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From strictly shaped little suits to glam black dresses to full-on goddess gowns, there was plenty of va-va-voom sensuality in evidence as the New York collections continued.
Oscar de la Renta: What to do with too much of a good thing? That was Oscar de la Renta’s pre-show dilemma, and unfortunately he didn’t quite work the kinks out of the quandary in time for his fall show Monday afternoon. Knowing the current communal attention span can’t tolerate more that 60 or so looks, de la Renta had some serious surgery to do to get his 150-piece collection down to runway size. A few years ago, he might have opted for a more editorial edit in hopes of luring the young celeb set. Now that he has them — he delivered the first front-row frenzy of the season over Nicole Richie — he seems to have reverted to his prior mind-set (and fashion’s prior reality), when the show was all about channeling commercial looks toward retailers.
As a result, de la Renta’s runway felt like a platform for Oscar’s Greatest Hits, boasting a lot of good clothes but no clear message of the season beyond a little of this and a little of that. On the upside, retailers must have been gleeful over the smart salability on parade. Oscar’s coats, especially his furs, looked magnificent. He offered typically gorgeous tailoring (though he lingered too long in dowdy dirndl land) and teased with some terrific sportswear looks such as with a loose, short-sleeved shearling jacket over flannel pants.
Evening was equally as diverse, with fabulous highs — an ingenious white embroidered bolero over a black velvet gown; a dream of black lace, slashed to a deep V in front — and a quizzical low: a cardboard-stiff bright blue taffeta gown cutaway over matching pants. That one aside, come fall, decisive types should have plenty from which to choose — unless they’re in the market for direction.
Carolina Herrera: Carolina Herrera works from the premise that women should appear refined, and it’s her professional mandate to further that cause. Certainly, she seems preternaturally incapable of looking anything less than fabulous 24-7 — always ultrapolished but never fussy. It’s an attitude that she long ago applied to her work, which makes the fall collection she showed on Monday something of a puzzlement.
Certainly no designer can sit still. While courting and winning younger customers, most famously Renée Zellweger, Herrera has also incorporated increasingly artistic elements into her clothes, usually to lovely effect. But this time around that inclination got the better of her, especially at night. Herrera said she was inspired by the fashions of the late Fifties, which is to say pre-Mod, ultrafeminine tailoring, with more than a dash of feminine bravura. Thus, she opened with an abundant wool and fox coat followed by great-looking, sensual shirtdresses and suits. It was here that she started threading string through slits in the fabric, so that a neckline or sleeve could be adjusted according to the wearer’s delight.
But all things, as they say, in moderation. What started as an appealing design detail morphed into gimmickry in ominously heavy ballgowns, while lighter, leaner silhouettes were often tricked up with artsy-craftsy extras run amok. Conversely, when Herrera controlled her decorative urges just a bit, as with a rust floral chiffon sashed in purple velvet, the result was young, chic and gorgeous.
Tuleh: “The clothes are confident as much as grand,” Bryan Bradley said, qualifying a preshow visitor’s comment that his fall clothes for Tuleh looked grand. “She’s not arch,” he added of his imaginary muse for the season. “She doesn’t have a cigarette holder.”
Whatever the wording, a deliberate high polish permeated Bradley’s show — hence his mood-setting categories such as Vassar Girls and High Rollers — which made for a terrific collection. The attitude also put Bradley in the forefront of an early movement in New York, one that celebrates a “done” demeanor characterized by somewhat formal silhouettes and refined, structural fabrics. As Anna Sui, who is also embracing a newfound formality, said during a weekend preview: “Things can’t get more washed or rumpled.”
There wasn’t a rumple in sight at chez Tuleh, where Bradley’s sorority divas — and divas they were — sauntered by with the confidence born of good breeding and a good suit. Not to mention plenty of attitude, warding off any hint of preciousness. Bradley’s favorite line is curvy and long, with provocative punctuation — a trim bow at the waist of a Prince of Wales suit, a narrow quiver of pleats cutting the print of a waisted silk dress. The coats flaunted similar swagger, in cashmere with a swashbuckling cape; in mixed-skin furs that ranged from discreet to flamboyant.
Yet, for all the deliberate arrogance, Bradley let in moments of eccentricity — who wouldn’t smile at his Edie Beale feathered chapeaux? — and went wildly indiscreet with a white mink jacket-and-stole combo, punctuated with a gigantic rosette. What made it all work is that Bradley refused to linger, getting in and out of his more outrageous proposals as quickly as his models walked the runway — blink and you missed it. Happily, what couldn’t be missed was the distinctive glamour and high chic of a stellar Tuleh collection.