olowu. As quintessential, in fact, as the appliquéd cape, or the jackets with the frilled shoulders. Utterly idiosyncratic, and kind of fantastic.