“I’ve been really lucky not to have writer’s block,” Joseph Altuzarra offered, a bit awkwardly. He’d just been asked, during a preview, “Do you feel you’re on a creative roll?” He knows he is — how could he not? Yet he found obvious discomfort at the question, lest his answer make him sound like a jerk.
Altuzarra hardly need worry. Fashion today takes no issue with celebration of self. Yet this season, on the heels of two high-production extravaganzas that championed the celebrity self and the elevated (by celebrity) hoodie, on Saturday night Altuzarra made his fashion show priorities clear. For him, wonton pursuit of the Instagram moment ranks no higher than two. “I always think of the customer first,” he said. The approach resonated as an exquisite, exhilarating reality check.
Altuzarra was inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive,” not for its specific stylistic essence, but for the main characters’ “curiosity about the world.” Their curiosity peaked his own, and led to a synergistic fusion of disparate elements — North African folklorica, Indian textiles discovered at the Victoria & Albert, 19th-century French fabrics, a bold dash of Eighties. And a sense of the street, which for him doesn’t mean ath-leisure throwing off attitude; the Altuzarra woman gets dressed. Rather, he noted a photograph of an Inuit parka, finding in it “an interesting dialogue with something so utilitarian and something so decorative.”
It all came together, the components patchworked into intensely wrought pieces worn in bold combinations. Paisleys, tiny florals, stripes and color blocks played against each other, in an often murky palette — brown, black, burgundy, navy — for an earthy quality. Nothing was plain, whether a floral-printed parka and boots; thick sweaters braided through with strands of velvet, elastic and leather, slim pants and skirts with high-contrast velvet insets, a fitted navy coat with intense passementarie work in back.
The result was a treatise on practical flamboyance with an undercurrent of rugged American sportswear. Altuzarra made it refined, chic and utterly desirable. On that point, these clothes had the professional women in the audience slipping involuntarily out of work mode and into “I want it” mode. (Call it Alber Elbaz syndrome.) The show’s gentler moments featured printed handkerchief dresses, worn over long-sleeved tops for day and intricately embroidered to glorious, glistening effect for evening. If one such beauty doesn’t show up on Oscar night, Hollywood stylists should be ashamed.