The fall 2013 collections ended about one month ago. On the downside, putting one’s proverbial bow on the season after such a gap (read: writing on deadline; zero moments to spare) does little for a writer’s relationships with editor and copy desk. Yet it has its benefits. Distance makes a ruthless editor. It cuts away at countless shows, many of which featured perfectly fine clothes that have since receded into the seasonal blur, while focusing on the genuinely memorable.
Shows achieve that admittedly personal classification variously—a mood, a nuance, a big splashy production, related off-the-runway news. Yet whatever those particular elements, the distinction invariably comes down to the fashion. How and why did it resonate? Did it leave you awed/thrilled/moved/confused? Outraged? Did it transport you from industry professional to breathless consumer?
My list of memorables suggests a fabulous season, even if 15-hour-day in/15-hour-day out, taking time to stop and smell the splendors wasn’t a priority. To paraphrase Tom Ford paraphrasing Karl Lagerfeld, full appreciation often comes after the fact. Speaking of Tom, his show is among a few whose photos mock me for missing them. According to the pictures, I wish I’d been in London (Tom and Mary Katrantzou), not on unexpected deadline (Thom Browne), and not fearful of missing the next show (Rick Owens).
Those mini heartbreaks aside, my real list is rich. Over the past few years, a few designers, specifically Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and, more recently, Miuccia Prada, have embraced showmanship in the literal sense of the word, utilizing megasets and elaborate productions to transmit their 10-minute messages. For fall, Lagerfeld’s giant globe heralded Chanel’s international reach while serving as backdrop for a bold, youthful lineup. Conversely, Prada and Jacobs went for mystery and seduction. Prada’s models walked in Forties-inspired dishabille—each one a woman with a story to tell—against a Rem Koolhaas set she called “industrial and dirty.” At Marc Jacobs, the weirdly vibrant sun shone on an intimate collection tinged with melancholy, while at Vuitton, grunge got an upgrade that was as sexy as it was obviously expensive. There, the models roamed an eerie hotel corridor, its opened doors revealing intimate video moments of hotel guests—a voyeur’s delight.
Major set shenanigans were not the only path to dramatic presentation. Riccardo Tisci opted for a more restrained approach. He took Givenchy to new heights, showing in a spare, circular format, a performance by Antony Hegarty setting the show’s emotional tone. Inspired by a personal trauma, Tisci’s dark collection crossed a street sensibility with his stated Italian gypsy inspiration, which made for a graceful and powerful take on modern.
Not everyone roamed the dark side. At Dior, Raf Simons’ models walked on air. He painted his floor a blue sky, all a-fluff with bright white cumulus matter, above which floated enormous silver balloons that radiated distorted reflections of the models and audience. For the clothes, Simons drew on parallel interests of his and Christian Dior, specifically, art and retro. It made for a beautiful, fresh collection. Still, while Simons has wasted no time in putting his mark of modernity on Dior, many anticipate the day when he feels free enough from the weight of house history to deliver a stunner of the sort with which he closed his tenure at Jil Sander.
Speaking of Mme. Sander, she’s back, with an ultracollection (shown in her usual white-walled, low-key manner) that used minimal decoration to maximum effect.
Sander is not the only designer to prefer calm and—gasp!—the bright light of day and white paint. At Céline, Phoebe Philo infused her signature comfort chic with a new level of glamour. If something can be both quiet and bold, this was. And breathtaking.
The Row’s Ashley Olsen and Mary-Kate Olsen took the notion of calm even further. They showed first thing in the morning in a “homelike” setting (that is, if you’re really rich; it was a spectacular Upper East Side townhouse). Though the backgrounds proved distracting in photos, in real time, the shtick was as lovely as the clothes.
Other major memorables: Lanvin, where Alber Elbaz unified a pastiche of far-flung motifs into a singular expression of elegance; Proenza Schouler, for the giant leap Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez took in refining their collection to appeal beyond the downtown fashion-girl set without relinquishing their essential cool factor; Marni, where Consuelo Castiglioni continued to distance herself from those runway-only wacky prints; Dries Van Noten, for his witty gender-bending, crossing men’s wear elegance with feathered flamboyance. Comme des Garçons—memorable hall of fame.
As for Vera Wang, though I didn’t love it at the time, lo these weeks later, her rich textures and daring structure stand out. Sacai’s Chitose Abe showed that tricked-out is not antithetical to chic. And remember when girls just wanted to have fun? Donatella Versace does. Hello, Vunk.
As in other areas of life, fashion firsts tend to be memorable. Such was the case with Alexander Wang’s Balenciaga debut, in which the designer showed a more polished—if imperfectly so—side. His New York show was more powerful as he incorporated some Cristobal-esque geometry into his own street-smart identity.
By the way, how many times since his Parisian appointment has Wang been referred to as the young New Yorker “who makes $80 T-shirts”? No matter how amusing the ring or how sensible the inference—that part of Wang’s appeal to then-PPR-now-Kering was likely his ability to make commercial clothes—such trivializing description is worse than insulting. It’s inaccurate in its specificity. Yes, Alexander Wang makes $80 T-shirts. He also has an impressive if brief portfolio (he’s only 29) of directional collections comprising smartly designed, well-priced clothes, too. But I digress.
Sometimes “unforgettable” results from the confluence of clothes and surrounding buzz. Oscar de la Renta showed against the backdrop of the John Galliano drama. His collection was both beautiful and complicated, displaying clearly the work of two major, not-always-in-sync aesthetics. And at Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane’s oh-so-literal rendering of grunge proved as controversial as his Seventies-inspired debut last season. Love it or hate it, people couldn’t stop talking.
Finally: Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen. Opting out of a full-collection and her 8 p.m. slot, the new mom chose instead to show a tiny group based on ecclesiastical concepts delivered with Renaissance flourish. In a mere 10 looks Burton explored the innate crossover between pure and sensual. Masterful.