New York Fashion Week is really the collective fashion brain, and it’s filled with a lot of stuff nobody will remember an hour later. People go to the shows to get buzzed and tweet one another, just as people used to go to Studio 54 to lose their underwear. Nobody expects a genuine emotional lift.
By dawn on Sunday, I could remember only two styles each from the collections of Joseph Altuzarra and Alexander Wang. From Wang it was a poncho and a pair of black leather pants; from Altuzarra, it was a fur-trimmed nylon parka and a slinky plaid dress. As it turns out, that was enough to appreciate what these young designers were trying to say about fall 2011. Any more would be redundant.
My short-term memory of Prabal Gurung’s collection, also on Saturday, feels like a quarter rattling around in a cup. Gurung created such an exotic apparition of romance, with patterned black stockings, corsets, ostrich feathers and trailing bits of chiffon, that I couldn’t get my arms around a thing. Then I learned, apres the event, that his muse was old Miss Havisham, and I suddenly felt the way you do when a man breathes hot air on your neck — and you never saw him before in your life.
Don’t worry: I’m not turning into a basket case over this stuff. I actually thought Gurung (let’s deal with him first) showed some gorgeous dresses once you got past the seductive effects and stupid hosiery. One of the dresses, on Karlie Kloss, was in crimson washed-silk faille with one sleeve, a slightly raised waist and a full skirt. Although the dress resembled the offhand drapery of Donna Karan or Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, it had an appeal of its own.
Other winners were a crimson sheath in wool with an open, asymmetrical neckline; a sleeveless, full-skirted dress in superlight black leather with a hand-laced bodice; and a simple (for him) dress in layers of vermilion and fuchsia silk chiffon with a handkerchief hem and a high, gathered neckline.
What I mean by that parenthetical crack is that Gurung tended to milk the glamour bits, like the corsetry and the ombre-dyed feathered fur jackets, without apparently recognizing that this side of the street has been well covered, most recently by Tom Ford in his last show. Good fashion is choosing the right fabrics — which Gurung can do — and making them sing, and that simple confidence in his own abilities is what he needs to keep in mind.
Wang, who will open his first store in a few days, is somehow better at retail than he is on the runway. He will pluck from all those black taffeta ponchos (he called them a bomber-poncho hybrid) and scuba knits and tough-girl leather, and by some miracle make them a hot retail commodity. And you’ll forget the rest. He is obviously more at home with a hard urban look, which is why this collection worked. Accessories like sunglasses with fur-covered stems (a must!) and high heels with reflector mudflaps were duly tweeted.
There’s an advantage to knocking everyone over the head with a single idea, even a worn one. Altuzarra needs to gain some traction with his designs, he needs to get them on the street, and for that reason it made a certain sense to return to the grunge attitude of an oversize parka or a sturdily drab English wool coat worn over a bias-cut silk dress. Separately, the pieces are desirable, especially some of the puffy jackets and slick pencil skirts that seemed a cool deconstruction of combat gear, and those dresses, which look like nothing on a hanger and everything on a body.