NEW YORK — “In the back of my mind I’m always thinking, ‘Is this something women will want to wear?”‘ Bill Blass told WWD in 1998.
That might not sound like much of a bulletin — after all, isn’t that what all designers should ask themselves all the time? But to those in the business who have debated the thrills and follies of Nineties editorial frenzy, the comment is salient indeed. There has never been any question as to Bill’s position on the matter. He champions reality first, last and always — or so we thought.
But suddenly, always is over. After 40 years of giving his gals oodles of the smartest, chicest clothes imaginable, everything they could want and more, Blass showed his final collection on Thursday. It was a poignant moment, and not even Floyd could keep the throngs, including some of Bill’s biggest fans, from packing into the 7th on Sixth tent. Pat Buckley, Nan Kempner, Casey Ribicoff, Blaine Trump and Nina Griscom all said “phooey” to Floyd and came out to support their guy.
“All the special effects were there for a dramatic finale,” Blass said afterward, referring to the weather. “The storm was the perfect accessory. The turnout was great considering the conditions. But I’m not emotional at all. I’m just relieved to be going.”
Typically stoic of the man who once proclaimed he hated fashion but was absorbed by style. And on Thursday, he served up plenty, featuring his two mantras: a sporty attitude and lots of color, in keeping with his long-held belief that, as he once said, “Rich women don’t wear black.”
Blass featured all sorts of chic separates, showing particular affinity for a versatile hooded jacket over skirts and pants. But he knows his women still love their suits, and let them choose from discreet men’s wear plaids or riotous florals. For evening, he was just as diverse, from the white crepe column banded in blue, gold, green and red that opened the show to a host of jazzy sequined skirts and pants, worn with little cashmere sweaters. Evening separates may be an au courant trend, but they’ve been basic to Blass for years.
Bill took his final curtain call to a rousing standing ovation, then met a crush of well-wishers backstage. While vague on his immediate plans, he said that, after some time off, he will focus on selling his company. “It’s getting worse,” the ever-practical Midwesterner added, then, referring to Floyd. “You’d better get out of here while you still can.”
Thanks for the advice, Bill. And for so many years of fabulous fashion — we know that deep down, you love it as much as we do.
Helmut Lang: Everybody knows that Helmut Lang is something of a seer, having spent the better part of this past decade getting there first, establishing trend after trend for countless others to follow. So excuse his miscalculation of last season. You remember, that end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it forecast as proclaimed on his fall runway, which put a futuristic slant on the toughest Tough Chic anyone had seen in a long time.
Apparently, it was Lang’s version of a fire drill: Just testing, nothing to worry about. So dismantle your bunkers and disarm your day clothes, Armageddon will have to wait. For spring, he’s preaching a very different future, one in which the edge of the street finds ultimate contentment within the context of a newfound tony elegance.
“The importance of urban wear is a given; it’s the way we live,” Lang said before his show. “Now to do something new in fashion, it has to be refined.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean out with the old. Lang’s brilliance rests in the way he navigates core beliefs in unchartered directions. While last season, his cool signature carried the demonstrative mantle of the urban warrior, this collection had a more theatrical intrigue. Throughout, he mixed the great tailored pieces — coats, jackets, pants — with diva drama, as in the organza tops in rich jewel tones with long, sweeping trails at the shoulders. He also seized the opportunity to show off his wonderful new shoe collection, from spare little slides to stilettos with feathers entwined around one ankle.
Of course, it has been a long time since Lang’s clothes have been truly minimal. They’re packed with details, some discreet and others as bold as a wayward teen. In the latter category, his new dresses and skirts, ballooned at the hem and caught between the legs like bloomers, actually worked, at least most of the time. Also on the plus side, Lang’s jeans were terrific, and we certainly hope he’ll do those fabulous men’s sweaters for women, too.
Nevertheless, the collection had its puzzling elements. Despite a certain daring charm to some of the sheer organzas, the finale’s relentless bombardment of bare breasts was, well, over-baring, to say the least…unless, of course, you were Hugh Grant, who seemed to be enjoying every pair.