The song "I Want Candy" was used on a handful of runways this season, most often in the 80s incarnation by the group Bow Wow Wow. I’m sure it’s popular because it’s upbeat and girly, but the fact that designers are repeatedly using a song released more than 20 years ago (and was used quite recently, and to memorable effect in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette) seems indicative of the biggest problem at the New York shows: a please-everyone mentality. "I know a girl who’s tough but sweet." Can the same girl be on so many designers’ minds, or are they just trying to cover their bases?
In this environment, those with distinct visions like Ralph Lauren and Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein, both of whom showed at the end of the week, stand out.
The Ralph Lauren show on Friday was like a cup of mint tea at the end of a feast that was too often filled with preservatives. The elegance was refreshing. The clothes were loosely inspired by lux safari expedition looks, with cultural references to the Middle East and North Africa mixed in (some saw the Moroccan influence as a tribute to YSL). Oh, and the fantastic music was Hindu, from a recent Bollywood film called Chamku (available on iTunes in case you’re interested).
Problems occur when a designer seems to be romanticizing "the other," or even worse, romanticizing colonialism. In theory, the show could have been a disaster, but it was actually the loveliest of the week—and a tie with Marc Jacobs for being the most memorable.
That being said, the issue is undeniably complicated. Robin Givhan of The Washington Post said it best: "It’s tempting to congratulate Lauren for a collection that managed to stay on the politically correct side of cultural tourism. But that might be a terribly egocentric thing to say. Who knows how this collection might play in Jaipur or Algiers? The incontrovertible truth is that Lauren put beautiful clothes on his runway Friday morning. And he showed that it is possible and powerful to declare oneself enlivened by a worldview without abandoning or even weakening his wholly American sensibility."
I needed a pick-me-up at 5 p.m. on Thursday, a long day of shows, and Calvin Klein delivered—with a minimalist parade of sculpted architectural looks in high tech fabrics. I loved the show for its inventiveness, but the biggest criticism of Costa’s work this season is that the clothes don’t show the body. At all. That is a concern for all of us who don’t have popsicle arms and a giffafe-like neck. The effect is a cool one, for sure, but the risk is that anyone more womanly than the teenage models who showed the collection will look like Humpty Dumpty.
Vera Wang used "I Want Candy" to open and close the show, but I can sort of forgive this because she also sampled in "Spooky Little Girl Like You." You’re dead inside if you don’t wanna groove to that. Wang showed a funky/refined collection sure to please her artsy followers. Do yourself a favor and click through the photos on Style.com and check out that statement jewelry. I’m seeing the bib necklace as a still-growing trend.
Lyn Devon (sold at Helen Yi) is a new designer who seems skilled at capturing a sort of youthful minimalism that’s popular right now. Walking around the East Village, I noticed a lot of this sort of high-collared, buttoned-up look on girls. It’s subversively sexy.
Claire Danes was at Zac Posen, as were Nina Garcia and the Williams sisters. And probably a lot of other people that I couldn’t see from the cheap seats. What I could see from way back was the trashy teased hair and big, swinging disco earrings of the models. Cathy Horyn made the observation that the trashiness was intentional. Fair enough.
Rowley is taking a stand against the break-neck speed of fashion—she opened her show with a big ticking clock, its hands spinning wildly, and refused to label the show as spring or fall. It wasn’t the subtlest execution (the clock seemed kind of high-school drama club-ish), but the message itself is interesting. And sensible. Perhaps even… Midwestern?
While you’re pondering that one, I’ll take this opportunity to sign off (time to slow down a bit, myself). That’s it for the New York coverage, but I’ll see you soon. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, blogging from Paris.
Photography: Elizabeth Fourmont