NEW YORK: A DELICATE BALANCE
IT’S A BALANCING ACT — FASHION, THAT IS. HELMUT LANG WITH HIS BLEND OF STREET AND LUXE AND ANNA SUI WITH HER FAUX-MOD LOOKS ON THE RUNWAY AND ON FILM MANAGED IT BEAUTIFULLY. RICHARD TYLER AND LARS NILSSON AT BILL BLASS, HOWEVER, FARED LESS WELL.
Helmut Lang: Helmut Lang’s manipulation of his very specific vision makes for fascinating viewing. His work couldn’t be more focused — you can spot those cuts a mile away — and yet his runway spin runs from post-apocalyptic mayhem to post-modern elegance.
For fall, Lang flaunted the latter, achieving a poetic balance between the street smarts that have defined his work from day one and the refined, controlled luxury he has embraced as a more mature designer. It was, in a word, spectacular. While Lang tempered last-season’s aggressive tension, the clothes remain highly sensual, especially in the erotic contrast of the hard and fluid elements he loves. He might band an airy cashmere or silk scarf at the waist and let it flutter from beneath one of his fabulous coats, or attach a leather cuff bracelet to the single sleeve of a languid gown, the other arm left bare. He shrouded sleek dresses in tulle veils and cut dresses and tunics with deeply plunging necklines, edged in a thin band of satin. And he offered the ultimate in seductress footwear: Stilettos covered with thigh-high hose.
What most people wear most of the time from Lang are the day clothes, all those great pants and coats. Especially with the latter, he continues to innovate: corduroy cashmere, embossed leather, an ocelot print, all cut with the twists and turns that make women run out to buy that new one each season. But Lang spent considerable time on his eveningwear this season, from the subtle — sequined undershirts peaking out from beneath sweaters — to the too-tricky — Grecian dresses with external pasties, the lone slip-up in a near-perfect show. And the best part is that it was all perfectly real.
Anna Sui: Fashion may be the world’s most inclusive sport. Unlike the high-school kickball team, for which a thick-thighed Nazi captain picks you or doesn’t, everyone can play if she wants to; everyone gets dressed. But shrinking violets can get their thrills just by watching, since fashion’s spectator-sport appeal just keeps swelling.
In a delightful collection, Anna Sui played to all of the above. Her sweet retro teens walked the runway as a film she commissioned from Zoe Cassavetes played on three huge screens. It captured the faux party Sui tossed last week, with ultra-fab guests appearing, first one, then another and another, dancing, laughing, drinking. Wasn’t that Marc Jacobs stopping by? And Maggie Rizer, Stella Tennant and Veruschka? The two shows simultaneously complemented and distracted from each other. You wanted to see Karen Elson on the runway in her big olive parka over a sequined dress, but you also wanted to see her dancing away on film, her little Forties-style hat perched just so.
Yet that was Sui’s point. Clothes aren’t just for the runway, they’re for wearing and watching in reel- and real-life situations. Here, there was plenty to see, as Sui retreated from last season’s romp through the Mudd Club to the time she loves best, the Sixties. The designer explored the faux-Mod side of the decade with suburban teen Twiggie wannabes done up in boxy suits, geometric dresses and rah-rah varsity knits.
Sui kept it all cleaner than usual, detailing with bold patterns inspired by textile designer Alexander Girard, and accessorizing mostly with whimsical folkloric bags and little else. Occasionally, she gave in to her more flamboyant impulses, with a fuchsia shearling coat, for example. She also showed charming floaty dresses and tops with pants, and some fluffy, frothy party dresses — for when a girl wants to get dolled up for a party of her own.
Richard Tyler: This June, fictionista Jackie Collins’s latest, “Hollywood Wives — the New Generation,” will hit the shelves, and it’s almost certain to be full of the kind of rich, predatory women who could benefit from Richard Tyler’s expert tailoring and glamour gowns. Those are the clothes he does best. Unfortunately, the show he presented in his new New York compound boasted few of these classic looks.
There’s a strange point at which sexy can turn dowdy. Tyler passed it and kept right on going, combining both the disparate and the desperate elements of seduction — tight suits that bordered on the vulgar and strenuously-corseted vampira dresses in black silk faille topstitched in red. The workmanship put into these beautifully constructed clothes was drowned out in the lusty din. Yes, there were some pretty pieces in the mix — flippy beaded tulle numbers that came out midway during the show and made you think he could still turn it around. No such luck. Perhaps Tyler will take a page from Jackie and do what one of her heroines would — get up, dust off and try again.
Bill Blass: Poor Lars Nilsson. One day, he’s first assistant to a new, floundering designer who’s trying to find his own way in the shadow of a legend. And suddenly, presto! Just one month before show time, Steven Slowick’s out, Nilsson’s in, and it’s now up to him to create the new look that will carry the Bill Blass label and identity forward.
Company execs wisely opted out of a major runway affair in favor of a small presentation. But even in
the intimate confines of the firm’s showroom, the clothes fell flat. It would probably have been smarter still to take a pass on even a tiny show, show the line
by appointment and give Nilsson the chance to get his bearings.
As it was, he managed to put together a neutral collection — the clothes looked fine, but not particularly memorable, with none of the dash that made Blass so great for so long. Certainly, Nilsson respected the house’s traditions, with clean, smart cuts, favoring men’s wear fabrics and many of the quirks of cut that Bill used to great advantage. Sometimes it worked, as with the glen plaid suits and loose sporty coats. On the other hand, his attempt to cross that sportswear snap over into evening felt labored. But with this demi-debut over, perhaps Nilsson can now take some time to determine just how his Bill Blass should evolve.