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Talk about contradictions. Designers looked to beautiful essentials while feeding their cyber obsessions with live-streamed shows and online sales.
Grasping the new, the bold, the unknown—an essential, at least when it comes to matters of the sartorial sort. Fashion is supposed to push ahead aggressively and unafraid, leading its devotees into uncharted lands the splendors of which we could not imagine until swept there on an adventurous stylistic wave. Or maybe that’s what we all like to think. Because from an overall design standpoint, the fall 2010 collections were less about intrepid exploration than celebrating the glories of that which we already know and love, a motif that held tremendous sway on runways from New York to Paris.
At this particular moment, familiar felt not only comforting and lovely, but chic. It didn’t play as an apology for the absence of imagination, but rather, as the stuff of serious, essential fashion. As Marc Jacobs noted before his show, “sometimes beautiful is enough.”
Showing as he does so early in the season, Jacobs established fall’s overarching motif of classics-plus, his runway an enticing lineup of neutral-toned greatest hits. Before the season drew to a close in Paris, he would be joined in his proclivities by numerous others, including Michael Kors, who went overtly luxe with pairings of fur and gray flannel; Dries Van Noten, who cross-pollinated various retro references, and Stella McCartney, who worked the sparest side of winter chic. And by Miuccia Prada, even if characteristically she managed to pervert Fifties-ish themes with her girls’ stiffly ruffled bosoms and slighted twisted secretarial air.
From beginning to end, numerous houses sang the song of self with undisguised delight. In a gorgeous 25th anniversary affair, Donna Karan celebrated the easy-pieces mantra on which she founded her house. Ralph Lauren took inspiration for his beautifully realized boho lineup in one of his own ads from 1993. At Gucci, Frida Giannini finally stopped fighting the steamy house history written a fashion lifetime ago by Tom Ford, and her acceptance resulted in a strong, sexy collection, while Donatella Versace went hot, colorful and flashy just like in the old days. Meanwhile, on the topic of roots, Domenico Dolce declared Dolce & Gabbana an ode to “sartorialità, like my father used to make,” as well as Sicilianità and sensualità—not to mention great style. Even relative babe Jason Wu did some backtracking of sorts, reimagining the meaty sportswear of his tough-chic pre-fall lineup through the lens of prettiness for which he’s known.
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Across fashion, numerous trends heralded comfort over edge. At the top of the list: ample knits that covered cozy from Nordic to Aran to homespun, the latter in the Mulleavy sisters’ artisanal crochets for Rodarte. Other charmers included John Galliano’s exquisite beribboned chunkies for Dior, abundant pilings at Diane von Furstenberg and Richard Chai – Love and Adam Lippes’ cardigans, which, belted over long fluid skirts, strutted toward the Seventies. And at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld’s icy ombrés were but a part of his chilly wonder. Rugged plaids made for slick business fare at Jil Sander while tempering the undone pillowed excess at Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons. Military ranged from practical—Etro’s brass-buttoned jacket —to pretty—Oscar de la Renta’s full-skirted, frilled dress.
So much was beautiful, indeed, and, knock wood, fresh enough to—come fall—lure women from the dreaded inclination to shop their closets. Still, there was considerable irony to the collections’ prevailing stylistic classicism, because on other levels, this was a moment of seismic change. The death of Alexander McQueen just as the New York shows were getting under way resonated profoundly. While the timing was such that his loss could not have impacted anyone’s design process, it was perhaps fitting that the season proved relatively sedate in homage to one of fashion’s genuine geniuses, a true and fearless renegade whose passing left a tremendous creative void.
Then there was the near manic cyber obsession, an arena in which McQueen led the charge last spring with his elaborately staged and live-streamed show produced in collaboration with Nick Knight. At the forefront this time: Burberry Prorsum, which not only live-streamed Christopher Bailey’s fabulous show, but offered several venues around the world where fashion types not in London for the live event could take in a mega 3-D presentation that well may change the way fashion is shown in the future. And—oh, yes! Some items were ready for online sales, to be delivered within a few weeks. Earlier, in New York, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez offered a small range of handbags, the production of which had been completed early, for online sale for 24 hours, and they sold out immediately.
Many other houses both large and small also live-streamed their shows directly to consumers well before completion of spring shipments to the stores. This raised the question of whether the fashion system as we know it, particularly, the timing of shows—many of which already play to consumers a full season before hitting the stores—should or can continue in its current form.
The dichotomy of fall 2010—clothes steeped in classicism and presentations in the methods of new media—makes a sound metaphor for the state of fashion today. This industry is embracing rapid-fire change, or trying to, with one foot still grounded firmly in the familiar. Chances are that footing won’t stay sound much longer.