New York Fashion Week Recap: Off The Cliff And Learning To Love It
Style.com’s editor in chief Dirk Standen reports from the Spring 2010 collections…
New York fashion is having a moment—a Wile E. Coyote moment, to be precise. Like the rest of the world, the clothing business fell off a cliff last year. And yet, we still haven’t plummeted to earth. Women’s Wear Daily, those party poopers, began the week with a piece suggesting this was make-or-break season for many designers (empty order books will mean shuttered doors). That’s probably true, but in the meantime surprisingly few have gone to the wall. And the big retailers, despite rumors of financial peril from Dubai to Dallas by way of Fifth Avenue, seem to have circled the wagons and even had shoppers (or at least browsers) lining up around the block on Fashion’s Night Out. So here we are—editors, designers, retailers, the great American consumer—legs pumping furiously in thin air, not daring to look down, waiting for that bug-eyed uh-oh moment. Still, who knows? Maybe we’ll luck out and it won’t happen. Unlike cartoon characters, fashion people aren’t necessarily subject to the laws of gravity.
That may explain the strong air of escapism surrounding the Spring 2010 collections. “Why all the party dresses?” the International Herald Tribune‘s Suzy Menkes whispered to me as we were waiting for the Marc Jacobs show to begin. “Is that really what people want to do when their friends are losing their jobs? Go out and party? Maybe it is,” she concluded. Besides, the fashion houses tried sensible last season, and that didn’t sell either. And you need to have the confidence of a veteran like Ralph Lauren to address the state of the world head-on and then put your own gloss on it, as he did with his ode to the prairie.
To do well in this environment, it probably helps to design in a bubble. Rodarte’s presentations always have the blinkered, bonkers brilliance of one of Jason Schwartzman’s high school productions in Rushmore, and their Braveheart-meets-Mad Max Spring collection—as if they’d torn up their pal Kirsten Dunst’s plaid shirts and stitched them together with bits of leather, yarn, and whatever other scraps they could scavenge—was one of the week’s highlights. Working in a different kind of bubble are the designers who stubbornly refine their particular aesthetic each season, people like Maria Cornejo at Zero, whose brand of minimalism came with a new confidence and sex appeal for Spring (the MObama seal of approval will do that for a girl), and L’Wren Scott, whose Edwardian rock ‘n’ roll dominatrix gets hotter at every step.
But to really thrive as we tiptoe along the knife edge between recession and recovery, you have to be one of those types who enjoys a bit of flux, who likes working without a net. I mean Marc Jacobs, of course. His Spring 2010 collection was yet another hit. (For details, I refer you to Menkes‘ review, though our own Nicole Phelps was right on the money, as usual, too.) In the same camp as Jacobs is Alexander Wang, too young, too carefree, and too talented to be daunted by a little thing like the convulsions of U.S. capitalism. His theme for Spring was football, that enduring if battered source of American pride. He seemed to be reaching a bit this time around, but the energy and optimism is infectious. The same was true at Proenza Schouler, whose designers, it’s easy to forget, are just four years older than Wang. Their color-injected, the-future’s-so-bright-you-gotta-wear-shades mix of sportswear and animal-print dresses was a hit.
It’s not a surprise that Wang threw the week’s most raucous party (in a week filled with more raucous parties than ever): an incendiary bash in a converted gas station, with an expletive-laced performance by Courtney Love. Ah, yes, Courtney. Nothing contributed to the week’s air of unreality more than the combined presence at the shows of Love, Lady Gaga, and Madonna, the three biggest pop divas on the planet (or at least the three biggest platinum-blond pop divas on the planet—Whitney was busy showing Oprah how to roll joints on TV). At the Jacobs show, I looked up and realized I was suddenly staring directly into the eyes of Madonna across the catwalk (or would have been if the superstar had not long ago mastered the art of avoiding eye contact with non-security-vetted personnel). The next night, at Narciso Rodriguez, I was seated across from Courtney Love. By rights she should have crashed to earth a long time ago, but there she was, twisting in her seat, whispering to the guy in the kilt next to her, eyes flashing defiant mischief. In short, schooling the rest of us in the art of running in thin air.
On the last night of fashion week, after Francisco Costa closed the New York collections on a paradoxically serene note, Calvin Klein gave a dinner at the restaurant in the Standard Hotel. Eighteen floors up from those dining tables is the most spectacular new venue in town (perhaps the most spectacular venue this town has ever seen): a cocktail lounge called the Boom Boom Room. And just off the Boom Boom Room is a small smoking balcony. The floor of the balcony is a sheet of clear glass, and there’s nothing between you and the pavement but a few hundred feet of New York City air. It’s beautiful up there. Just remember, don’t look down.