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September 12, 2012 11:29 am

New York Fashion Week: day five

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Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta and Rodarte provided escapism from the here, now and then

There’s something palpably unsettling about the fact that the New York spring/summer shows always take place on September 11 and the industry seems totally unmoved. Eleven years ago the collections in this city were halted by the destruction of the World Trade Center, but the runways are business as usual. On day five of the womenswear shows, it made for a something of a disconnect for anyone whose thoughts were caught up in history while their eyes were full of the future. Which, in fashion terms, means next season.

To be specific, in Vera Wang’s terms it meant that potentially lucrative emerging market, India, which provided inspiration for elaborately embroidered but structurally urban tunics, tees and shift dresses. First in white on white and then gradually deepening into colour, culminating in gold-embroidered emerald brocade and lace, like something for a managing director of the Raj: pretty, but somehow more calculated than you might expect. For Sophie Theallet, it was a story of subtle juxtapositions: of colours (orange and fuchsia); layers (crinkled silk or airy organza on cotton); and ideas (a skinny patterned knit under a cocktail frock), all of which added up to a statement that was less than the sum of its lovely pieces. And for Oscar de la Renta, it began with a patriotic story of red (latex tank), white (pencil skirt) and blue (twill blazer) before segueing into a series of neat lunching suits in sunshine yellow, beautiful embroidered tulle dance dresses, the requisite ball gowns – and some truly wacky beaded and bowed evening shorts-plus-bustier ensembles.

Mr de la Renta was pushing past his comfort zone (latex?), which is a good thing, but he hasn’t quite defined where else he is going, which is the issue. Of course, on some level, I suppose it’s an issue for all of us.

Still, equally, if more convincingly and comprehensively far-out, was Rodarte, where designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy created a sort of Star Trek-meets-King Arthur’s court vision of patterned second-skin T-shirts under geometric jacquard mini dresses, leather trousers cut in strips that laced up the leg, long chiffon dresses hung with decorative chains and heavily fringed leather coats – royal finery as it might appear on the planet Ook. It sounds confusing, but in an odd way, removing the clothes with such conviction from the diktats of the everyday actually made the collection more effective than it has been in seasons; the result was powerfully escapist without being unrealistic.

It was Narciso Rodriguez, however, who built a bridge between past and future on an arc of grace. Riffing on the tropes of fashion – the tuxedo, the suit jacket, the slip dress, florals (it’s spring after all; there’s always a floral) – he transformed them by injecting the ease of a shrug into the tailoring, an abstract three-dimensionality into the embroidery and the suggestion of sex into a generally covered-up collection. The clothes were both familiar and different, and held the promise of a new perspective. Which on 9/11 is kind of what you need.

A new take on old glory

Despite dazzling sunlight and bright blue skies on day five of New York Fashion Week, there was something of a shiver in the air, particularly for those in the industry who were scanning the financial pages over their morning coffee, writes Elizabeth Paton.

Burberry, until recently a wunderkind of the international luxury sector, issued a profit warning in London on Tuesday that immediately wiped more than a fifth from its share price.

These nervous ripples emanating from the other side of the Atlantic do not bode well for the high fashion market, which until recently has proved remarkably resilient in the face of ongoing economic chaos. Now there’s a quiet fear that its tide of good fortune may be about to turn.

Key US luxury retailers, specifically Ralph Lauren, Harry Winston and Coach have already reported muted results in the past quarter, while the lasting sustainability and appeal of numerous prestige brands on the New York Fashion Week calendar has long been in question.

Thank goodness then, for the rainbow wave of colour and commercial credibility that flooded the catwalks in the form of affordable Americana daywear collections.

Tory Burch described her line as “American preppy remix”; classic designs with update and uplift via popping prints and tie dyes, acid brights in yellows, reds and blues, plus lashings of sparkly diamanté embellishments.

Dresses had a 1950s feel – nipped waists and long full skirts in a variety of fabrics such as honeycomb lace organza, linens and silk crêpe. Prints were conventionally pretty, but then adorned with eye-catching touches of the exotic; think Indian beading, Bolivian fringing or peasant-style broderie. Yet while the looks had a seductive, fantastical quality, most were also anchored in practical day-to-day reality. The final dress, a fitted, collared, floor-length white polo dress with shimmering orange beading was a testament to low-key yet glamorous aspirational evening chic.

Much of the same was to be had at J Crew, where an army of models dressed as Jenna Lyons lookalikes (creative director of the brand) stood resplendent in a glorious melée of mish-mashed separates. While neon took its usual pride of place in the line-up, there were softer hues to be seen this season thanks to design inspiration found in vintage Time Life photographs. Dusky pink fitted blazers married to loose pyjama tops and metallic lilac mini-shorts created a playfully wearable combo, while a sweet floral trouser suit in peppermint green matched with a white shirt dripping in delicate crystals was a new spring take on the pyjama daywear trend.

Palm trees on shirt-dresses and oversized tropical florals were clearly a strong motif. They also made an appearance across town at the Victoria by Victoria Beckham presentation.

Mrs Beckham continues to produce clean and considered silhouettes across both her fashion lines, however Victoria is undoubtedly the younger line with a playful sense of humour. Stiffened mini-shifts emblazoned with little bird graphics and California sunsets had a playful 1960s feel, while flitty collared skater dresses and a silky polka dot tea dress with a gathered waist and plunging neckline had a relaxed, fluid femininity, very much in keeping with the LA aesthetic by which she said she felt so inspired.

Marc by Marc Jacobs, by contrast, threw any sense of sharp tailoring completely out the window. Irreverent layering of patterns and textures was everywhere; a sea of oversized shirts and baggy trousers, full A-line skirts, jumpsuits and artfully tied scarves were united in a 1980s grunge tribute that overloaded and yet dazzled the senses. The deliberately mismatched patchwork of denims, stripes, checks and florals gave the technicolour collection an oddly tribal feel (although it could have been the turbans), full of looks designed to be embraced by the confident yet style-conscious girl on the street.

These four brands are a tribe unto themselves; shamelessly populist yet thoroughly charming and constantly reverting back to their roots for both inspiration and acceptance. With storm clouds on the horizon, the day was a prescient reminder of the stylish yet tongue-in-cheek leisurewear that the US so often does best.

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