“She walks where she wants her life to go…firmly on the heels of her of her wooden wedges…she moves like a whisper commanding a goddess gown as easily as a patterned T.” Such was the introduction showgoers were given to Diane von Furstenberg’s spring runway show. DVF was heralding the return of the rock goddess—flowy dresses, “kaleidoscope prints”—in terms that were fashion-focused, colorfully over-the-top and, well, ever-so-slightly incomprehensible. Prefacing the list of models and clothing descriptions, designers use this formula—a paragraph (or six) in the show’s program to sum up their moods, inspirations and muses (a quote—whether by Ralph Waldo Emerson or Diana Vreeland—is often a popular way to capture all three at once).
While the program notes themselves vary wildly in description and grammatical correctness, there are common threads. Red is cerise; navy, storm blue; green, sea foam. Colors are ascribed to fruits, foods and condiments (see Nicole Miller’s spring program, with highlights of papaya, mango and avocado; the aforementioned DVF, whose tunics and cardies were spice-colored, and Bottega Veneta, where Tomas Maier’s leathers came in shades of tea). Rocks and fl owers get plenty of ink, too—Carolina Herrera’s dresses were persimmon and hibiscus; Lutz & Patmos’ cashmere, pewter-hued. Editors and buyers are also, by the end of the runway season, inevitably well versed in far-fl ung locales and their iconic qualities, whether it’s the sleek commerce of Germany (the Zurich Shopper, Devi Kroell’s spring tote) or the “sporty surf of chic Malibu” (Michael Kors) or the “tree-lined shores of the Pacifi c Northwest” (Ports 1961), all of which served as inspiration. Donna Karan proved herself the expert on such site-specific clothes with her 20th-anniversary DKNY show, an homage to New York chock-full of “club dresses” and “skyscraper sneaker “boots” in a palette that evoked that concrete city beacon, “the skyline.”
In Milan and Paris, descriptions tended to veer into more surreal territory—unexpected poetry, and humor, were easily lost and gained in translation. Ivana Omazic’s collection for Celine intended to capture “a single moment, the same world, the existence of radically different parallel realities,” by which she presumably meant that the tribal-inflected dresses and accessories she sent forth could be worn as relevantly on a city street as in an African village. Anne Valérie Hash “worked her collection around telluric and antic themes,” a head-scratching way to describe the show’s loose, deconstructed pieces, while Gabriele Colangelo suffused his collection with “rarefying lights, which span from extreme brightness to profound darkness, and make luxury garments as poetic expression of lyrics and intimate feelings.” Another luxury garment in the show, mink, was done in “tourmaline tones,” thereby becoming—wait for it—“impalpable.”
Intimate feelings aside, not every designer cloaks his or her collection in a string of indecipherable words. Amid the linguistic clutter (at Gianfranco Ferré, the “dazzling faceted crystals” were kind enough to “relinquish all inclination for ornamentation in favor of architectonic”—or better still—“valence”) plenty of straightforward, familiar descriptions were peppered among the dozens of programs. At Tommy Hilfiger, “the look is about easy glamour,” while Vera Wang described her Lavender collection as “a fresh, yet thoughtful approach to younger dressing.”
In the end, fashion is about the clothes, so it’s unfair to quibble too much with the ways in which designers condense their myriad inspirations—and intentions—into something that gets scanned before the klieg lights go up on the runway. Yet perhaps for fall 2009, designers would be well served to take their cues from Hannah MacGibbon, Chloé’s newest designer, who went straight for the clothes’ silhouette and purpose. “The shapes are uncomplicated, without fuss,” her spring notes said. “Lines are pure and clean.” And then, lest the reader need a mental image: “She is a rare bird of paradise.”