The clothes looked charming, some in a real-girl way, some in a hyper-styled, costumey way, most in a waft-of-Seventies way. But they were completely beside the point.
In the interest of making a print deadline, WWD went to Diane von Furstenberg’s 5 p.m. presentation at 3:30, with the expectation of a brief interview with the lady herself (it happened as scheduled) and to watch the models dressed and in rehearsal. The rehearsal never happened. What ensued instead played almost like farce, might have been amusing at a more leisurely moment, and in the end, crystallized that which many of us in fashion have long known, and some of us have resisted: The fight is over, and spectacle slayed fashion. This was not the season’s first spectacle nor will it likely be the last. But it’s one thing for Kanye West and Rihanna to allow production thrills to trump the clothes. Von Furstenberg is the president of the CFDA. (The “F” stands for Fashion; the “D,” Designers.)
Von Furstenberg may not have opened her doors to a consumer audience, but this presentation had nothing to do with showing the industry her latest wares. This was about the photo op, pure and simple, the TV coverage, the videos, the Snapchats and, especially, the Instagram moment, and looking cool to the demographic of young women who wear DVF. “The whole point of Paolo [Riva, chief executive officer of Diane von Furstenberg Studio LLC] coming [here] is to put the woman at the center of everything we do,” von Furstenberg said from her interview perch on the grand ivory staircase that centers her Meatpacking District headquarters. She looked all thoroughbred leggy, with her cardigan sliding off of one shoulder, ever the vamp. “For me as a designer, it seems very appropriate. I’m kind of the friend in the woman’s closet.”
And mother confessor/conspirator emerita to this generation of top models. “We have all the big girls — Gigi [Hadid], Kendall [Jenner], Lily [Aldridge], Karlie [Kloss]. First, because they are gorgeous; and second, because I’ve become like their mother, their grandmother. They love me and I know everybody’s secrets. I love them and relate to those girls.”
The models would eventually take their places in the Stefan Beckman-designed sets, arranged, according to von Furstenberg, around five ideas: movement (the girls would come in and out of doors, and interact along the way); fencing (DVF nailed it when she noted that one “might not get” the vague references); and two workspaces, one a traditional office, and the other, more creative (another over-the-head mini theme). The fifth concept resonated ever so clearly: The top girls all glammed up in evening gowns in a second-floor party setting, intentionally or otherwise mimicking a real VIP-only area, removed from the feisty working-girl types below.
There’s much to be said for non-runway presentations, especially for a brand such as von Furstenberg, the allure of which has always been about that critical intersection of personality and piece goods. The current runway trope of model-as-blank-slate, devoid of any sense of self beyond what the clothes and beauty look telegraph, hinders expression of the essential connection to DVF as aspirational icon.
Here, however, the ruse wasn’t terribly well-played. An hour before, 30 minutes before, and even as 5 p.m. approached, no one seemed in charge. It felt as if 1,000 people meandered around with their backstage-clearance lariats in view — house people, Bureau Betak people, HL Group people, hair and makeup people. The only people you didn’t see much were models settling into their spots, though some walked in and out of the look book shoot. As they finally moved into their vignettes, one felt the want of that lost rehearsal. All the interaction and moving about called for some stage direction, and a few moments of calm, if not static, viewing. Beyond the most basic observations — that the girls looked great in and seemed to enjoy wearing evergreen wrap dresses, snappy sportswear layers and body-con evening wear (that mis en scene starring golden girl and DVF bestie Karlie in a golden dress) — it was hard to focus on the clothes, even before the crowd flooded through. One well-known journalist, now wielding a microphone, glanced at me in passing and said, “good luck writing about this.”
Good luck indeed. This is the moment we’re in. These mega-events don’t target an industry audience even if, as in this case, industry types still dominate in the flesh. The flood of Instagram posts the event generated proved it a monster success, playing out exactly as desired. Sobering though it may be, at what point do we examine the question, what are we doing here? Many fashion professionals, though certainly not all, were lured to the industry by the pull of pure fashion. Yes, most get wrapped up in the broader resonance all up and down the high-low cultural food chain. And a fashion spectacle — who doesn’t love one once in a while?
But some of us love fashion first and foremost, and the pure fashion process, the realization of a creative germ into a well-designed, beautifully executed piece of clothing, and numerous such items into a collection that might say something about the culture at a given moment, about aspiration, about a designer’s psychological and emotional makeup. (Sounds quaint, no?) That’s what drew me there. I’m neither a straight man nor an adolescent girl. So the thrill of watching models in evening gowns fake-primp and pretend to party on what should be a long-weekend Sunday but comes instead in the middle of one of the most hectic weeks of the work year — not so much. Particularly when the designer all but admitted that her focus was more on the event than the clothes themselves. “We really went by deliveries [for the vignettes],” von Furstenberg said. “Yes, I have clothes for all of these scenes. And when the stylist is finished, it’s all done her way.”
Once the throngs arrived, the expected frenzy swarmed around the partying model posse. One television reporter threw herself between the scene and her camera, glowing. “Can you imagine more fun at fashion week!?” she exclaimed into her mic to her viewing public.