NEW YORK — The New York collections are nothing if not diverse. And several designers who showed last week proved that point with an eclectic mix of the feminine and frilly, clean and sophisticated and a liberal dose of downtown cool.
In her typical girly fashion, Nanette Lepore sent out a slew of Eighties-inspired looks reminiscent of Betsey Johnson’s early years. These were get-ups that would have broken the dress-code rules in almost any high school: strapless plaid dresses with bows, floral corset tops, flounced skirts, high-waisted miniskirts and plenty of mix-and-match patterns that were playful and feminine — with a sexy twist. Meanwhile, Tocca traded in its signature little embroidered dresses for a more sophisticated, ladylike look. The keys to this Fifties-influenced collection were the decorative fabric treatments, rich colors and slim shapes. What worked best were the pintucked shrunken leather blazer, textured coats with metallic and sequin details, tweed suits and abstract prints.
Peter Som is right at home designing clean-cut sportswear, so it was no surprise that he found inspiration in the all-American lifestyle — the concept of carpooling in Greenwich, Conn., a weekend in the country with Edie Sedgwick or borrowing your boyfriend’s clothes. His neatly tailored trousers, easy tanks and plenty of fur, all looked great. But Som needs to know when to say when — there were too many blouson shapes, brown florals, unflattering pink tones and draped-front pieces that just didn’t look fresh. Another designer known for her sleek sportswear is Shin Choi. And she stuck with what she does best, sending out a collection of beautiful knits, luxurious coats in cashmere and a lineup of tweed suits. The plaids, however, looked old and the eveningwear was a flop.
Marithe & Francois Girbaud seemed to have learned a lesson: Trickery will get you nowhere. In a slightly more refined collection than usual, there were plenty of looks that stood out — a slew of fitted shirts with Western or tuxedo influences, sleek black leathers, full skirts and dresses with futuristic and prairie touches that actually worked well together. But the duo went terribly wrong with the silver pieces, and they could have used a good editor — after all, less is more.
Coogi Australia, another favorite with the hip-hop crowd, also went for a more upscale look. This season, the theme was Vikings-meet-Eskimos with a Mad Max twist. But the focus was on the PETA-friendly fake furs, although some were more successful than others. There were also some of Coogi’s signature patterned knits, which at times were mixed in with the furs, raw-edged embossed leathers and jersey leggings. The overall effect wasn’t too appealing — unless you’re planning a vacation in Siberia, that is.
Designer Rebecca Danenberg is back after a brief hiatus, and this time, she has a sidekick, Anthony Castro. Together they launched their collection, called Danenberg Castro, with loads of the old Danenberg style — sash pants, criss-cross sash tops, mini dresses and lots of slim pants.
Another downtown designer, Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy, held her show in a friend’s loft, where else but on the Bowery? Designing for the girl who appreciates vintage and kitsch but still wants to look sophisticated — and all at an affordable price — Mullin delivered just that. Shrunken velvet blazers, satin dresses with ruffled plackets, and sweet sweaters with ruffled scoop necks are sure to be a hit with a hip crowd.
One of Donna Haag’s greatest talents is her ability to create terrific settings for her runway presentations, and this season, her audience found themselves in the heart of New Orleans. From food — lots of fried Creole goodies — right on down to the great tunes courtesy of the New Orleans group Buckwheat Zydeco, the bubbly flowed and the energy soared while Haag’s creations came down the runway. She improved her collection this season by keeping things relatively simple. Most notable were her plum embroidered velvet V-neck top worn with a plum fringed sequin skirt and her long velvet dresses. Jackie Rogers returned to the tents this season with a formal runway presentation. She has a signature style and a handful of staple silhouettes that get mildly reworked each season with new fabrics. She was at her best when she eschewed tricks in favor of slim, tailored coats and jackets and simpler evening fare such as the fuchsia halter or sequin pants paired with sweaters.
Meanwhile, it was Scotland-meets-China at the house of Zang Toi. The designer showed tartan cheongsams and charming tartan mini-kilts paired with luxurious cashmere sweater sets. The elaborate print of choice this season was a chinoiserie scene that looked best on the panne velvet cheongsam and evening coat, but the more clean-lined pieces worked best.
The results of Paul Chan’s first attempt to strike out on his own with his Chanpaul label were cute but tricky. “Gone with the Wind,” of course, reminds us that upholstery fabric, drapery, and ties can work quite well in a pinch, but when Chan used those items and more, the effect wasn’t as grand as one would hope for. The 26 sportswear looks including a jacquard Edwardian top, low-slung pants and a tapestry coat, however, showed imagination and ingenuity. There were a few too many cuffs on pants, but Chan is definitely a designer to keep tabs on.
“Thank goodness for human kindness,” says George Zeldis. At a moment when many new designers are having great difficulty even getting started, it’s nice to know that there are companies that are willing to help out. Furniture Co. provided the space for his show, while Saks Fifth Avenue helped him acquire the mannequins to display his beautifully cut knitwear collection. Zeldis presented great seamed coats, a scarfneck halter dress and easy tops with leggings — all in black. The Chilean-born designer uses a fabric mill from Italy, which supplies his expensive silk and cashmere yarns, so retail prices are steep: $200 for a simple shell to $2,000 for a coat. And while this is only his second season, his collection is already carried by Barneys New York, Jeffrey and Saks Fifth Avenue — yet another reason to keep an eye on Zeldis.