NEW YORK — Celebrities, a circus act, NYPD escorts across a traffic-free 59th Street and a rude crasher named Floyd: No, it wasn’t just another New York Fashion Week.
The more-is-more philosophy that has taken over the fashion world in the last few years reached an apex last week, at least by the relatively low-key standards of this city.
It all began with Versus’ typical rollicking rock fest, and was supposed to end with a flurry of excitement: Alexander McQueen’s first show in New York on Thursday night, and on Friday, Calvin Klein sandwiched within a two-part Donna Karan extravaganza — Collection in the morning, bridge at night, followed by an ultracool party at her new DKNY store on Madison Avenue. Then Floyd puffed his chest, forcing a last-minute extension of the collections through Saturday.
Nevertheless, the big-gun shows went on as planned. Everybody knew that McQueen wasn’t coming here to be discreet; rather, the question was how he would channel his outrageous theatrics. If you guessed Ali Baba and the Marquis de Sade at Cirque du Soleil, you were right on the money.
As for Donna — sorry, Fern, but her enormous skylight cover constructed at the base of Central Park won tent-of-the-week honors, helped along by Friday’s gloriously clear skies. And who else would have the audacity to get the city to close a major street so guests could hoof it to a party a block away, free of the urban irritation of cars and uninvited pedestrians? Karan’s DKNY schtick may laud “the energy of the city,” but it has its limits.
Yet for all the theater, celebrity sightings and miscellaneous mayhem, the strength of any fashion season ultimately rests with the clothes. That’s where Calvin Klein channeled all of his efforts with fabulous results, in one of the week’s best collections.
Klein, who often does his bit for the celebrity effort — in recent years, Gwyneth, Cameron and Julia come to mind — didn’t go that route this time, except for French actress Elodie Bouchez, featured in his upcoming CK campaign. (Real friends like Fran Lebowitz don’t count.) But he didn’t need any front-row movie star clout. Klein wanted all eyes on the runway, where the clothes sparkled in a celebration of relaxed sophistication.
Is minimalism passe? Not when done to perfection, as he did here, taking the collection to the enviable point where tony meets cool. Throughout, he worked a shirt motif with great style, exerting varying degrees of gentleness and austerity with deft control, never letting costumery overtake a few distinct references — the luxe preppy, the suited Nurse Ratchett-flight attendant type. Everything was close to the body, with a vaguely Seventies aura to shirts worn over low-slung pants or fashiony split skirts.
Nevertheless, Klein, who virtually created the one-note runway concept, wrought plenty of options out of his shirt statement, with chic dresses, suits and coats, as well as brahmin tennis sweaters over skirts. He worked in whites or barely there colors and combinations of those micro textures he loves. And he went racy with python, in a white coat and blue skirt worn with a jersey T-shirt.
Always, he let subtlety rule the moment, from his fresh-but-polished beauty message to the controlled emotion of the clothes — gentility without sugar, anger-free austerity. For evening, Klein stuck to the former mood, rendered with fewer surprises, perhaps, but still plenty of graceful options, often in layerings of white and azure. The standout: a simple slip with delicate argyle beading.
Everyone wondered how Donna Karan would handle two shows in one day. The answer: Quite well, thank you. Karan herself looks fabulous, and on Friday, she staged a pair of very strong presentations.
Her collection effort was a typically intimate showroom affair, with portable bleachers that allowed too many people too little rear-end space for comfort. That left the clothes to supply a comfort factor, and here, Donna came through beautifully, with a sleek sophistication that crossed freshness with familiarity.
So often over the past several years, we’ve wanted Donna to be Donna, without throwing all caution to the sometimes dangerous winds of self-realization. For spring, she did just that. She opened her program notes with a phrase that proved accurate — “the past and the future.” What she took from her past was the sexy urbanity on which she built her reputation, and crossed it with subtle elements of the artsiness she has more recently embraced.
Donna wrapped and tied like the old days — shirts, dresses, coats and jackets. These came in paper-thin suedes or more out-there crinkled fabrics. And remember when she was the Queen of Jersey? She’s reclaimed the crown, pairing the body-loving fabric with overlays of stretch chiffon, here worked more for its provocative than its ethereal charms. For example, a group of dresses with small leotard-like tops and soft skirts looked part ballerina, part Marilyn Monroe.
Throughout, Karan held her focus, with rustling organzas, pleated cashmeres and some of her new favorite fabrics, laced with metal for airy structure.
At night, Donna went vibrant with bold strokes of peony pink and blue, and more delicate, in flesh tones painted with pale pastels. While some of the trailing hanky hems proved difficult for even the most graceful models to negotiate, the spun silver columns glistened with movie-star magic. And Karan captured every woman’s good girl-bad girl dichotomy with a chiffon halter that bared peekaboo panties with every step.
Just hours later, the designer put her own alter ego on display. “You need both,” she said recently. And by showtime, even those who had had been a little grumpy at the prospect of a Friday night event couldn’t help but get caught up in the evening’s energy. Karan, who in the past has never cared a hoot about celebrities, roped in Mila Jovovich, Sandra Bullock, Mary J. Blige, Samuel L. Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Esposito and even Calvin Jeans girl Foxy Brown, who swore allegiance to Klein (she predicted she might strut her considerable stuff on his runway one day), but said she also loved the DKNY moment.
So did Donna, so much so that she watched the show from out front, while her models projected approachable attitude as Boy George spun live. To start, an energetic army stormed the runway clad in a uniform of nude tones: suedes, leathers, twills and chamois, often with raw, asymmetric hems, all worn with Lucite platforms. Donna then mixed disparate elements: hard and soft, sporty and artsy, plain and done up. Among the best items, were the shrunken stretch denim shirts, the snakeskin photo prints, jazzy foil jeans and the just-sweet-enough tops in puckered tulle.
Karan maintains that she now designs DKNY from a retailer’s point of view, and she wants her store to feel more diverse than the typical designer boutique. Certainly for spring she showed, if not something for everyone, then a range wide enough to capture both tourist and diehard urbanite.
After the show, the crowd enjoyed its unfettered stroll across 59th Street to the store. “I wonder why Donna didn’t have Fifth and Madison closed, too,” joked Jovovich, obviously impressed.
Those who had predicted that fashion burnout would make for a dull party couldn’t have been more wrong. The store was packed until the wee hours, as people danced, swilled ginger cosmos and picked up some makeup tips from Boy George. Asked about his favorite lines, he listed Prescriptives, Nars and MAC. But when it came to mascara, he was emphatic. “Chanel,” he said. “It’s the one.”
The greatest buzz of the week surrounded Alexander McQueen, who finds inspiration in all sorts of places. For spring, it was in a cab, when a driver’s Turkish music got his thoughts rolling. Of course, McQueen casts an unusual eye on the world, and his Arabian nights were all as subversive as they were fantastic.
The show at Pier 94 on the West Side Highway cost a small fortune, underwritten partially by American Express and De Beers. Instead of a traditional runway, the set featured a shallow pool through which the models walked quite gamely, although many in the crowd wondered why McQueen chose to reprise a trick he had already performed so famously in London a few seasons ago. Nevertheless, there’s something perversely audacious about expensive clothes being traipsed through water.
And of course, audacity is a McQueen specialty, as is the element of surprise, which, ironically, here took the form of the familiar. Everyone was poised for, if not the shock of the brand new, then at least for an evolution of the sinister softness of fall’s snow-globe fantasy. Instead, the designer reverted to overt hard core, ultimately missing the chance to dazzle New York with more than showmanship. Although he displayed relentless, in-your-face dramatics seldom seen here, in the end, we wanted not less theater, but more fashion innovation along with the escapades.
McQueen’s models took to the water in long Morticia coifs and ensembles that highlighted the designer’s brashness as much as his technical skill. An important look was hipster pants, now with keyhole cutouts extending from the hem to the knees, either in front or back. There were elaborately embroidered frock coats, floaty dresses and beautiful, mysterious webby knits. He also tossed in some American athletic references, such as boxing shorts emblazoned with, he claimed, “McQueen” in Arabic on the waistband, where Everlast should have been.
Then there was the Chic de Sade. What McQueen calls his “showpieces” — those items not coming soon to a store near you — gave new meaning to the notion of heavy metal. They jangled with coins and other metallic parts, or sported studs worked into weighty face mask-bodice combinations. Religious, social, sexual manifesto? Perhaps. Or maybe the defiant self-indulgence of a major talent intent on leaving his audience talking.
His finale played to that same goal, an odd and fabulous reverie of faux mysticism and danger. High above a garden of violent spikes that sprouted from the water, figures dressed in billowing costumes were suspended from wires. Some floated gracefully, others gyrated as if they’d been shocked. They conjured images of Dickensian Christmas ghosts and the Flying Wallendas, or was it the Flying Nun in prison stripes? In other words, a fashion circus, to say the least.