Notes from New York Fashion Week, Fall 2009

Glenn O'Brien

Saturday

Looks from VPL; Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer

 

Valentines Day, in a way, is the perfect day to launch Fashion Week, and for me it started off with the runway show of VPL (which stands for Visible Panty Line) by Victoria Bartlett, a former fashion editor at Interview and one of the top stylists in the business. It was a great show of modern clothes for progressive young ladies. There was something slightly Battlestar Galactica about it for me, and that's a compliment. The clothes are modernist but sensible, space age and kind of nomadic. They reveal enough sport influence that a girl could catch a cab or hop a turnstile in most of these looks. I could see Battlestar's bombshell Cylon, Number Six, in the architectural zip front coat. An off-duty in the silkscreened bodysuits with shadowy faces resembled Warhol's Rorschachs. If there's one designer who captures the casual glamour of art world zeitgeist, it's Vicky.

I think the last time I was at Roseland Ballroom was some years earlier, to see Bob Dylan. He was great. So was Alexander Wang, in a different medium. But this guy is a sort of pop star-young and cute, and he doesn't make sexy music, but he makes very sexy clothes that strut their stuff perfectly, to the tune of state of the art rock. Wang started out, as many designers would this season, with a procession of black. (Are they mourning all those dead dollars?) But this was cool black, the kind creatives and nocturnals wear as a uniform. Kawakubo black. Midnight camo. And Wang flatters lithe bodies with figure hugging pieces cut away to accentuate the shoulders, the neck or the belly. There were clever recut takes on the oversized man shirt, worn all wrong-used asymmetrically as a jacket off the shoulders or head and shoulder through the neck. The collection was about black and white, but rooted in black leather and all that it connotes, and executed in many ways, from coolly cruel boots to studded bags big enough for looting, to tights/pants and souped-up motorcycle jackets. I don't recall any actual color, but the black was all about black on black, with shiny on matte, wool against leather, velvet against gauze, and black fur used dramatically against leather, or as a faux dreadlocks head covering. There were lots of glamour girls at the show and they gave Wang a wild ovation at the end. (Of course the designer did serve margaritas during the fairly long wait for the show.)



ThreeAsFour did a presentation this year instead of a show, which created an anarchic first-come-first-serve situation as hundreds of the designers' friends vied with the press and buyers in a massive scrum for the freight elevators in a Chelsea gallery and studio building. The more fainthearted of the press simply left. I was tipped off that it was possible to enter next door and I managed to get in to the upstairs scrum, where the taller members of the press were able to observe another meditation on black and white. But where Wang flirted with severity in black and white, this collection was thick with phantasm and ethereal evocation. The clothes were cut in crystalline layers, with white numbers floating aura like in bejeweled layers of varying opacity. The black also teased with transparency, and shimmered and reflected. As usual, ThreeAsFour delivered something beautiful and entirely original.

After that I dropped in on Elise Overland's show. It was a hipster party where I knew almost everyone, but conversation slowed when the runway promenade began. The models who periodically strutted out on the raised runway all seemed NBA height, thanks to their platform spike heels. The Norwegian Overland is known for making leathers that rock star-type gals favor, but she's extended her esthetic through a whole line of clothes that look slim, tall, and tough in an appealing way, using leather as well as shimmering metallics that catch available night light. The clothes are cool, like the kind of thing Milla's character in Resident Evil should wear at night when she's not saving the planet, or the thing a modern day Emma Peel would just love. And the whole thing was topped off nicely by jewelry by Alexander Calder, the real stuff, which made the collection appear to be just what a modernist fox would wear to cocktails at a Case Study House. (Photo: Overland, with Alexander Calder jewelry)

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Sunday

Had to drop in at Band of Outsiders, who were nice enough to elect me as a muse last season, from my TV Party period. Nobody is doing new wave prep better than B.O.O. The slim profile is Thom Brownish, but the Band's jackets look even skimpier at sweater length, and it works for those of boyish figure. My favorites were a checkerboard suit that does windowpane one better, Dylaniseque tab collar shirts and a generally genius collection of boating inspired shoes-the best was the one with trompe l'oeil laces.

Well into the second day Donna Karan's DKNY had the wits to remind us that there's still color out there, beginning with a sort of fiesta of reds that probably did not refer to an unfortunate ink color, but which were meant to be brave and lively and smart, as New York women are supposed to be. Donna mixed houndstooths and stripes to sophisticated effect, and dressed the girls for the chill outside in opaque hose and long gloves and big scarves. There were big luxurious tartan coats and deluxe fabrics and fur. The DKNY collection is an all-purpose concept that works for day into evening, and it offers enough modularity that there are lots of possibilities for versatility.


DKNY; Diane Von Furstenberg

Another grown up show was Diane von Furstenberg, who this season a showed a "Nomad" collection. The theme was obvious from the start, what with the big headdresses topping off most of the looks, evoking either Central Asia and bazaars and dromedaries and the silk route, or swinging London and Studio 54. At any rate, Diane is not advocating shrinking violets or wallflowers; her gals are up to turning heads with drama, animal prints, capes, camo retooled for El Morocco rooms, ethnic patterns and textures adventurously mixed up with deco and Victorian print motifs that suggested to me the heady spirit of London's Biba era of the sixties. If there's recession or depression in the air, von Furstenberg's answer is straight from Wayne's World: "Party on!" It makes a lot more sense to me than cultivated severity or S & M darkness. DVF's vision is spirited, adventurous, and most significantly individualistic.

The Y3 show was at a pier and it felt like the pier was in Antarctica, or Patagonia anyway. It was so cold. It didn't stop the soccer players outside though. We waited and waited in an enormous space; apparently we were waiting for Kanye West to show up. Then Yohji showed what seemed to be about 100 looks as old Carole King music played. I thought maybe they would play the whole album. Toward the end some cute kids came out in cute kids Y3, but it was so dim that at first I thought they were height challenged adults, or whatever you're supposed to call folks like Mini Me now.

Monday

Monday was a shock. I walked into the big tent at Bryant Park and a girl handed me a free copy of the Daily and there I was on the cover. Just me, almost life-size. Somehow my hair looked quite blond. Time to use that blue conditioner. The girl who handed it to me didn't recognize me. (I wondered if I should go home and change into the clothes I was wearing on the cover.) No, actually I felt like hiding all day. Got a lot of compliments on the blond hair. At the tent I saw Carolina Herrera, the kind of fashion show I love because the clothes go from pretty to beautiful and the young girl models, who elsewhere look like delinquents, look like real women, and have hair and makeup that actually appeals to the regular guy in me. Old school glamour. I know Cathy Horyn of the Times wrote that Carolina is irrelevant, but as long as men like women and a dress can make you want to personally unzip it, Carolina will be relevant. We can't all be modern all the time.

 

In her first line Donna Karan took the ideas in her DKNY collection—indeed the ideas she's built her career on—and presented a collection of great, womanly glamour that took a canny approach to the continuing theme of recession. Her looks were built on perfect parts, eminently suitable to recombination. This is not the world of wear it once and put it in the closet; this is urbane women's wear with the practicality enjoyed by well-tailored men. Donna's woman is smart--tailored, draped and immaculately put together, with just the right shoes and jewelry and belts and bags, and pieces of flair, like the fur sleeves added to many looks. She has a big life, and that's why I think hers was a man pleaser of a show. Guys like the look of a woman with a life. Many of the looks featured fur sleeves as accessories-like opera gloves without the hands. It was the first of many fur heavy shows this season. I don't think the designers are afraid of PETA anymore. I assume that it's because this is not the right climate for PETA's semi-terrorist tactics and because humans are struggling too.

Went to Cyntha Rowley's at the Jane Hotel, which my friends Eric Goode and Sean McPherson have converted from an SRO type residence into a glam hostel type inn for the hipster traveler on a budget. The old residents were picketing outside holding up signs that said that Sean and Eric are slumlords. If that's a slum, sign me up for food stamps. Had a glass of champagne at the Elizabethan looking bar with Oberon Sinclair who's working with Barbara Hulaniki, the legendary Biba designer, on a new line. Ran into Sean, unphased by the protesters, and Andy Spade who's partners with Cynthia's hubby Bill in the Half Gallery where Marika Thunder, the child artist is now showing. Cynthia showed hip blackish dresses with her new Nintendo holders. Somehow you can tell which designers have kids.

Michael Bastian's very nice menswear presentation—lots of good outdoorsman inspired stuff very thoughtfully wrought-superlative lumber jack shirts, parkas, cords, etc. Actually I think it was supposed to be inspired by On the Road and the models came out literally on a road. The road was high up in a big old industrial building in Chelsea, one of those where you could practically drive a garbage truck into the elevator. Went up with a horde of fashionistas chattering away, one of them much too loud and much too in my personal space. I would like to have a personal alarm like some luxury cars have that beeps when you get too close to another car or the curb. Ran into Gert from Fantastic Man, and the entire GQ crew. I felt like I was in an Irwin Allen disaster movie when I tried to leave and that big elevator just wouldn't come back. Finally I was saved by the GQs, who somehow discovered a VIP lift and made room for me, I guess in my capacity as their Style Guy.

Still the confinement delay at Bastian almost caused me to miss Marc Jacobs' show, which went off at three minutes before the advertised 8PM. It was only through the good graces of KCD's Cary that I got in along with MM/Paris, Juergen Teller, Camille Bidault-Waddington and a few other of Marc's closer personal fans. We stood watching the extraordinary display, a collision of punk and haute couture sensibilities. The clothes were amazing and so were the hair and make up-hair by Guido and makeup by Francois Nars. The hair was a series of extraordinary melds between the glamour looks of society and the anarchic extravaganzas of safety-pinned London. You have to imagine a sort of stylistic mutational cross of punk and socialite, say Jordan of Malcolm & Vivienne's Sex Shop and Ann Slater, or Siouxsie Sioux and Judy Peabody.

Marc Jacobs

 

And while many designers sent out a whole wake's worth of black clothes, Marc went for color in a way that would have excited his design ancestor Stephen Sprouse. There was nothing somber here, just one vibrant darkness piercing hue after another. I always liked the word "fierce," used as a fashion compliment—a sort of voguing usage that really gets at a certain attitude. And that's what this collection was all about, flaunting it while everyone else is concealing it. If the Obama era is really about hope then I can think of no stylistic remedy more appropriate than the savage chic envisioned by Marc Jacobs. And Marc has the best of that punk spirit, after being the last to start his show, to reining it in and starting his show before the announced time. That's punk. When interviewed about cutting 1,000 people off the list and starting early he said he was doing what he thought was right. About time somebody did.

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