New York really does have it all, especially during this fashion week, when beautifully tailored separates, luxurious embellishments, sassy satins and jolts of color are flooding the runways.
BCBG Max Azria: Max Azria has always had the bottom line with a capital “B” on the brain, and though his foray into musical theater last year as a producer on “The Ten Commandments” may have seemed like folly, you can bet he was taking a close look at those box-office receipts. This man wants to bring fashion to the people, as stated in his show notes, “by offering innovative, high-quality clothing at contemporary price points.” Thanks, Max, it seems to be working.
One of the things that works in Azria’s favor is that for the last few seasons, his runway has been all but devoid of the references that occasionally burdened his past collections. Azria stuck with the freewheeling hippie chick he embraced last season, working crocheted insets into fluttering chiffon dresses and showing tops in earthy colors such as tobacco and evergreen. Salt-and-pepper tweed coats looked fresh when cut in two tiers, and evening dresses were pretty chic in sedate columns of tomato red or bottle green — a bit different than the usual flapper-type frou of the past.
Matthew Williamson: Bravo, Matthew! Quite simply, it was the best work the designer has shown since coming to New York in February 2002. That’s not to say there was a dearth of pretty clothes at past shows. On the contrary, a Williamson affair always has prettiness to spare. However, it’s become too easy for him to rely on the proven formula of Indian-inspired color and sparkle that makes his collection a must for bohemian babes.
With fall, the designer forged ahead to offer more refined options for frosty days, such as a slouchy cashmere jacket trimmed with silver beading and a creamy panne velvet skirt. And though Williamson’s forte is the flowing dress, his strength for fall actually lay in his beautifully tailored separates — from coats and jackets with pale panels of paisley-printed pashmina to sharply pleated multicolored cotton skirts. And when he showed some of his classic materials, such as a pink, turquoise and chocolate ombré silk, he bested a typical dress with a swingy pleated skirt that was paired with a terrific beaded knit tank. Could this show signal an upgraded path ahead for the designer? We’ll see at spring.
Reem Acra: Reem Acra’s show got off to a promising start, as her embroidered tulle dresses, sequined coats, lace sheaths and embroidered chiffon coats came down the runway. All of these were simply shaped, beautifully embellished and in a rich palette of copper and brown. The glitter pitch was just right in the saucy gold macramé- and tassel-fringed mini, paired with a skinny gold lace top. But then Acra wandered off course. Her lamé HotPants and a plunging lamé embroidered gown looked dated, and her use of gold in these pieces offered more glitz than glamour. It’s hard to understand the disparity between the first segment and much of what followed. Yet, there were some moments when Acra’s talent for the understated side of glamour appeared, most often in black with her dance dress in lace, tulle and velvet, or the embroidered slipgown. When it comes to evening collections like this, even with all the shimmer a given, it’s crucial to remember that more is not necessarily better.
Yeohlee: Yeohlee’s presentations have become more like high-spirited family reunions than formal fashion shows. Last season, her pals modeled to a cheering crowd inside a subway station; this time, her show was downstairs at the International Center for Photography. But what was significantly different for fall was Yeohlee’s newfound sassy sensibility as seen in her slinky one-shoulder gown in ink satin and another number that was more bare than there. The black lacquered wool gown, with its single sleeve in tiers of white organza, was a knockout on eBay’s Constance White, who, along with many others, was part of the designer’s nonprofessional model brigade. Of course, Yeohlee’s inventive, architecturally driven outerwear, which we’ve all come to expect from her, was also on display — most of it shown with lean black pants and matte jersey tops or bodysuits over skinny black pants.
Sass & Bide: Sass & Bide designers Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke should have modeled their fall wares themselves, pregnant bumps and all. When the designers — wearing exactly what the models wore, along with with piled-on accessories and spiky, big hair — stepped out to take a bow, they made sense of everything that had come before. Both are outrageous, fun, rock ’n’ roll and very, very cheeky. With them, it’s about personality and not the clothes. And it’s only that type of girl — larger-than-life and unafraid — who can pull off Sass & Bide’s dresses and tops with harness details or oddly placed grommets, which means that they aren’t quite for everybody. Too many straps flew around or dangled, detracting from otherwise well-structured jackets and pants, while yellow piping went here and there for a Tron-like effect on swingy dresses.
Middleton and Clarke secured a solid red-carpet fan base with their first two collections, but if that clientele is to include the nonboldfaced fashion types, the duo needs to rein in the tendency to overdo a look. They should take their strength — tough chic glam — and build from there. Their finale, a layered wrap dress with bright yellow flowers played against liquid black, is a good place to start.