As the adorable Lil’ Kim arrived at the Jennifer Lopez show on Friday night, her hair a marcelled plaster fastened by monster diamond bows matching her cartoon-sexpot indiscretion, she caused the inevitable paparazzi madness. Taking in the scene, one couldn’t help but register how strange indeed these times are in fashion, especially in New York, mired in the frenzy — some would say folly — of the celebrity launch-a-minute. Here was the fashion crowd turning out in droves at 8 p.m. on Friday after a week crammed with collections, waiting for a credential-free designer to raise the curtain.
Certainly Lopez has done her part as an ambassador of fashion. She owns a strong style, as do Beyoncé Knowles, Jessica Simpson, Gwen Stefani and all the other pop stars lined up to cash in on the images they’ve developed with the help of countless designers, stylists, hairdressers, makeup people and other handlers. But does the mere act of working a fashion look with bravado qualify someone as a designer? Probably no other profession, including other design-related fields, gives off a vibe as welcoming as fashion: “I wear clothes well, therefore I am a designer.” Would the same confidence, some might say hubris, transfer to other disciplines? “I sit in modern chairs, therefore I am a furniture designer.” “I have a chic roof over my head, therefore I am an architect.”
Granted, fashion doesn’t involve designing a building that won’t fall down. But lest we forget, it is hard. It requires talent, skill and, at its highest level, years of dedication and toil, a notion all but buried in the obsession to keep up with which pop star will launch when. Which is not to reject the possibility of crossover success; the Sean Jean collection, for example, is a rare hit, although even P. Diddy has learned that women’s is an entirely different reality.
Success as a designer — not as a fancy figurehead, but as a designer — requires more than the ability to dress one’s self flamboyantly, or, more likely, to find the right advisers. How about a point of view, a vision, that brings something distinctive to the party? That notion was brought home beautifully in the trio of major shows held on Friday. Because, while Lopez staged a fabulous show, its production of a level that one would expect from an entertainment superstar, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren both showed beautiful collections that radiated their signatures with confident currency.
A Stella McCartney sketch of a custom dress made from protein-based silk in partnership with biotech lab Bolt Threads. The dress will be displayed at The Museum of Modern Art's upcoming design exhibition, "Items: Is Fashion Modern?"