It’s about the journey

Reviews of the New York Spring 2015 collections

by Christopher Aaron Blackmon

Photo: Costello Tagliapietra presented ruching along the panels of tight dresses; photo courtesy of Costello Tagliapietra

I was walking back to the office down Fifth Avenue on a particularly hot day here in New York, and was struck by the line that snaked around the block for the flagship Abercrombie and Fitch store. It wasn’t the line that bothered me, but rather the people that made up the line.

German, Italian, a bit of French. Those were the languages I heard as I slowed down and looked at the tourists. They were jammed together to get a piece of that AF cache. You had to think to yourself, that’s funny. All these Europeans, whom supposedly were, are, the crème de la crème of style, seeking to look just like mall teenagers in the heart of Ohio. While those of us from the states were dreaming of how it would feel to look like “them.”

But that is the wonderful thing about fashion. It has never been about logic.

And as I continued my way down the street I realized that, in a way, fashion was never about a straight line of thought.

New York Fashion Week began with the smaller designers, those whose firms are “boutique” or new. The following is not that large, and usually it is nice to see some talent that still has a few sharp edges – before financial success and the market polishes them away.

One collection that really struck me was the Creatures of Comfort show. Those clothes were great: wearable, with a touch of weighty design. Long linen coats in a French beige, gathered in the back by fabric belts were flashes of a 1990s Yohji Yamamoto. But the designer, Jade Lai, somehow made it her own.

Her knits were great, too. Those garments were ageless, and that is a feat many designers, even the good ones, have problems with. A good designer takes you someplace, somewhere on an intellectual journey through play, referencing and house signatures. I just kept thinking, with all the rustic fabrics and sophisticated color palate, these were Parisian travelers lost on a hot Alabama night. That show just took you there, and supported the dream with solid things to wear.

Monika Kowalska of A Detacher presented a focused collection. Her message was clear: it was about a great knit, and dresses that came in humble fabrics like a textured linen, denim and cotton poplin, with a seam across the yoke to give them a dramatic cape-like effect. Back to those knits: heavy with thick ribbing made into skirts. They were some of the most luxurious and interesting pieces of the week.

I wanted to focus a bit on the designer Nanette Lepore. She is from Ohio, and with the help of her husband, has built a business worth over $200 million. But what I especially like about her show, shown in the Tents at Lincoln Center, was that it was just really about joy and fun.

As a critic, I will be the first to admit it is easy to get caught up in the pretentiousness of fashion: the references, the mood, where are they taking me? It can get a bit hammy. So, to see Ms. Lepore just have fun with her clothes, and cute bikinis in paisley prints, turned out to be refreshing. It wasn’t about some philosophical answer to some intangible riddle. These are about clothes that make a girl, a woman, a mom, a wife… feel good.

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” is what played over the soundtrack and, I’ll admit, I wanted to roll my eyes. Corny, no? But as I looked around the darkened space, and watched the eyes of editors, buyers and just plain women alike light up, I had to remember: As a critic, as a man, I will never wear a skirt, but these women will, and if it fills them with some sort of vigor, as I witnessed under the house lights, then who am I to judge?

The guys at Costello Tagliapietra presented a coherent collection. They are known for their use of draping, primarily using jersey. They can do wonders with it. Here, the designers updated their preferred technique, using ruching along the panels on the front of tight dresses. They gave off a sexual heat. Their tailoring, done in blue brocade, looked smart, too.

Toward the end of the week, steak is finally served. The bigger designers, and the super-talented ones start to present; and right now, in an industry obsessed with the new, it is the older, more experienced guard that are producing the best shows.

Maria Cornejo is a world traveler. She has lived all over Europe, and for some time has called New York home. Her collection was one of the best of the week. Inspired by a trip to Venice, Italy, she told a story in cloth about soft architecture against the female form for her Zero + Maria Cornejo line. Her best look: a white top with black pant, with a spongy ruffle as a belt. It was chic, sleek and sculptural, all at the same time.

Jeremy Scott has really become fashion’s purveyor of counterculture. His collection had a 1970s vibe, mixed with 1990s techno raver. The effect was OK, and I am sure his fans will take to lime-green traced jackets and floral short dresses. No, really, I am not being facetious.

But what I miss was the younger Mr. Scott. Remember that all-khaki collection he presented in Paris 14 years ago? I still think about that show. Those collections had a maturity and wit to them. But the design was also fabulous. To compare those clothes to what Mr. Scott produces today leaves one with a bit of pause. Though Mr. Scott is a more experienced designer now, somehow his clothes had more polish way back then.

By the way, Miley Cyrus was there; and I have the sneaking suspicion she was present to be the visual personification of what the collection was about: youth, antidisestablishmentarianism and experimentation. She had to be there to take a bow, because his spring clothes didn’t send that message alone.

That was the same problem with the MBMJ (formerly Marc by Marc Jacobs) show. Designers Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley also gave us raver for this season. That’s fine, and on the one hand, people at that contemporary price point can get some clothes that have a true design aesthetic. But I just kept feeling the look and those pieces have been done before.

Ralph Rucci, America’s couture master, presented a youthful, quick and light collection. A big critique of the designer in the past was his clothes had a heftiness to them, and dare I say, an air of pretentiousness; but here, all that was stripped away, in the form of a luxurious short white coat with belt, or slick black pantsuit with a thin orange line circling around the body. Mr. Rucci’s clothes have always been about emotion.

Joseph Altuzarra, as well, presented an assured collection. For a while, it appeared Mr. Altuzarra was fashion’s Benjamin Button. He is young, baby-faced, but some of his collections were starting to feel old. Not because of a particular technique, but how many times can one send down a pencil skirt with high slit?

It is amazing, in under a decade, he has already carved out a recognizable signature: the aforementioned skirt, with top. That’s fine. But I felt he was starting to use that formula as a crutch. This season he ventured out a bit. That skirt was there, its slit high as ever, this time in a pink and white gingham print. Get it? Innocent and bad? But the real story was the garments inspired by Renaissance paintings, made of leather strips he made into dresses and tops that caged the body. Another high point was the last dress, a gold foil knock-out with sensational layering. It was dramatic, high-design and wearable. One more highlight: a fantastic command of tricky stripes, demonstrated in a great dress that was draped in a way to allow the motif to enhance the body.

Narciso Rodriguez always presents a powerful collection. He’s like an artist drawing a portrait. He draws a line, erases, refines and draws again. But what he does best, is take you places, without even moving. Those dresses were technically superior, as he sliced the bodices of crepe short dresses and divided up the female torso into sexual proportions. He chopped away at the necklines, too, until just a thin piece of fabric was left. They looked like futuristic versions of naughty 1950s housewives.

Supposedly, this collection was about something pertaining to the organic, and how the designer noticed how inspiring beautiful dappled light shines across the top of water. (That translated into 360-degree beading.)

Whatever.

This collection was effective just on its own. For a lot of designers, the cache comes from where, or what, their collection was derived from, and that can be both intellectually fun and poignant. But there are collections, like this, where it doesn’t matter. It is not about the journey, it is about an end result. You’re so enraptured with the now, and that has a strong power.

These clothes are destined for the factory. That is what ready-to-wear is. But as you look up close, and notice that among the liquid, there is architectural seaming, and that the beading (in captivating analogous colors) changes pattern as it warps across the body, it becomes evident the overall feeling isn’t about pick, pack and ship against a delivery window. These are clothes that have body, life, all done with a deft hand and couture sensibility.

Mr. Rodriguez is happily married to a beautiful man. But he fosters a sensual relationship with his devotees much like a lover. He ticks all the right boxes: music, construction, models, venue, “fashion.” And as I exited his show into the New York night, again walking down the street, I could not help but to think to myself, the experience I had just had was a profound one.

Fashion editor Christopher Aaron Blackmon is a native of Dayton, Ohio. Before joining the Dayton City Paper, he studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, recieving his degree in Fashion Design. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City, were he trained at Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriguez, and now works in Merchandising and Press for an Italian heritage brand. Blackmon resides in New York City.

 

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